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December 8, 2017

Alafair Burke: A Gift from Lewis Carroll and My Father

Posted by tom

We are thrilled to kick off the 10th year of our Holiday Author Blog series with New York Times bestselling author Alafair Burke, whose new novel, THE WIFE (releasing January 23rd), is a psychological thriller about a woman who must make the impossible choice between defending her husband and saving herself. Alafair was raised by a writer (legendary author James Lee Burke) and a librarian, so reading was a constant in the Burke household. But there’s one book she received from her father that she holds especially close to her heart, and in this first blog post of the holiday season, she explains why it was such a special gift.


I was raised by a writer and a librarian. Reading was a constant. Every Saturday, my mother took me downtown to watch a children’s dollar matinee, scour the clearance racks in the Macy’s basement, and spend the rest of the day curating a new stack of books at the public library. At the time, I thought I was the lucky Burke child who got a “mommy’s day” all to herself now that the older siblings could be trusted (yeah, right) to roam the neighborhood unsupervised. Only years later did I realize that my special Saturdays with Mom were only one small sacrifice by a wife to support her husband’s then-struggling writing career. Those hours were the only ones when my father had the house to himself, free to write in silence on his manual Royal typewriter rattling on top of a desk made from a wood door and cinderblocks.

The first book I remember owning for keeps was Lewis Carroll’s THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. It was bound in dark red leather with fancy gold letters, and I remember getting it for Christmas, even though I admit I’m not entirely sure about that. More impressive than the embossed title were the letters found inside, inked by my father’s fountain pen in his familiar handwriting. It was a gift from him to me --- not something for all four kids to share, or a present I knew Mom had purchased and credited to both of them. To this day, I remember a tinge of shame, as if I had gotten something truly special. More than anyone else in the house had. Undeserved. I knew how much a book meant to my father, and I knew he didn’t shop. Ever. And I had never had a book someone had inscribed to me, let alone one so beautiful.

I remember books becoming a regular part of Christmas after that. The shape and feel of the package beneath the tree were a dead giveaway, but a second surprise always waited inside. Even better than candy were the Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen magazines my mother would slip into my stocking.

When I was in college, and I came home to Wichita, Kansas, for winter break, I got a job at Watermark Books. Instead of working on the sales floor, I always asked to be assigned to the complimentary wrapping table. While I mastered perfect 90-degree paper edges and curled color-coordinated ribbons, I’d ask the customers, “So who’s this for?” Usually, they’d have reasons for matching book and recipient. I’d hand them a pen and suggest they add a personal note, remembering my copy of that beautiful red leather book and knowing that every package I wrapped contained a future memory.