J.A. Jance recommends 6 books that have stayed with her through the decades
Mystery writer J.A. Jance is the author of the best-selling J.P. Beaumont, Joanna Brady, and Ali Reynolds series. In Jance's new novel, Credible Threat, Reynolds — a news anchor turned cybersleuth — helps an archbishop who is receiving death threats.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900).
My second-grade teacher allowed students who finished their work early to choose a book from the classroom bookshelves. I wasn't particularly impressed by the wizard, hiding behind his green curtain. What spoke to me instead was the realization that a living, breathing human being had put all those words on the pages. From that moment on, that's what I wanted to be — the person writing the words.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997).
When I first encountered the tale of the young wizard raised among Muggles, one month after 9/11, it was just the diversion I needed. The Harry Potter books created a generation of kids who considered reading fun rather than a punishment.
In the late '80s, following a book signing in Gig Harbor, Washington, the bookstore owner gave me a copy of Agatha Christie's autobiography. I found real inspiration as well as common ground. And I was astonished to discover that she, too, suffered from literary postpartum depression.
…And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer (1982).
When would-be writers ask me if they're too old to start, I refer them to this book, published when the first-time author was in her 80s. Written long before book clubs were "a thing," this novel about a small-town Ohio literary club gave me some real insights into my mother's life as a 1950s housewife whose coffee breaks with neighbors kept her from losing her bearings.
Abandon Ship! by Richard Newcomb (1958).
The true tale of how, after delivering the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed and sank within 12 minutes. Its captain was court-martialed for not acting sooner, and only in 2000, after a young reader mounted a protest, was the officer exonerated.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg (1987).
This was another gift from a bookstore. I laughed aloud at the story of the kids teasing their pet raccoon with saltine crackers that disappeared when he tried to wash them, but I remain haunted by the murder mystery lurking in the background.
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