What Yiddish and Edith Wharton Taught Me About the Value of Print Books

I was recently in western Massachusetts and visited two distinct “literary” sites. One was old, Edith Wharton’s fabulous house, The Mount, built at the turn of the century. It offered a fascinating look into the life and times of this remarkable woman. The other site was new, founded in 1980. It is the Yiddish Book Center, a growing collection of more than 1,000,000 (yes, one million) books published in Yiddish. These two sites had more in common than location.

I’ll be the first to confess that the idea of visiting a collection of Yiddish books wouldn’t be my first choice for a fun way to spend an afternoon. The only thing I knew about Yiddish was that a lot of Jews used to speak it. Right? Even most Jewish leaders considered Yiddish “dead.” But the front desk man at Amherst’s venerable Lord Jeffrey Inn insisted The Yiddish Book Center was worth the trip. And it was.

It all started with one young graduate student named Aaron Lansky who realized that Yiddish was fading away as surely as the older generation who spoke it. These elders had cherished their books, many bringing them with them from the old country, saving the books over other items. But their children and grandchildren didn’t know what to do with the books that they couldn’t read. Books were being destroyed, no longer wanted.

Lansky put up flyers asking for Yiddish books. The response was overwhelming. Lansky received not only donations but letters from elderly Jews asking him to come get their books. He’d not only get their books, they’d tell him their stories. Lansky found himself not just saving print books, but rescuing a world that was vanishing. They weren’t just handing him their books; they were handing him an inheritance.

These Yiddish books do  more than just sit on shelves. The books have inspired a worldwide enthusiasm for renewing the Yiddish language. Now it is the younger generation that is learning the “dead” language. And people like me are learning about the Yiddish culture. Who would have guessed that print books could lead to this?

Edith Wharton’s estate, The Mount, of course, has an intimate bond with the literary world. Wharton wrote forty books in forty years. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer. She designed The Mount. When visiting it, you feel you’ve become her guest, and can envision her enjoying the gardens she designed.

But the room that offers the most insight into Edith Wharton and the tangible value of print books is her library. When Wharton’s marriage fell apart, she left the Mount, taking her beloved collection of books with her across the Atlantic. After her death in 1937, the collection was split. Some were destroyed in London in World War II. Eventually, one man dedicated himself to taking on the guardianship of Wharton’s remaining books. To make a long story short, (find out more here) the collection was sold back to The Mount in 2005, and now once again fill Wharton’s bookshelves. One man saved them all those years.

The books not only show the breadth of her interests and passions, but the unique personal connection to history. One book is signed by Theodore Roosevelt. Others by Henry James. As a child, Wharton was drawn to books, taking them off the shelves, holding them before she was old enough to read. Having books at hand influenced not only her life, but those of her future readers.

Don’t get me wrong. Ebooks are a boon to both writers and readers. My thriller novel would still be waiting for publication, not on best seller lists both in the U.S. and abroad, if not for the invention and popularity of E-readers and indie publishing. But when people predict that print books will become a thing of the past, remember that being a thing of the past is the very thing that makes them invaluable.

Do you have a story to share about how print books have influenced your life? I’d love to hear it.

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It’s my anniversary! One year ago, I did not have a blog, nor a twitter account. I did not know what a widget was or how to manipulate a jpeg. But I did have a thriller novel that I had worked hard … Continue reading

What Van Gogh Can Teach Us About Writing

During my recent visit to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, a crowd gathered around one painting. We were drawn to it, as if in a dream. It was Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Most people recognize it as a famous painting, worth millions. Perhaps they know that this painting inspired the song by Don McLean that immortalized Van Gogh’s troubled but brilliant perspective on life.

But what compels us to spend time before The Starry Night?

The Starry Night is more than a painting. It tells a story that opens our eyes and minds to what may exist beyond life on Earth.

Van Gogh told his story using the medium of paint, but he teaches a valuable lesson to writers. Our stories need to reach beyond the sleepy, peaceful villages of our everyday life. We know, at our core, that something more exists out there, something wonderful, something magical, something spiritual.

We want to believe.

During his time, Van Gogh was little known, but his work endures and compels because he expressed what he believed in. He honed his craft, followed his passion and put down on paper a story that compels us to look at the starry sky of our soul and wonder.

This is what we should strive for as writers.

Thrillers That Make You Think

I posted this Listmania List on Amazon. I’d love to hear what YOU think and if you have any recommendations to add to this list. I’m always looking for thrillers for thinkers!

Thrillers That Make You Think

A Listmania! list by Pamela Hegarty “pamelahegarty” (New Jersey)
The list author says: “If you’re looking for more than a murder to solve or political crisis to resolve, try these page turners that take thrillers to a new level.”
The Seventh Stone
1.  The Seventh Stone by Pamela P. Hegarty
The list author says:
“I love to read these types of thrillers so much that I wrote this one. It has the action of Indiana Jones and the history of Dan Brown, but mostly I wanted to leave readers with a question: What do you believe?”
$15.99
4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Blasphemy
2.  Blasphemy by Douglas Preston
The list author says:
“I am an enthusiastic fan of all of Douglas Preston’s books. This is a page-turner that toes the line between technology and religion.”
$10.38   Used & New from: $1.01 3.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (223 customer reviews) | 5 customer discussions
The Da Vinci Code
3.  The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
The list author says:
“By the sheer number of this book sold, you’ve probably already read it. The writing may be simple, but the concept still sparks controversy and discussion. I like to think that this doesn’t challenge religion as much as challenges us to know our religion. Plus it’s just plain fun to read.”
$9.99   Used & New from: $0.01 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4,017 customer reviews) | 28 customer discussions
The Book of the Dead (Pendergast, Book 7)
4.  The Book of the Dead (Pendergast, Book 7) by Douglas Preston
The list author says:
“This is just one of the Preston/Child books to feature a favorite and fascinating character, FBI Agent Pendergast, a sort of modern Sherlock Holmes. But the other characters are equally vivid and the story is engaging. I recommend all the Pendergast novels. This is the third in a trilogy. Read the others first.”
$7.99   Used & New from: $0.01 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (220 customer reviews) | 4 customer discussions
Pentecost. A Thriller.
5.  Pentecost. A Thriller. by Joanna Penn
The list author says:
“I read this to support the author who has a tremendously helpful website for other authors. I’m glad I did. It is a quick read, with a smart heroine, plenty of action and great history woven in.”
$8.59   Used & New from: $7.36 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
The Last Oracle: A Novel (Sigma Force)
6.  The Last Oracle: A Novel (Sigma Force) by James Rollins
The list author says:
“I enjoy all of James Rollins’ books. I chose this one for this list because I went to Greece last summer. I always enjoy the way he weaves history and science into his page-turning stories.”
$10.78   Used & New from: $1.70 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (123 customer reviews) | 5 customer discussions
The Amber Room: A Novel
7.  The Amber Room: A Novel by Steve Berry
The list author says:
“I like Steve Berry books because of his research. I always enjoy reading fiction that teaches me something interesting about history.”
$9.99   Used & New from: $0.01 3.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (130 customer reviews)

Review of God’s Lions: The Secret Chapel

Or Why I’m Thankful for the Amazon Publishing Revolution

I bought God’s Lions: The Secret Chapel because it was one of the titles listed under The Seventh Stone’s  listing on Amazon as “people also bought.” Usually, I’d be skeptical of a story with a priest as its action hero. Not that I would have had the choice. In the traditional publishing world, this book may never have been published. This is why I’m so thankful of the publishing revolution that opens a new gateway between writers and readers. God’s Lions kept me “turning pages.” I found myself finding time to read what happens next. I wanted to join the hero priest and other characters for lunch,preferably the lavish buffet by the pool. The writing style was easy to read. The story moved along at a good clip. The history was deftly woven into the plot. I would have given it five stars, but I wanted the author to flesh out several extremely dramatic situations. I won’t put in any spoilers, but some of the events that happen both on and off-screen are terrifying to ponder, and I would have liked them to have more impact on the characters. Overall, a great read.

Should Indie Publishers Offer a Goodreads Giveaway?

If you are wondering if a goodreads.com giveaway is worth a try, the short answer is Yes!

I love the idea of reaching readers directly. I offered one signed copy of The Seventh Stone as a giveaway on goodreads.com for a time span of two weeks to give it a try. I tweeted to spread the word about the giveaway four times. In total, 548 people requested to join the giveaway. Now, 94 people have added The Seventh Stone to their “To Read” lists. And the lucky winner is someone who is an avid reader and enthusiast of thrillers. I was thrilled to send her my signed copy, and if I’m lucky, she might want to write a positive review on goodreads.

To sum up the Goodreads Giveaway:

My Cost of Giveaway: Price of one print paperback plus shipping

Time of Giveaway: Two weeks

Tweets about Giveaway: Four

Readers clicking on The Seventh Stone to enter giveaway: 548

Readers who added The Seventh Stone to their To Read shelf: 94

Lucky Winner: 1

Sales generated: This is the big question mark. I don’t know if this will translate into more sales, but I am extremely pleased with the exposure of The Seventh Stone to readers. It is definitely worth a try if you’re promoting your book.

Wall Street Journal’s Article on Indie Author Becoming Best Seller

If you haven’t read it yet, check out the Wall Street Journal’s article on how Darcie Chan’s The Mill River Recluse became a best seller. Review the comments, too, for an intriguing discussion on the new opportunities for both readers and writers through the world of e-books and self-publishing. Congratulations to Darcie Chan. Persistence and faith paid off. And thank you to Alexandra Alter for an informative and timely article.