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.