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December 20, 2013

Christopher Reich: A Christmas Memory

Posted by emily

Christopher Reich is the bestselling author of numerous novels, including NUMBERED ACCOUNT, THE RUNNER and RULES OF DECEPTION. His latest book, THE PRINCE OF RISK, is about Robert "Bobby" Astor, a fearless New York hedge-fund gunslinger on the verge of making his biggest killing ever. But everything changes when his father, the venerable chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, is murdered. Here, Christopher writes about a more serene memory: his family's yearly Christmas trip to a small ski resort in the Alps. There was plenty of downtime, and little else to do besides read, so their suitcases were packed heavy with books --- enough to get them through two weeks up in the snowy mountains. Almost.

Christmas of 1971 found the Family Reich in Arosa, Switzerland, a small ski resort high in the Alps. My father was Swiss, and though we lived in Los Angeles, we traveled to his home once a year to visit friends, relatives and, in this case, do some skiing in the Alps. Every year we stayed at the same hotel, the Bellevue, in the same rooms, 420 and 421. Back then, there was no cable TV, or so far up in the mountains, any television at all. There were no iPads or iPods or Gameboys or any electronic gizmos to entertain us. There was only the radio, which consisted of three stations (all playing classical music), local newspapers and the Herald Tribune, delivered one day late. Otherwise, we had books and that was it.

The schedule of the day was set in stone. Wake up at eight. Read til nine. Have breakfast, then head up to the slopes. Ski until three, then return to the hotel to lay down with a book, have a nap, then take a bath. Dinner was at seven. After dinner, a brisk walk to the train station at the bottom of the hill, then back to the room and more reading before bed. 

Before leaving our home in Los Angeles, my mother would take my brother and me to our local bookstore (Campbell’s in Westwood Village) to stock up on paperbacks and comic books. At age 10, I liked Hardy Boys, John Steinbeck and Richie Rich. Bill, who was 14, went in for Ross Macdonald, Sergeant Rock and a purloined Playboy magazine (for the articles!). By the way, I think paperbacks cost between 75 cents and a buck 25, and comics went for a quarter.

Our trips lasted two weeks, longer even, so halfway through I’d inevitably run out of things to read. That year, I read my brother’s Lew Archer mysteries, my Dad’s Len Deighton spy stories, (THE IPCRESS FILE! Brilliant!) and even my mom’s Erma Bombeck “family” tales. After seven days, I’d torn through them all. 

There was one “bookstore” in Arosa. Actually, it was a tourist shop, but downstairs they had two shelves packed with English language titles. That year everyone was reading one bestseller: THE DAY OF THE JACKAL by Frederick Forsyth. I remember seeing the hardcover sitting high on the shelf, as if it were yesterday. I took it down and held it, wanting it more than anything, pleading with my father to buy it for me. Of course, that was out of the question. English paperbacks were already three times the price of German titles, as they were imported from England. Hardbacks were astronomical, something on the order of 10 dollars. We were a family of four on a budget.

Bill and I were allowed to buy one paperback each. I chose PAPILLON by Henri Charriere. I have no idea what Bill chose, maybe it was BALL FOUR by Jim Bouton. He always loved that book! By the next evening, I’d finished PAPILLON. The day after that, I went down to the bookstore intent on reading a few pages of Frederick Forsyth’s classic, but it wasn’t there. Someone else had purchased it. I was crestfallen.

Two days later came Christmas. The trip was our main present, but my mother managed to sneak a few gifts into her suitcase for everyone and we always put a small tree in the corner of my parent’s room. That morning it was snowing. Thick, cottony flakes that piled up quickly on the balcony. We gathered and tore the wrapping off our new socks, scarves and gloves. When we finished and were about to get ready for skiing, my father pulled out a large square package from beneath his pillow. Of course, I knew what it was right away. 

He handed the book to me and said,  “Merry Christmas, Christopher. You love reading so much, maybe one day you’ll be a writer.”

I opened the package and looked at my copy of  THE DAY OF THE JACKAL. 

I didn’t go skiing that day. I stayed in my bed and read the book cover to cover. It’s still my favorite thriller.

And, oh yeah…he was right. I did become a writer.