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December 17, 2020

Deep Diving for Christmas

We wrap up this year’s Holiday Author Blog series with John Hart, whose upcoming thriller, THE UNWILLING, releases on February 2nd. John’s parents read to him all the time when he was a kid, but the book that he remembers the most is DIVERS DOWN! by Hal Gordon, which his father gave him for Christmas when he was six years old. The book was not his favorite, and it took his father a month to read it to him, even though it was a little over 200 pages. So why does John have such fond memories of it? Read on to find out why!


Like most writers, my love of the craft grew from a passion for reading. I was always that kid. One in the morning, flashlight under the bed. Another 10 minutes, I’d tell myself. And then it was two o’clock or three, or first light was in the sky. I suppose such passions might evolve no matter what, but for me it was a gift from my parents. They both read to me --- hundreds of books, maybe thousands --- but the book I remember most is DIVERS DOWN! by Hal Gordon, published in 1971. I was six years old when my father gave it to me for Christmas, and he read it to me over the course of a month.

A month, you might ask. Why so long?

It would be a fair question. The book was not that thick. Nor was it my favorite, though I remember it more than any other book of childhood (except perhaps MR. ROLY TO THE RESCUE, which abided at my grandmother’s house and was a favorite of all her 26 grandchildren).

Why then the fond memories?

My father was a young man at the time, a surgical resident at Duke University. Medical training was different in those days, very old school. His normal schedule was 40 hours on-call, then home for eight hours of actual sleep. I barely saw the man, yet he made time to read this book to me. Sometimes he’d wake me at midnight to do it, or even later. I didn’t understand, then, what a sacrifice it was for him --- just how much he needed those precious minutes. Even now, I recall my disappointment if he was at the hospital when bedtime rolled around, and how exciting it was to hear the door open at two in the morning, knowing he was there to read that next chapter.

Scuba diving, sharks, all the perils of the sea…

I’m older now than he was then, and while I never did forget that story, the title faded away sometime around my 30th birthday. I tried to remember, but never could, and always regretted the loss. The title seemed important in some small but personal way. My first chapter book. Those nights with my father.

Fifteen years ago, I found the book in a basement box. I wasn’t looking for it, but there it was: the title, the cover, all the lovely words. I read it as I stood, and when my legs ached, I sat on the box in which I’d found it. I might have read it a second time, but my wife called down the stairs.

It was Christmas Eve.

It was time for dinner.