Amazon and My Mother

Category: Blog

My mother was a Luddite. She grew up in the days when you went into a bank and were ushered into a private room where a personal banker fetched your money, took your deposit and knew the names of your children – my sister and I used to accompany her on these missions. I remember there was a doorman. Even when that bank closed its branch and she had to transfer to a bank that was acquired by a bigger bank, she refused to learn her PIN number and chose to wait on line rather than use the ATM.

Buying books online was anathema to her. First of all there was the issue of safety. “What if someone tries to steal my credit card?” I scoffed at that notion but little did I know how prescient she was. She’d walk across Lexington Avenue to the neighborhood bookstore on the corner, and buy her books there, usually chatting with the bookseller and expressing her opinion about the book she had just finished.

Memoir Writing

Which brings me to her memoir. She and I collaborated on “I Turned a Key and the Birds Began to Sing.” She distributed it to friends, family, and colleagues in the art world. I kept a few copies for myself and from time to time, would hand it out as a sample of my writing for someone who was considering hiring me to ghostwrite their book. Copies were not for sale and the last thing my mother would have wanted was to see her private book listed on Amazon. “It’s none of anyone’s business.” She carefully guarded her copies, and even refused to give her estranged brother a copy, although he featured front and center when they were children and well into their twenties and thirties. There are many photos of her handsome, blond haired blue eyed brother in her memoir; the most outstanding is a photo of him in his Navy uniform leaning insouciantly against a fire hydrant somewhere in Manhattan, home on leave during World War II. He and my mother hadn’t spoken for years – I don’t know what they had fought about, but he became persona non grata.

So it would come as a great affront to her if she knew that her book is for sale on Amazon. I first discovered this when I was searching for a copy for myself. We’d had a fire in our house and the few copies I had of her memoir were fatalities of the fire: water damage and soot destroyed the pages and I was forced to throw them away in the big heap that also included our clothes, upholstered furniture, electronic appliances and gadgets and more than 1,000 books.

When we rebuilt our house, and I started to collect books again, I wanted a copy of my mother’s memoir. Out of curiosity, I looked on Amazon, and to my great surprise, “I Turned a Key and the Birds Began to Sing,” by Carol Rubin Meyer was listed. The price was $50 and was being sold by a rare and used bookstore in the San Fernando Valley. I immediately ordered it, and when it arrived with a cellophane protective cover over the dust jacket I turned to the title page, and there was an inscription in my handwriting: “Dear Rabbi, Hope you enjoy my mother’s book, and some of her stories of growing up in a traditional Jewish household in Manhattan. Sincerely, Loren Stephens.” This was a book I had given to the executive director of the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. I knew that he had passed away, and I surmised that his family had sold or given away some of his book collection to this store.

And so the “private” book that I had published for my mother was now available to anyone in cyberspace. I guarantee you that she’d be turning over in her grave.