I’ve written twice here about what a good friend a book can be during a pandemic – once at the pandemic’s start and again, in October 2020.
Our worlds became a lot smaller over the last two years, being physically restricted from traveling to other places, while a book can take you virtually anywhere – even off the planet and into outer space.
Most of us have found our social worlds smaller. The number of people we’re physically around and in contact with has shrunk. Books give you new people to get to know.
But let’s not leave out our ability to reach out to the authors. It can broaden and build our personal community in a time of social isolation – even without a pandemic.
I came out in 1992. A couple of years later, I started reading gay fiction. I was reading a little erotica but mostly literature and genre fiction. In visits to Toronto’s Glad Day Books over two or three years, I collected a small personal library: Dancer From The Dance, Like People In History, How Long Has This Been Going On? the Buddies series, and others by writers in Canada, the USA and England.
At the time, the only way to send compliments to the author of a book you really liked was to send a letter to their publisher and ask that they forward it. I have no idea how successful this was. Often, I never heard back.
In 2014, I decided to re-read my little gay library. After a gap of 20 years, it was like reading them for the first time.
By then, many authors had websites and email addresses. The first author I wrote to was Felice Picano to tell him of the strong impressions my re-reading of Like People In History left on me. A week or two later, while sitting down to a pint in the Toronto Black Eagle after work, I turned on my phone and opened my email. What a surprise, he’d To my surprise, he’d written back. He wrote that he was glad the book held up so well after so many years since he’d written it (a reissue last year marked its 25th anniversary). Felice and I struck up a correspondence that has grown into a fine friendship.
In January, 2016, I wrote to Montreal’s Christopher DiRaddo to tell him how much I had enjoyed his debut novel, The Geography of Pluto. He wrote back with gratitude. on January 5: “What a great email to receive at the beginning of a new year. Thank you for taking the time to write! And thank you for taking a chance on a debut book by a Canadian author. I’m really happy to hear that you read Pluto and that it resonated.” We, too, have become friends.
I’ve written to, and had responses from, numerous other authors. In 2019, I let William J. Mann know how much I enjoyed Where The Boys Are and Object of Desire, to which he replied, “Thank you for your kind note…I’m so pleased that those stories still resonate. I appreciate so much that you took the time to let me know.”
Kim Fielding, author of the gay romance novel A Full Plate, replied, “You made my day! I’m so thrilled you found my book at the library and even more thrilled that it was perfect for you. One of my favorite things as an author is to know my story has given someone happiness and hope. Thank you so much for reaching out to me.”
Jeffrey Sharlach wrote Running In Bed in 2012. I read it eight years later. It was his one and only novel. He went on to another career. He replied to my letter’s arrival out of the blue: “Thanks so much for tracking me down and taking the time to write. I never knew how much it meant to an author to receive a note like (sic) until my own book was published…. Glad to hear it’s in the Toronto Public Library as well. I appreciate your mentioning it to Felice Picano as I’ve read many of his books. I’m guessing I’ve crossed paths with him either in NYC or Fire Island without realizing it. . Again, many thanks for writing, you’ve made my day!”
Despite distances, with me in Toronto (now Stratford, Ontario), Felice in West Hollywood and Chris in Montreal, we’ve met up in person more than once and, in fact, were are in touch weekly for most of the last 18 months. When the pandemic began, I started writing a weekly letter to six friends across the continent that I didn’t want to lose touch with. Chris and Felice are two of the six. They have now turned the tables on me, encouraging me to collect a series of short stories that have come out of those letters and send them off to publishers. Felice even taught me how to prepare a good book proposal.
It’s proof of what was becoming apparent to me in 2016: that you can really make an author’s day with a note of appreciation for their work, and that the divide between author and reader need not always stay hard and fast.
Of course, there are sites like Goodreads where readers can share their thoughts. But a personal note is nicer, more intimate.
The next time you finish a book you really enjoyed, turn the tables, become the writer and tell your favoured favorite author how much you enjoyed their work. It’s guaranteed to make their day.
Bruce Skeaff is a former journalist and current professor of communications at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada.