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December 5, 2008

David Baldacci on SOPHIE'S CHOICE

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Today's guest blogger is David Baldacci, bestselling author of STONE COLD, THE WHOLE TRUTH and DIVINE JUSTICE. Here, he recalls a truly amazing experience in which he gifted an extremely rare copy of SOPHIE'S CHOICE to the author who wrote it, William Styron.

I was riding in a car with my publicist in the middle of a book tour in New York. I was killing some time in between interviews by perusing a catalogue from Bauman's Rare Books. I collect rare editions and have found Bauman's to be a first-class organization. One item caught my eye and I phoned Bauman's and bought it on the spot. I kept the book for months, right up until around Christmas of 2000.

During the course of that year my home state of Virginia had orchestrated a one-book read program, in which the entire state was reading the classic novel, SOPHIE'S CHOICE, by Virginia native, William Styron. There were events throughout the state with Mr. Styron, school discussions and other programs having to do with the powerful themes in the novel. It was a great success. When Mr. Styron became ill during the latter part of the year other writers, including myself, stood in for him at the remaining events, although he left impossibly large shoes to fill.

As part of the reading program, theaters in Richmond were showing the film version of Sophie's Choice. Its two stars, Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, came to Richmond, along with a host of other world-famous celebrities, including Diane Sawyer and Mike Wallace. They were all there to honor Mr. Styron. My hometown had never seen such star power!

Mr. Styron had been released from the hospital in time for the closing event of the program, a sold-out black tie event at the Library of Virginia at which he, Kline and Streep were to give remarks. At a small reception before the event, I walked over to Mr. Styron. I had had dinner with him months before and had immensely enjoyed his company. I handed him a wrapped present. I told him it was an early Christmas gift. When he opened it, I could see the puzzlement in his eyes, for it was a copy of SOPHIE'S CHOICE. I'm sure he was wondering why I was giving him his own book. It was safe to assume that he had a few copies lying around back home! When he opened the novel to the title page, his expression changed from puzzlement to shock, and from shock to pleasure. He looked up, his eyes watery, thanked me and shook my hand.

This copy of the novel, you see, was indeed very special to him. He had inscribed it to a very good friend of his, another famous writer and a mentor to Styron. That writer's name was Truman Capote.

Mr. Styron has since passed away. He will be forever remembered as one of the greatest novelists of his or any other generation. He was a man with a huge heart and an indefatigable desire to understand and make sense of the most complex issues of the human mind and heart. In his novels he took on controversial themes, for which many unfairly criticized him. Through it all, he handled himself with a courage and dignity that garnered the admiration of millions. Though I had only met him a few times, I have many memories of Mr. Styron. Yet the most memorable of all will always be the expression on his face when I returned that special copy of SOPHIE'S CHOICE to the man who created it.

Tomorrow, Laura Pederson points a finger at who --- or what --- is to blame for a ruined holiday dinner with her family.