Social media is a blessing and a curse. Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter are time-eaters, but they offer opportunities to share photos, common interests and keep in touch with others. Sometimes the news we hear shocks and saddens.
Such was the case when I got a Tweet from a book publishing company about the passing of John Mark Eberhart, the book editor at The Kansas City Star for more than eight years. John was only 52 and died after a long battle with cancer, after having lost his first wife to cancer as well. Eberhart’s memorial service was this week in Kansas City.
It’s doubtful that John would have remembered meeting me, but I’ll never forget him. It’s funny how individuals sometimes glance off us in passing yet make a deep and lasting impression, their words and deeds becoming part of who we are.
The only time I met John he told me something that lit me up when I confessed my lack of confidence about a new book column I was writing for The Missourian. How could I ever measure up to writers with academic voices who reviewed books for noteworthy publications like The New York Times, and other big city newspapers?
“You can be the voice of books for your community newspaper,” he said. Wow. Did that ever stick with me.
I had butterflies in my stomach driving up to Kansas City to meet John after he answered an email I sent asking if we could get together to discuss “Novel Ideas.” I couldn’t believe he was going to take the time to share his knowledge with me. Goodness knows he had to be swamped.
We met at a bookstore in Kansas City — a Barnes & Noble, I think, close to the Plaza. It’s hard to remember because it’s been almost 11 years. I know that because “Novel Ideas” began running in The Missourian in May 2002.
Though I was terribly nervous, John soon put me at ease. He was a comfortable sort of guy — no ego at all, and a real book lover. John not only encouraged me but patiently answered my questions, one of which was how many hours a day he spent reading for his job. About three, he said. I also sensed the frustration he felt in not being able to review more books.
John mentioned the publishers sending review copies and feeling bad about so many falling by the wayside, letting the authors down. The old saying, “So many books, so little time,” is true. Now I understand how he felt, knowing I overlook writing about some good reads in “Novel Ideas” because of lack of time and space.
Before our meeting broke up, John said he’d email me his list of contacts at the publishing companies. That was a huge leg-up for me to get started receiving review copies. It was a generous move on his part, but in reading John’s obituary and other articles written since his passing, I realize he put himself out for many and his benevolence to me was in keeping with the type of person he genuinely was.
This kind gentleman was an accomplished poet, and published two books of poetry, “Night Watch” and “Broken Time.” It seems fitting with April being national poetry month to include a poem titled “Arrow” that was quoted in his obituary.
“This is the time. The wind in this wheat will never be the wind again. The scent of last night’s shower in the summer soil, the shadow of a single thunderhead barreling eastward over the high plains between Limon and Goodland, tomorrow’s deluge for Kansas City.
“But I am moving west along this superhighway, not to return. I am following my fathers. I am ‘rolling with it,’ as they say. I have nothing left behind — no people, no possessions, no regrets. And now, that evening sun sinks lower, as if beckoning in the old stories, the souls of the dying, it was thought, vanished into the West. I’ve always liked the sound of that.”