I indulge in Google alerts. I have one email alert for Cólm Tóibín. Every time his name is mentioned, anywhere, I receive an email and a link to the article. In this way I have read every English language review of his latest book, Nora Webster. I had one for Virginia Woolf but all I got were picky reviews of Albee’s play so I deleted it; and I have a Google news alert for ‘literature’ (as well as Books and Writing).
Because of this I received recently in my ‘personalised Australian Edition of Google News’ an item called “What makes the Russian Literature of the 19th Century So Distinctive?” It came from a New York Times column called Bookends where two writers ‘take on questions about the world of books’. It was in this article that I encountered for the first time, Francine Prose. I had never heard of her. I hadn’t heard of the other writer either, Benjamin Moser, but it was the name ‘Francine Prose’ that caught my attention. It sounded pretentious. Is there a poet called ‘Phoebe Poetry’? I could google it and find out but instead I googled Francine Prose. That is how I came to know the book “Reading Like a Writer” which, since my blog is ‘writing about reading and writing’ I thought I should have so I downloaded it as an ebook; it took less than a minute and I didn’t have to leave my desk. The fact that it was billed as a ‘New York Times Bestseller’ may have also had something to do with it. When on a wet and warm Ubudian Friday afternoon I delved into it I came upon a chapter on Chekov and in particular her line “as my bus pulled out of New Rochelle, I began Chekhov’s “The Two Volodyas.” I immediately went to ebooks.adelaide.edu.au (click the link and you can go there too) where everything out of copyright – i.e., all the classics – is available for free, and read “The Two Volodyas” and so I was prepared for whatever she was going to relate about the writing of Chekhov and in particular this story. Ms Prose is, or was, also a creative writing teacher and the point of this chapter in her book was to explain that Chekhov undermines every creative writing rule she had confidently confided to her students. “Don’t listen to me,” she shouted, “read Chekhov”.
From a Google alert on my screen in Ubud, Bali, I travelled to a sleazy bus station in New Rochelle, New York, to a scatty young 19th century Russian bride in love with two men, but never at the same time, and back to you, my friends, with a message – although one of Chekhov’s lessons is that you don’t need one – that modern technology has never been so supportive of our creative and entertaining lives.
If you take nothing from this little rant take this: set up Google alerts for whatever tickles your fancy; armchair travelling has never been so easy, so informative, and so entertaining.
If you would like to know more about Google alerts you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask Google.