Skip to main content


December 18, 2019

Liz Moore’s Book-Filled Christmases

Liz Moore is the author of the acclaimed novels HEFT and THE UNSEEN WORLD. In her upcoming book, LONG BRIGHT RIVER (releasing January 7th), two sisters travel the same streets, though their lives couldn't be more different. Then one of them goes missing. As a child, Liz was a voracious reader. She was always deciding between books she wanted to read and those she thought she should read --- especially during Christmastime. In our penultimate blog post of the holiday season, Liz explains how the discovery of gift certificates marked the beginning of her private relationship with books, which, in turn, helped lead to her writing career.


Like many writers, I read constantly as a child --- so much, in fact, that my parents had to impose rules. No reading at the dinner table. No reading after lights-out. And, after too many rounds of car sickness: No reading in moving vehicles.

As a busy adult, I remember those days fondly. Quick math tells me that, assuming I read for an average of two hours a day from ages 7 to 12 --- probably the prime of my reading life, before hours of homework, and then work-work, and then parenting took over --- I read for about 3,650 hours in those five years. That’s 152 full days.

I wish I could remember all that I read during that time. Sadly, I don’t. But I do recall one ongoing source of inner conflict: deciding between what I wanted to read and what I thought I should read. I was a serious child and liked to think of myself as old for my years. And so, on trips to the library, I would wander the aisles, catapulting manically from Dickens and Austen and the Brontës to the comic books section to the Baby-Sitters Club books.

Never did this problem present itself more anguishingly than at Christmastime, when children’s inner desires are made embarrassingly public through the medium of The Christmas List.

The one for Santa was bad enough --- as a young child I thought of him as Godlike, and therefore I carefully considered which reading selections would be deemed worthy in His eyes --- but the lists for relatives were even worse. I came from an academic family. Could I really bring myself to admit, in writing, that my heart’s truest desire was the entire Sweet Valley High series? Because that’s what I wanted --- no, needed. I imagined gulping each book like a bonbon. When I went to friends’ houses, I sneaked copies off shelves and read just the opening pages. I made a note of the titles of the ones that looked especially salacious. Each December, I dreamed about writing them down on my list, and then handing it nonchalantly to my parents. And then I imagined my parents handing the list to my grandparents.

Needless to say, I never did. Instead, I just settled, over and over, for the politically neutral Beverly Cleary. (I actually love Beverly Cleary. But the fact that my relatives also approved of her knocked her down a peg or two, in my mind.)

It was my great delight, therefore, to discover, around 9 or 10, that there was something called a gift certificate. I don’t remember who first gave me one, but I do remember that I asked for gift certificates every year thereafter. Back then, they were paper, not plastic. And back then, Borders existed. Every December 26th from that year on, this is where I could be found: in the Borders Bookshop on Route 9 in Framingham, Massachusetts, which had a little second-floor café (I found this impossibly cosmopolitan), and a giant comic-book section stocked with every Calvin and Hobbes compendium ever published and all the Archie comics, too --- and, to my absolute delight, row upon row of Sweet Valley High books. So many that, as it turns out, I never actually got through them all.

This was the beginning of my private relationship with books --- which led, most likely, to the career I have today as a writer. I now believe that I had to be able to read and think and write in peace --- protected from the judgment of others --- before I felt safe enough to begin to want to express myself in earnest.