There's a book I don't remember well, though I can remember precisely where I found it in my elementary school library -- three yards to the right of the door, in the middle of the third shelf from the floor.

I was, and remain, a compulsive reader. Back then, I read on the school bus, at the bus stop in the cold, at the dinner table, beneath the sheets and for hours sometimes in the only room with a door that locked, the bathroom, despite my sister's pounding. This book was about a solitary little boy who, as I did, had a nervous habit of tapping everything he touched, and counting the combinations of taps. One day, he tapped a wall of stone. A door appeared. Behind it was a different world, not better really, but brighter and less dull. I read for the same reason that he tapped: to look for doors, to push through walls.

-- Ben Ehrenreich is the author of the novel "The Suitors."


Confession: I am an abuser of books. I break their spines; I underline passages with felt-tip pen. Once, on vacation, I actually dropped Joyce Maynard's delectable "Where Love Goes" -- a beach-book "Anna Karenina" that I like to re-read every three years -- into the Jacuzzi. For my books, it's spring break at Ft. Lauderdale and they're scared. This is all to the horror of a fusty male friend who keeps his British first editions in a humidity-controlled room, as though they were wine. I see now, though, that my 7- and 8-year-old daughters have caught their mother's bad habit. Across the back seat of our filthy wagon are capsized or spread-eagled "Goosebumps," Jenny B. Joneses, "Beastmasters." They are smeared in juice and Cheetos, and, to my horror recently, I saw this terrifying pink thing called "The Puppies of Princess Place" covered in ants. But, as my girls pointed out, ants like a good read too. Indeed.

-- Sandra Tsing Loh is the author of "Mother on Fire."


One of the best ways to read is to re-read. Because sometimes it requires too much courage to pick up a new book.

My literary hedges against depression:

"Brideshead Revisited," by Evelyn Waugh. I love these characters as if they were my own crazy family. Why would I, from a clan of buttoned-down Dutch Protestants, be so attracted to insane English Catholics? I only know that when I am low, the mysteries of the loves (and hates!) in this book fill me with hope. And Waugh's similes are magician's tricks.

"The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," by Arthur Conan Doyle. Just the sight of this fat book lifts my spirits. In the days when I could hide when I felt low (before motherhood, before e-mail, before cellphones), this was what I would repair to bed with. These days I just sneak in a story or two.

Then, when I am too depressed to get out of bed, I read cookbooks.

-- Sonja Bolle, former Los Angeles Times book editor, writes Word Play, a column about children's books.


It was Camilo who gave me the book. He is dead now. He was killed at the start of the Nicaraguan insurrection that toppled the 45-year-old Somoza dynasty. We were both young. We were both aware that our country was in trouble and that all the civic avenues to change were closed: Elections were rigged, and the military captured, tortured and killed anyone who dared express opposition. Camilo showed up one day at my office with a worn-out copy of Frantz Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth." The Algerian author wrote of colonialism and struggle, but his book made me realize that we Nicaraguans had no alternative but to fight the dictator. The words on the page were like hands shaking me awake. The images I had collected from living in a country where social injustice and dictatorship had cut short so many lives came galloping into my mind. I knew I couldn't remain indifferent. Shortly afterward, I joined the Sandinista guerrillas. I remember that book often. I remember the rage but also the courage it made me feel. Books have the power to be the light we are seeking at crucial moments in our lives. Reading helps us realize we are not alone, that we can change our circumstances and even achieve the impossible. I named my son Camilo in memory of the dead friend who gave me that book.

-- Gioconda Belli is the author of "Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand, a novel of Adam and Eve."


Book City

I'm a reader because I grew up in Los Angeles,