William Diehl Credits Library for His Success

Article excerpt

Most people who grow up to be writers began life as readers and

probably hung out in their local library, toting satchels of

books back and forth, looking for their literary groove, guided,

it is to be hoped, by a helping librarian.

That's what happened to novelist William Diehl.

He had the perfect audience for his recollections when he spoke

Thursday to The Library Guild at its annual meeting.

"The library is where I started to read," he said.

He kept it up through grade school and middle school. But, in

high school, he skipped the library and hung out with his pals,

went to the movies, listened to the radio.

He was still a kid -- 17 years old -- when he joined the Army

Air Corps and flew dozens of combat missions over Europe during

World War II. That's when he took up reading again, bundled

against the deadly cold of high altitude, jammed into his ball

turret with a machine gun on each side of his head and a

government-issue book to pass the time during the flight from

England to Germany.

The first novel he read on one of those flights was F. Scott

Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

He returned to reading with the zeal and jubilation of a lost

sinner returning to the fold.

Gatsby changed his life.

"I've written eight novels. In every one of them, there's some

reference, some tribute to The Great Gatsby," Diehl said.

School had turned Diehl off Dickens, but Dickens as a companion

on bombing runs turned him on again.

"Charles Dickens is my favorite author, to this day," he said.

"I can open one of Dickens' books to any page and just start

reading."

How Diehl was enlisted in the readers' -- and eventually the

writers' -- column by hanging out at the library was an

especially appropriate direction for his talk.

The Guild announced the outcome of its annual Much Ado About

Books event, held in March.

Event coordinator Barbara Kaplan handed over a $50,000 check to

Ken Sivulich, director of the Jacksonville Public Library. …