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Author! Author!

by on December 03, 2019 5:00 AM

As a kid I never imagined that I would someday know someone who wrote a book. It was inconceivable. 

Books were created by people in big cities far away from my central Pennsylvania hometown. No one there could have possibly been capable of writing a book, let alone have the ability to turn it into a physical volume with a hard cover, index, and pages upon pages of perfectly-set type.

Although I was born in Harrisburg, I spent my formative years a little over an hour northeast of State College. My handy-dandy mapping software says the distance from our house in Happy Valley to my childhood home is 72 miles, and takes one hour and 17 minutes to travel in the usual traffic.

But as far as book authorship goes, that community might as well have been on another planet, such was my concept of the world of book publishing while growing up. 

Compounding that otherworldly aura I projected onto books and their authors, my educational experiences with the activity necessary to create one – writing – left me convinced that the task was nigh impossible and only achievable by those of great mind and spirit. 

During my high school years, when the requirement to produce legible and coherent sentences became paramount to my teachers, I had become what might be described as a difficult student. No truth was too mighty for my feeble wit.

“Explain how two points denotes a line,” asks your geometry teacher on a quiz? Ha! It doesn’t, I wrote. Many lines can be drawn between two points. I can draw a line through the top of this point, and then the bottom of that point. Or I can draw a different line through the bottom of this point and the top of that point. 

“Discuss the properties of heat and the manners in which heat moves,” quizzed your physics teacher on an exam? Ha! The natural state of the universe is cold, I implored in blue ink. The presence of cold is the energy we should be measuring and calculating, not heat.

“You will write a 1,000-word paper on great architectural achievements,” your English teacher commands? Ha! It has often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s a picture of the Superdome pasted inside a portfolio with a nicely titled cover.

Many times, rightly frustrated teachers admonished me to write my own book, stating that once it was published, they would be happy to teach it. Although in my defense, my thousand-word picture essay was the only one that the English teacher posted on the classroom bulletin board.

Moving on to my experience at Penn State, where I was still mostly exhibiting non-conformist and non-academic traits, I admittedly did nothing to change the exclusive nature of books in my eyes – they were manifestly things written by those of far greater means and intellect than I. 

Oh, if I only knew what I missed the first time I lived in Happy Valley. And my how things change. 

As I sit here today in Happy Valley, this mecca of authorship, it turns out I know many people who have written books. I am acquainted with a multitude of authors! I have books on my shelf with personal inscriptions from friends – something I would never have dreamed possible as a young kid. It seems Happy Valley is awash with people whose knowledge, humor and insight are such that those thoughts deservedly require the honor of print. How exciting!

Two of my fellow columnists with whom I am acquainted – Joe Battista and Jay Paterno – have written books. Fellow columnist Russell Frank has written several. My thrice-weekly running partner John Graham is an author. Why, even my wife is in the process of writing a book with several colleagues. As I finger-walk down my bookshelf (hopefully not an ancient artifact in homes anytime soon) I find myself somewhat dazed at the number of people I know who have created published literary works. And I suspect that there are many others like me in the Centre Region who have bookshelves with the bound writings of their friends. Such is the wonder of living in Happy Valley. 

And I’ll likely add another to the shelf soon. An acquaintance, Beverly Willett, who is a 1977 Penn State grad and lives in Savannah, Ga., had her first book, “Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection” published in July of this year. She will be at the Barnes & Noble on Benner Pike at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7, to discuss it and the journey to write it. Information is available here

But as for me, in case you were wondering, those childhood admonitions to write my own book are happily fulfilled by living vicariously through my friends. I’m happy in Happy Valley when reading the works of others. So go buy a book or two this holiday season and enjoy!

John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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