A few weeks ago Cole and I attended a party celebrating the launch of the latest edition of the Whitefish Review at a local lakeside lodge, with such standout writers like Doug Peacock, Doug Chadwick, and Laura Munson in attendance. The Whitefish Review is an amazing gift to my mountain community. In its fourth year of publication, the Reivew not only celebrates mountain culture but showcases the talents of new emerging authors and gives us, the eager reader, bracing stories from some of the most famous and respected authors in the entire country: John Irving, William Kittredge, Pam Houston, Terry Tempest Williams, Rick Bass and more.
As the sun set on the western edges of Whitefish Lake we heard Peacock talk about his adventures in the woods and in writing. We also sat, completely in awe of a high school girl from the eastern side of Montana, read her very first published story to group of engrossed adults. And as I listened to great writers share their stories, I began to look around at the crowd. There were many, many faces that I recognized. Some were friends, others were folks I’ve seen about town or on the mountain. In that instant, in watching the audience lean a bit closer to hear about Peacock’s mountain lion encounter in Glacier, I realized that I was among people just like me, lovers of writers.
And then, as I cradled my chin in my palm and watched the last glimmer of light fade into the green mountains, I thought about all the lovers of writers. Over how many hundreds, thousands of years have people adored their writers? Their storytellers? Writers may not have the celebrity fame of superheros or models or great athletes, but there are still people in the world –and a lot of them — who will listen to them on an early summer night in Montana; who will buy their books and hope someday they’ll run into the author and timidly ask for an autograph; who will, if they have the means, give grants and hopes and dreams to support emerging writers; who will build grand libraries and halls dedicated to works of art and words; and people who will support the smallest of publications and clap loudly at a young blond hair Montana girl trembling after her first public reading. These people are lovers. They are infatuated with the written words — with stories that tackle our greatest fears, tragedies and loves. Stories, to the lovers of writers, illuminate the mind and the entire crazy universe.
With all the declarations of a loss of print — from the scary decline of newspapers and magazines, to e-books and a culture devoted to declarations in a 140 characters or less, there are still many, many of us who still want to read, to curl up at night and spend time in a story, whether they’re in Kilimanjaro or trying to pin down a man named Gatsby.
As I’ve written before, I am a junkie. I love books. I love writers. I desperately want to be one. And well, in some ways I am. Yes, Maggie, you are a writer, I have to remind myself. But I’m also a voracious reader. I have an insatiable appetite for metaphors and Jim Harrison’s characters.
In the latest edition of the Whitefish Review, lead editor Sabine Brigette interviewed author Bob Shacochis and what he had to say about books and their allure captured my sentiments almost too perfectly: “And then also if I picked up a good book to start reading at bedtime and it was a splendid book, I was going to continue reading it when I woke up and to hell with going to work or class. I accepted at a young age that books were powerful enough to just shut down my life and make me a nonfunctional human being”.
There you have it folks, books make you a nonfunctional human being. How perfect. Again, I love this tribe.
While teaching English at a therapeutic boarding school four years ago, my World Literature class spent a good deal of time in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. We read a bit of the Epic of Gilgamesh and we talked about the Rosetta Stone. I even lectured for a really, really long time about how the world changed when words were no longer carved into stone or clay but actually written on papyrus. With the scrolls of ancient times, words could travel between people and held in one’s own hands. You didn’t have to travel to a stone wall to learn of myths and the gods, those stories could now come to you.
Now, thousands of years and great works of literature later, the tangible medium to compose stories is disappearing. There is no stone to carve a picture, no quill to dip ink or even paper to skim paragraphs, but now merely a keyboard and a phantom universe that contains the entire world and books– the Internet. We’ve shaken off the trappings of stone and papyrus. Our words, our stories can now find new channels on blinking computer screens: on blogs (which sounds a lot like a bug you get in the jungle and it makes you really sick), on websites.
For the lover of stories, we’ll take our Franny and Zooey’s in an old paperback or on a computer screen (I prefer the musk of an old paperback). We still love the story. We still admire and weep over the writer. We still, even with the advent of self-publishing and the ability to post comments, online, about any story, anywhere, admire and respect writers like Hemingway and Joyce.
I feel quite lucky that in my hometown there’s a great settling of many writers and many lovers of writers, who both, on a cool June night, gathered and celebrated the metaphor, the character, the story, and most importantly, the writer.