Monday, April 27, 2015

Finding Great Literature on Social Media

I used to love to browse in old, musty book stores and fascinating libraries.  In fact, one of my favorite places in the entire world is  Powell's Book Store in Portland, Oregon.  Where else can one buy John Ciardi"s translation of Dante's Divine Comedy for $2.25 or Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory for a little more?  Pondering over great classics while imbibing a delicious cup of coffee as the rain pitter patters on Portland's roof tops is heavenly for a dedicated reader.  Alas, there are so few book stores in Florida.  My college library has more computers than books, and most of my reading is done on my Kindle.  While the Kindle has great advantages (no shelf space, a built in dictionary, Wikipedia, and instant delivery), the romance of looking for a book is greatly diminished.
Fortunately, I have found great books on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus that I would never have found otherwise.

First, I saw an ad on Facebook of  a novel with an appealing little dog wearing boots on the cover.  Who could resist?  Little did I know that this book, Following Atticus, would have a tremendous impact on my life.  The author, Tom Ryan, is a profound philosopher whose views have influenced me greatly.  Not only have I read the book and given copies of it to all my children, but I look forward to his blog and Facebook posts which give me an emotional uplift.

Tom recommended several writers in his posts, two of whom are now favorites of mine:  Louise Penny and the great poet Mary Oliver.  I had taught many poems of Miss Oliver in the past, but her latest book Dog Songs contains some of the most inspirational works I have ever read.  One of the poems, "Percy Wakes Me," provoked a fifteen minute discussion in my American Literature class.

Louise Penny has transported me to Canada and the intriguing world of Three Pines where a clever and endearing detective not only solves mysteries, but also teaches me about art and music.

Yossi Gremillion, a librarian in Boca Raton, recommended a book on Facebook called The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.  After I read it, I emailed the author and asked if she had been influenced by Jorge Luis Borges, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  She kindly answered me, and through the magic of the internet we had a wonderful discussion of her magnificent opus.
Two weeks ago, through a post  on Twitter I read a short story called "The God of The Donkeys"  by Steven W. Wise. Since I have written a book, The Conspiracies of Dreams in which a donkey narrates the prologue and epilogue, I was intrigued.  I thought so highly of the story that I asked Mr. Wise for permission to teach his story to my college class.  Not only did he kindly give me permission to do so, but he also sent me an advanced reader copy of his new book entitled Sing For Us  which I am avidly reading.  It is a poignant novel of wounded Confederate soldiers who are recovering in a hospital in Richmond, Virginia under the care of a compassionate nurse.  Mr. Wise tells his story of the soldiers, their doctors and nurses with profound wisdom.  He condemns the evils of war, but does not judge the soldiers who are mere pawns in the political calisthenics of the era.

Finally, my childhood friend, Alan Fleishman, has written a comprehensive trilogy of the Jewish experience ranging from the Ukraine of 1894 to Germany of the 1960's. I never would have known that he had written these books if not for the Internet.  He graciously came to my college and gave my students an informative presentation of the first book in the trilogy, Goliath's Head.  They were thrilled to meet him, and I know that many of them have read the second and third books in the series:  A Fine September Morning and Lara's Shadow.

Leigh Podgorski is another author I met through Twitter.  She has written a historical novel of the highest order entitled The Women Debrowska.  She has also written several books for young adults, and I am thrilled to report that she is writing a movie which will be produced during the Christmas season on television.  Someday, I hope we will meet for she has written plays which could possibly be produced by one of our local Floridian theaters.

Rarely, I meet someone and from the first second I know that person and I will be great friends.  First, I met Tanya Peterson on the internet because she and I have the same publisher.  We communicated via Facebook, and during my college's  winter break I had the opportunity to leave sunny, warm Florida and visit cold, damp, rainy Oregon.  (I hate cold, damp, rainy climates).  But one look at Tanya was all it took to confirm what I had suspected from Facebook and  her three books:  she is a friend I will always cherish even though we are separated by 3,000 miles of the continent.

Thus, while I no longer have the chance to browse in local book stores, through the technology of the internet I have been introduced to  works by Tanya Peterson who lives in Oregon, Steve Wise from Columbia, Missouri, Helene Wecker, Alan Fleishman,  and Leigh Podgorski from California, Tom Ryan from New Hampshire, Mary Oliver from Massachusetts,  and Louise Penny from Montreal.

Of course, I still read books reviewed in the New York Times and by the big Six (or is it Five by now) publishers and the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Awards, and the Mann Booker winners.  But it is so emotionally satisfying to discover a writer and communicate with him or her personally and even become friends through the magic of social media.

What books have you discovered and which writers have influenced you?  Your answers may lead me to find new friends.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How can one accept the end of a love?

For the last few years  I have been reading  Tom Ryan's wonderful blog  and Facebook posts 
which are about many spiritual and emotional thoughts he shares with his readers.  Most of his work depicts  his exploits in his beloved New Hampshire hills and mountains with his marvelous dog Atticus M. Finch.  If you are unfamiliar with his book and internet communications you still can guess what kind of man he is by the name he gave his canine companion.  His posts contain quotes from works as simple as Winnie the Pooh and as profound as Emerson and Thoreau.  ( I do, however, think Winnie the Pooh is extremely profound).  The language is simpler, but Milne's ideas are just as transcendental as the Bostonian Brahams.  

Two years ago, Ryan undertook the care of an extremely abused dog with the idea that he would give the old codger a few months of loving care and give him the chance to live his last days with a modicum of dignity and grace.  Again, as a picture into Ryan's soul, he named the dog William M. Garrison.  Will, of course, has a double meaning, for not only is it the name of a great person, but also symbolizes the hope that the dog has the will to live.

And so, the blind, crippled, deaf dog, angry at the world, responded to Ryan's patience, love, and above all , empathy, and lives and loves.  Strangers, entranced by Tom's writing, have sent Will flowers, paid for his grooming, knitted blankets for him, and cared for him.  
All of this concern is a tribute to Ryan's writing which is the epitome of  what great writing is.

This week, however, the time has come to allow the dog to become one with Tom's beloved mountains.  This morning Tom wrote that it is so hard for the heart to realize what the head tells one to do.

I understand how Tom feels because on July 2, my beloved Duffy died.  
How did I love Macduff?  When I first saw him, he was 12 weeks old, traumatized because he had just been separated from his mother, who no doubt lived in a puppy mill, and shipped via airplane from Saint Louis to New York.  He was a miserable bit of fluff sitting forlornly in a cage.  I took him out of the cage, held him in the palm of my hand, and we looked at each other.

At that moment, a spark went through both of us, and I knew, and from the way the dog behaved, I knew he felt that we would love each other  as long as either of us lived.

When Duffy was 6 months old, I bought another dog to keep him company.  I care for Pippen,  but I adored Macduff.  What my husband and I did not realize was how much Pippen loved Duffy.   When Macduff was 15 years old, arthritic, crippled,almost blind, and seizure prone, we knew it was time to stop killing him with kindness, and we took Pippen to the vet with us, so the dogs and my husband and I could spend our last few moments together.  We let  him stay with the corpse for quite a while.  Of course, we have no idea what he understood, but we were shocked by how depressed he became.  His depression has deepened as the weeks crawl by, and now, 3 months later, I fear for Pippen's life.  Is it possible that a healthy dog can die of a broken heart?  

As Tom Ryan, Pippen, and I know with our reasoning faculties that love will last to the edge of doom, our hearts cannot reconcile the fact that the loved one is no longer able to share our lives with us.    Robert Frost expressed this knowledge best in the last few lines of his great poem "Reluctance."


The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost

As Louise Penny said in her book How The Light Gets In, the best qualities a dog has is he knows how to love, and he knows he is loved.

May you all experience such love.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Great novels about British history

Without realizing it, I started reading a great many British historical novels this spring and summer.   I am fascinated by the history of words, and one way to study etymology is to trace the development of British literature through its historical novels.  I began with a rereading of Seamus Heaney's magnificent translation of Beowulf- might as well begin at the dawn of British literature and history.  Dear Reader, I loved it.  The author calls the ocean "the whale road" and the mountains are "eagle barriers."  The imagery, the ethics of the hero and the character of the villain and his monstrous mother are brilliantly depicted in Heaney's epic work.

Next, I tackled Chaucer's Canterbury Tales."  I had taken a course in college on the Tales and rereading them as a woman of a certain age (never mind what age) I appreciate Chaucer' s work so much more now.  I loved reading about the "very, parfait, gentile knight" and the "good Wife of Bathe" who was somdeel deef."   I especially enjoyed  this poem because I visited the site of the Tabard Inn in Southwerk many years ago and could imagine jolly Harry Bailey serving the pilgrims before they set out to Canterbury.

I then spent most of August reading The Norman Conquest by Mark Morr.  As I read it, the conflicts in the Middle East were and are still raging.  Incredibly, the  battles between the Normans, Saxons, and Vikings were more savage than the news from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Beheadings, drawn and quartering, bubonic plague,  and brother killing brother,  father killing son, and wife killing husband, filled every gory page.  I came to the conclusion that the most inhumane animals on earth are humans.

It  was a relief to read The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal.  De Waal is an artist whose great uncle knew Monet, Degas, and Renoir and might have been the model for Marcel Proust's Swann in Proust's great work Remembrance of Things Past.  This book  traced the author's relatives from 18th century Ukraine to contemporary England.  One highlight of the book which astounded me detailed how his uncle became the Archbishop of Canterbury, yet he donned a yarmulke and said Kaddish, the traditional memorial prayer for the dead, in London's Main Synagogue for his Jewish mother at her funeral.  I was pleased to read that De Waal had an exhibition of his ceramic wares at the Metropolitan Museum of New York this summer.  The book is a very cerebral and amazing story of a family's history during many European conflicts.  The Hare with Amber Eyes is a little Japanese statue which symbolizes how De Waal's family survived these wars.  The language is almost as challenging as Chaucer's, and the book is just as entertaining.

Since I love history, my account of 3,000 years of  Middle East activity which culminates in a love affair between an Egyptian Military Intelligence Agent and a beautiful Israeli actress is detailed in my novel The Conspiracies of Dreams.  It is 90 per cent factual and depicts how the  people who live in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are affected by conflicts, while ancient in origin, affect the contemporary lovers in a poignant and heartbreaking manner.
While the hare with amber eyes is central to De Waal's book, a donkey is key to mine.  In fact, many readers have told me that the donkey is their favorite character.
The book is available at
And independent book stores.

I also can provide signed copies.
My email address is

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What is a home?

Robert Frost said in one of his poems that a home is a place you go to when no one else will take you in.
But a home or a homeland is much more than that.  I asked one person what a home was to her, and she said, "Where my husband and child are."  The physical building, its size and condition, or locale did not matter to her; rather if the people she loved were with her, any place was her home.
     To other people, location is of utmost importance.  Konrad Lorenze stated that all beings (plants included) have built into their genes the "territorial imperative."  A certain area and only that area can be home and beings will not only fight, but die to protect that locale.  If they are not in that place, they will turn in its direction when they pray, and spiritually claim it as their homeland even if they do not live there, or ever intend to visit it.  They may move from their original home for political, economic, social, or religious reasons, but they find it difficult to assimilate to the new place and bring mementos of the old to the new.
Thus, America has places such as "New" York, "New" Jersey, "New" Hampshire, Ithaca, and Plymouth to symbolize that the colonists could not forget their original homes.  They will view the original natives of the area as enemies or savages and reinstate their homeland's  ethics, morals, and culture, which they regard as far superior than the indigenous people's into their new territory. Nostalgia runs deep in the heart of the immigrants or exiles when they come to a new land.
      Often, conquerors refuse to learn the language of the natives and superimpose theirs on the original inhabitants, and they resent any immigrants from any another country who cannot learn the tongue they have brought to America.  Interestingly, "America" is the name of an Italian mapmaker who gave his name to land found by a fellow Italian who used Spanish funds to seek India.  It is purely outcomes of war that English  is the dominant tongue in the United States instead or French, Spanish, Cherokee, Navajo, or Lakota.  How important language is in making people feel at home is demonstrated in the book The Hare With Amber Eyes.  In this memoir, the author states that his grandfather insisted that each of his children learn to speak five languages because he said" if you can speak the language of a country, you are always home."
      A home should offer love, respect, acceptance, sustenance, and protection both from the vicissitudes of nature and those who seek to harm either the building or the land people call their own.. Wars everywhere have been fought since the beginning of life on earth either to protect or secure homes which can offer these entities.
      What is most puzzling to me is that once a group has a home, it insists that all others conform to its dictates.  Why does everyone in the home or the land have to have the same beliefs, religion, culture, emotional state,  and customs?  Why is there no respect for uniqueness?  What honor is there in killing someone who does not conform to the culture's mores?  Why hang or crucify someone who rebels against someone who wants to defend his  home against a conquering nation?  Is a home so important that any deviance from the "norm" evinces shunning, exile, or murder?  
     As I write this, horrendous conflicts rage across the globe in the Ukraine, Middle East, China, and Africa over defensive or offensive attacks on homelands. Immigration policies in the United States are controversial as refugees from horrendous homelands are seeking shelter and a better life in a safer place. Those who are already here, ironically, want to deny to others what they now have.  They or their ancestors are acting towards the refugees the way that a white man from Tennessee reacted when he heard a  Hispanic girl was missing.  He stated that Hispanics do not belong in his state and he hopes she is either raped or killed so Tennessee can belong to true Tennesseans.  I am sure, the true natives, the Cherokees, agree with him, that all who are not Cherokee, especially the whites, should go back where they came from and leave the state to its original homeowners. 
     HOME:  such a simple word with such complex meanings.  I explore this word in my historical novel The Conspiracies of Dreams as Christians, Muslims, Jews, and even pagans try to redeem their ancestral homeland.  Right now the conflict is a nightmare.  Can it ever be such stuff as dreams are made of?  

 The Conspiracies of Dreams is available at, barnes&,, and independent book stores.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The people of my dreams

One of my favorite songs from the play Les Miserables ( although all the songs are my favorites)  is the one with these lyrics:  There's a grief that can't be spoken
                                              Now my friends are dead and gone...
                                              There's a pain that goes on and on
                                               When my friends are here no more.

This has been a heartfelt month for me.  Three of my closest friends have died.  To compensate, I have a new gorgeous grandson.  As so poignantly expressed in the great novel Charlotte's Web, we are all inextricably woven into the threads of life and death.  What we must do is remember and cherish the wonderful experiences we had with those who have died in order to assuage our grief.

First, my friend Sandy died after a three and a half year battle with cancer.  She was the happiest person I have ever met.  She brought grace and joy wherever she went.  Her enthusiasm for all facets of life were her trademark, but she especially loved music.  Ten months before she died she began to take banjo lessons and this classically trained musician started to  play blue grass!
I have 3 special memories.  Once we were riding in my car and I turned on the radio.  The station was  playing a  concerto I had never heard before, and I prided myself on my musical knowledge.  Sandy listened intently to 6 or 8 notes and declared, "That's a violin concerto by Jan Sibelius."  At the end of the work, the commentator  did indeed announce that he had played a very rare recording of the concerto by the great Finnish composer. Who else but Sandy would recognize such an obscure work?

On another evening we bought the cheapest seats in an amphitheater in a small town in Florida to hear Yitzhak Perlman play.  Thirty seconds before the  concert was about to begin, Sandy noticed 2 empty seats in the front row.  She asked the usher if we could sit there.  When the usher hesitated, Sandy said that Mr. Perlman would never notice if there were 2 empty seats in the last row, but if he saw unoccupied chairs in the first row, he might not want to return to our venue.  The usher promptly escorted us to the front and we sat together with Palm Beach royalty.  Since she neglected to give us programs, I had no idea what the maestro was going to play.  I said in a very loud voice since there was a great deal of hubbub, "I do hope he plays the Bruck."  Mr. Perlman glanced my way and smiled.  A few minutes later, the gorgeous strains of the opening bars of the Max Bruck Violin Concerto floated through the star filled night of the Mizner Amphitheater in Boca Raton.  At the end of the program, our husbands who stayed in the back row told us they could barely hear the music.  Because of Sandy, I heard the concerto at its most glorious with someone who loved it as much as I did.

Later, Sandy, who did not belong to my book discussion group, asked if she could attend a discussion of the book Strapless which I was going to lead.  This book depicts the history of  the painting of Virginie Gautreau (Madame X) by John Singer Sargent.  During the discussion I  mentioned that the painting which caused a great scandal for both the model and the painter is exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The next day I asked a group of people who belonged to the group if they wanted to go to the museum to see the painting.  Only Sandy wanted to make the 240 mile round trip from the Poconos to NYC with  me to view the magnificent painting. She made my excursion so enjoyable even though music, not art, was her forte.

These are just of the many, many precious moments we shared in our too brief 14 year friendship.
Two weeks ago, a dear friend of ours died.  Abe was a renowned doctor whom we only knew socially.  We met him and his wife in our Pocono community, and when we decided to become snowbirds which is the term applied to Northerners who spend the winters in Florida, we bought a house about 10 miles away from his.  One day I told him that I was able to acquire a position teaching literature at Palm Beach State College.
"What do you teach?" he asked.
"A play by Shakespeare, John Donne, John Keats, Dylan Thomas, Edwidge Danticat, Pablo
Neruda, and any other writer who belongs to the same ethnicity as any of my students. If I have a Chinese, African, or Muslim student, I discuss a story by an author from his or her culture."
"May I come to your class!
"Certainly," I replied, "but why?
"All my life I only read scientific and medical works.  I have never read a play by Shakespeare or studied poetry. I feel it's a real gap in my education."
Dear reader, Abe was 85 years old, successful, wealthy, and well-respected, and he was worried that he didn't know Dylan Thomas!  
He sat in the front row of my lit class and was an inspiration to the 18-22 year old students who appreciated every comment he made.

Sadly, he did go gentle into that good night recently. My husband and I will miss his sweet smile and compassionate manner.

Fourteen years ago I fell in love with the saddest, most poignant eyes I have ever seen.  They belonged to a 2 pound, 2 ounce great soul who was sitting in a cage.  I asked the attendant to let me hold him him in my hand, and  the little dog begged me so eloquently with those mournful eyes,"please don"t put me back in that cage."  I looked at the wee puppy and an electrical spark flew between us that only happens once or twice in a  lifetime if one is fortunate.  It was a moment in which we both knew that we would love each other completely and devotedly.  Until July 2 we were inseparable.  He thought his main duty in life was to protect me, and he did-all 12 pounds of him.  I will not enumerate all the exasperating and wonderful experiences we shared, but he was, as  Auden said, " My north, my south, my east, my west, my workday week, my Sunday rest.  Bless you Macduff, who could not love enough.
But he came to me last night in my dream, and I reminded him that he
was my muse who sat by my side as I wrote my book The Conspiracies of Dreams.  I composed much of it on our many walks.  The world is so empty without him.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

SandyDidner's Dreams: A dog came to me in my dream last night

SandyDidner's Dreams: A dog came to me in my dream last night: A song from Les Miserables has the lines:  there's a grief that can't be spoken, now my friends are dead and gone.  There's a pa...

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fantastic Day.  My grandson is 8 days old and we had a huge party to celebrate his Brit Milah this afternoon.  Before I describe the marvelous occasion I was astounded  to see some of the guests. One young man who has been a close friend of my son since the boys were 18 months old came hundreds of miles just for the event.   As I looked at this person whom I hadn't seen in a few years I remembered one Saturday night I left the 2 boys ( who were all of 13 years old)  alone on a Saturday night and came home to find an absolute mess in the kitchen because they spent the entire evening baking a German Chocolate  Black Forest Cake which was Julia Child delicious.  How many teenage boys would do that to surprise parents?  Another guest was my son's college roommate who is now the head of a history foundation at Southern Methodist  University and came all the way from Texas to our son's home in Pa.  I was so touched that he would travel such a great  distance to celebrate with us.  The mohel was also a cantor and  after the ritual everyone joined in many songs.  Thanks to lidocaine and Manischevitz wine my grandson slept through the entire procedure.  Above all, my son's giant 4 month old puppy who now weighs 43 pounds and is chewing every piece of furniture in sight behaved.  Of course, my husband walked her for an hour early this morning and I walked her twice before the guests arrived, so she,as well as my grandson, slept during the party.  A Brit Milah is the only kind of party in which one hopes the guest of honor sleeps through the event.  At one point, both grandmothers, the grandfather, the parents, and the baby posed for a photo.  The love flows from generation to generation.
Unfortunately, one of the deserts was a chocolate rum, Elysian concoction truffle which was absolutely addictive; however, I couldn't eat too many because I had eaten tons of  peanut butter-banana ice cream parfaits.  Since I am a vegan, the menu included a barley-mushroom pilaf and Chinese sesame noodles.  Those who were not vegans dined on incredible edibles, and the house was filled with the joy that only great meals accompanied by great conversations can provide.

Tomorrow, my husband and I return to the flat, tropical land of alligators, egrets, and blue herons.
I will miss the rolling hills, rhododendrons, robins, and maple trees of the land of my birth:  Pa.  I love her Appalachian mountains and rivers, but I can no longer tolerate the 16 degree below winters when I walk my little dogs.

My son who flew in from Oregon for this wonderful event is giving me tips on adapting my book The Conspiracies of Dreams into a film script.  After all, he was one of my editors, and he gave me much valuable advice as I was writing my novel.  Yet, I have seen so many movies that fall far short of their literary twins.  I think only The Wizard of Oz  and Smoke Signals are better than their prose versions;  let us see what will happen if my novel is ever made into a visual medium.  I will try to finish the script this summer after I complete my summer session at Palm Beach State College.  I cannot teach 3 classes, take care of my dogs, play tennis, practice the piano, and write creatively at the same time.  So I am waiting for summertime when Gershwin said the "livin' is easy."

My book The Conspiracies of Dreams is available from every on line distributor and independent bookstore.  Please support the independents.  Their businesses are unique and wonderful places to inhale the wonders of literature.

May you all have as great day as I had today.