This article, by Margo Rabb, in the NY Times Book Review from July 28 (which I just got around to reading this morning) was very well-written, and great food for thought... It brought back memories of my "encounters" with my favorite authors. Here are some of the ones that have come to mind as I have reflected on Margo Rabb's article.
Many years ago I read The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, for the first time, and loved it. I read an English translation, I knew very little French -- just what I have picked up in reading and listening over the years -- and still don't. Anyway, it was my favorite book then and for many years, and some years later when I found that Saint-Exupery had written other books, I read some of them also: Wind, Sand and Stars and Night Flight. Wind, Sand and Stars especially spoke to me, but I loved both these books for their evocative writing, the glimpse into another time and place, and Saint-Exupery's insights into friendship and the human spirit. Then, many years later -- just a few years ago -- I read a biography of Saint-Exupery, The Tale of the Rose: The Love Story Behind The Little Prince. It was a real eye-opener, and got me to thinking about the same issues that come up in this article. Of course, Saint-Exupery was a product of his times, but it was still appalling the way he treated the women in his life. It didn't at all reflect my imaginings of him as a sensitive, caring, and honorable individual. I had dreamed up an idealized Saint-Exupery who was very different from the man who actually wrote these books I love. At the time, I was crushed, but since then have begun to understand just what the author discusses in this article.
I have also had some connections with authors that were much better than I could have hoped. One was my encounter with Pat Kenschaft, the author of another of my favorite books, Math Power: How to Help Your Child Love Math Even If You Don't. When I first read this book, which I found serendipitously at the library, it resonated with me more than any other book about math or math education ever had. The author and I shared so many ideas and values. Several years after I read the book, after it had suddenly gone out of print and I could no longer find copies to share with people, the author and I met purely by chance at a math conference. We spent a lovely hour chatting about the book and our lives and ideas, and have continued to stay in touch since then. I was happy to be a small part of helping her to bring the book back into print (the same title, but a revised edition) and even helped to write a little bit of it, in the appendices. Quite a positive encounter!
Gerald Jonas wrote a poem that was in a book I owned as a teenager. The book was The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sixteenth Series, a gift from my parents. I lost the book many years ago (along with many of my personal belongings which succumbed to a flood in the basement of our house on Haven Ridge Dr.) and I lost the copy of the poem that I carried in my wallet when that wallet was stolen back in the early 70's. But I always remembered the book and the poem, and wished I could have a copy of the poem again. So a few years ago, I looked for the book on the internet and found it, and ordered a copy, and rediscovered Mr. Jonas's delightful poem. And then I found some contact information for Mr. Jonas on the web also, and wrote him to tell him how much I liked his poem, and he wrote back! He was quite a delightful person, and very grateful that I remembered the poem and took the time to write him. (I still have the letter he wrote me, and the book, though they are in storage at the moment and I can't get at them...or else I would be putting the name of the poem in here...)
I once heard Leon Uris in an interview with Diane Rehm on her show on NPR. I had read several of his novels years ago when I was in my late teens and 20's, and enjoyed them all very much, particularly Exodus and Trinity, his book about the history of the 20th century conflict and politics in Northern Ireland. But in this interview, he was surprisingly quite cantankerous. He was also rude to one of Diane's callers, so much so that she insisted he apologize to the caller and to her listeners. That was an eye-opening experience!
Rachel Naomi Remen is an author whom I encountered in person, though I didn't get to have a conversation with her. A friend and I were fortunate to be able to attend a lecture she gave at Temple Beth El in Charlotte a few years back. In person, the warmth, humility, kindness, and spirit which shine through her books Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather's Blessings shone through in her bearing, her face, her speaking. She was in person just like she was in her books. Her talk left us with hope and inspiration to carry with us.
One thing I always do when I begin reading a book is to find out a little about the author from the dust jacket or the short bio in the book, or from the web. But as the years pass, more and more I try to keep in mind whenever I am reading that, though the author has a talent in writing (and undoubtedly worked hard for many years to develop that talent) and probably also has a passion for writing and for his or her subject, he or she is subject to the same human condition that we all are. Beyond any credentials, talents, and skills in writing that the author possesses, he or she is a human being like any other, with successes and failures, struggles, achievements, things left undone, messy relationships and (hopefully) some healthy ones -- in short, not a person to be put on a pedestal or in a "box" of my making.