March 22, 2011
Austin Ratner Wins $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature

March 21, 2011
Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Nadia Kalman

Our fifth, and final, installment of this year’s “Words from our Finalists”…Nadia Kalman

Nadia…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Nadia

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

When writing The Cosmopolitans, I found it challenging to emphasize with characters who initially seemed very different from me – such as Jean Strauss. Finding that empathy is also the most rewarding part about writing.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Sholem Aleichem

Family stories, and the way people in my family tell stories – spinning funny stories out of sad histories, and cautionary tales out of seeming triumphs. Writers such as Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, Sholem Aleichem, Primo Levi, Lev Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, and Michael Chabon.

Who is your intended audience?

Jewish people and immigrants of all kinds.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I am now one third of the way through writing a second novel. Entitled “The Women’s Battalion of Death,” and set in the Russia of 1917, the novel fictionalizes the exploits of an historical all-female militia whose members included Jews from the Pale, laundresses, princesses, opera singers and maids.

What are you reading now?

A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz – I’m fascinated by his memories of a Jerusalem neighborhood in which everyone “worked for Chekhov.”

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

There are many moments that led to my becoming a writer, beginning in my early childhood, but when I turned thirty, I decided to make it the focus of my life. I was scuba diving at the time – perhaps I realized there were safer ways of finding excitement.

What is the mountaintop for you – how do you define success?

I used to think that success meant accumulating awards and recognition, but I now I think it is doing what you love, and, in some small way, contributing to the well-being of others. I hope to connect with readers and help them connect with one another.

How do you write – what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

Brothers Grimm

Before starting to write, I read a little, from the Torah, Chekhov’s notebooks, Mandelstam’s poems, the Brothers Grimm, etc. (I suppose it’s a little strange to write “etc.” when these sources are so disparate.)

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

We are all, in some sense, immigrants – none of us feel completely at home in the world. If we recognize this about one another, that recognition can allow us to connect.

March 16, 2011
Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Joseph Skibell

Our third installment of “Words from our Finalists”…Joseph Skibell

Joseph…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Joseph

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

What did Hemingway say in his Paris Review interview with George Plimpton? “The hardest thing about writing is getting the words in the right order.” Typical Hemingway brevity, but that does seem to cover it.


What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Inspiration comes from everywhere. In the last two weeks, I saw a production of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” and I heard the master guitarist Pierre Bensusan play. The creative generosity of both Shepard and Bensusan reminded me of what art can really do when it’s honest and it comes from an open and pure heart. I find that very inspiring. Being moved by their work makes me want to continue working and trying to inhabit that same open and honest space.

Who is your intended audience?

Perhaps I should be a little more ambitious, but I try to write for the entirety of the literate world. And I’m hoping that members of the literate world will read my books to members of the non-literate world. I’m sometimes saddened that adult readers, unlike their “young adult” counterparts, seem fairly unadventurous, that fiction that deals with small, domestic issues, preferably in the mode of realism, seems so much more palpable to these adult readers than do daring, ambitious “ill-behaved” books that take on bigger issues in a more playful, ferocious or rambunctious style.

Milan Kundera calls these “ill-behaved” books “the children of Tristram Shandy” as opposed to the “well-behaved” books, which he calls “children of Clarissa.” Rushdie’s Midnight Children, Grass’s The Tin Drum,Kundera’s own Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the novels of Beckett, Kafka and Bellow all fall into this category of ill-behaved books, as do my A Blessing on the Moon and A Curable Romantic.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I have a short list of new projects, but nothing that can be spoken about yet, really. I think I’ve found the subject for my next novel, and I’m excited about that, and it’s going to be very different from the other three books.

What are you reading now?

The novel I’m urging onto anybody who will listen is Howard Norman’s What is Left the Daughter. Norman is one of our finest novelists with a singular and idiosyncratic voice. He’s unpretentiously gifted, and this book is one of his best. I’m planning on reading it again, actually. I don’t quite understand how he achieves the effects he achieves. The book is so moving, but it’s hard to say why. His work has that same honesty and purity I mentioned finding in the Shepard’s play and in Bensusan’s playing. A spirit of childlike play, I guess, combined with a hungry intelligence and an artful sense of integrity.

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I was in Mr. Bravenec’s sixth grade class at Geo. A. Rush Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas, when I read Anthony Scaduto’s biography of Bob Dylan. According to Scaduto, Dylan read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row as a kid and was so turned on by it that he read all of Steinbeck’s work after that. At the time, I wanted to grow up to be Bob Dylan, so I thought I should probably do everything Bob Dylan did as a child in order to realize this ambition. I got a copy of Cannery Row out of the library and I read it, and I was so turned on by it, I read everything that Steinbeck had written, also. By the time I was done, though, I no longer wanted to be Bob Dylan. I wanted to be John Steinbeck.

Later, during his Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, Dylan visited Jack Kerouac’s grave. I read about this in Rolling Stone Magazine. I’d never heard of Jack Kerouac, but I bought a copy of On the Road, and then I read all of Kerouac’s work, which I also found inspiring.

Still, I didn’t think I could be a novelist, because — especially after reading Steinbeck — I thought a novelist had to know how to brush out a horse and repair a motor and dissect mollusks and things like that. But then I read Voltaire’sCandide – I was in the seventh grade; I remember reading it during my algebra class – and I thought to myself: Hey, I could write a book like this. I mean, there are no animals in Candide, no one repairs a motor, there’s no science, there’s barely a landscape.

So, really, I have Bob Dylan to thank for all of this, I guess. Thanks, Bob.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

It’s easy to get sidetracked by big advances and awards and being on bestseller lists and things like that. Writing can be such a lonely pursuit, and I know so many writers who end up craving those things, just so they know that there’s somebody out there who actually cares about what they’re doing. So I try to remember why books were important to me in the first place.

William Butler Yeats

You know, when you see somebody like Shaun White do something really amazing on a snowboard, you kind of empathize with him. He sort of stands in for all of humanity. You think, “Wow, it’s amazing that he can do that,” but you’re also thinking, “Wow, it’s amazing that a human being can do that.”

I think it’s the same with really great writing. When someone like W.B. Yeats says, “Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned,” or Jackson Browne describes Culver City as a place “where the ghostly specter of Howard Hughes/hovers in the smoke of a thousand barbeques,” you think to yourself, “Man, that’s about as good as it gets.” I mean, these are writers whose use of words and thoughts and observations and emotions and meter and sound is as astonishing and as inspiring as the physical stuff Shaun White can do on a snowboard.

And because of writing like this, you actually experience something you wouldn’t have been able to experience otherwise, and it’s something you wouldn’t have been able to experience in any other way.

So I guess, for me, that would really be the mountaintop, or the pinnacle of success – knowing that your work is speaking to another person in a way that reverberates with their concerns and their lives in a meaningful way.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

The discipline of writing every day is so intensely focused that I have next to no memory about the process itself, though it seems to involve a Cross pen, an AMPAD legal-size “Evidence” pad – 100 sheets, Canary yellow, Wide Ruled, 8½” x 14” with a double-thick back for extra support (these are harder and harder to come by these days) – a chair, a desk, and a hot beverage, sometimes coffee, sometimes tea. I try to keep a very low page count every day, so that doing the work always remains enjoyable.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

With A Blessing on the Moon, I wanted to speak to the reader so deeply that the book enters the reader’s dream-life, and I’ve been told on many occasions, by readers, that this is how the novel works. With The English Disease, I simply wanted to make the reader laugh.

A Curable Romantic was a bit different. WithA Curable Romantic, my hope was that Dr. Sammelsohn, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, would seem like a sweet and endearing friend accompanying the reader wherever he or she went for the few weeks it takes to read the book.

At heart, I hope my novels work as a kind of cure for that deep loneliness I imagine we all feel, the writer’s voice whispering intimately into the reader’s inner ear, speaking about the most essential things: love, family, death, hope, desire, dreams.

You can read more about Joseph Skibell by visiting his website: http://www.josephskibell.com/

March 15, 2011
Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Julie Orringer


Second up in “Words from our Finalists”…Julie Orringer

Julie…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Julie

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

At the moment, because I have a nine-month-old son, the most challenging thing is finding enough time to work.  But every new piece I’ve written has been uniquely challenging; in The Invisible Bridgeone of the greatest difficulties was learning to balance the story’s historical elements with its fictional ones.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

My grandfather’s experiences inspired me to write this novel.  But my day-to-day inspiration is my husband, Ryan Harty, who’s also a fiction writer.  He knows how to make a schedule and stick to it, and he holds me to a very high standard—he’s an early reader of my drafts, and lets me know when something’s not working.

Who is your intended audience?

Anyone who likes to read.  But I think we all hope to reach readers whose lives are similar to those of our characters.  It’s been particularly moving to have former Hungarian forced labor inmates come to readings and tell me that their experiences mirrored the ones I describe in the novel.

Varian Fry

Are you working on anything new right now?

I’m working on a novel about Varian Fry, the New York journalist who went to Marseille in 1940 to save nearly two thousand Jewish and anti-Nazi writers, artists, and intellectuals who’d been blacklisted by the Gestapo.  I learned about Fry while I was researching The Invisible Bridge, and it was clear that his story would take an entire novel to tell.  The novel pursues a fictional line alongside Fry’s real-life experiences.

What are you reading now?

I just finished rereading David Bezmozgis’s wonderful collection, Natasha and Other Stories, about a community of Russian Jews in Toronto, and recently picked up Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, about a fantastical alligator theme park in Southern Florida.

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

In college, when my poor grades in chemistry, calculus, physics, and biology made it clear that I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor, I made a dire confession to my doctor parents: I was terribly jealous of all my friends who were taking writing and film and language classes, and I wanted to switch my major to English and see if I might study creative writing in graduate school.  They claimed to have known all along that I’d take that direction.  If only they’d told me sooner!

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

Showing up for work and getting the words down, and then revising them so they seem to express the original idea more exactly.  In the case of The Invisible Bridge, that meant taking three years to write a first draft and three more years to revise it.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

In the morning I go to the little room my husband and I rent in the building next door, unload my computer and books, and get down to it.  I’ve got a bulletin board above the desk where I like to tack photos of the places I’m writing about, or of people who look like they might be characters in the book; I pace a lot, take walks, do research, return to the computer, wrestle with lines.  In general I try not to revise the earlier parts of a draft too extensively until I’ve finished the whole draft.  Before my baby was born, I was working about seven or eight hours a day, but until he gets a little older, I’ll be happy with three or four.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

I’d like readers to know what happened to Hungarian Jews during the war: in other words, to feel what it might have been like to have one’s entire life—one’s aspirations, concerns, and connections—swept away in an instant, and then to have to find a way to keep living.

You can read more about Julie Orringer by visiting her website: http://www.julieorringer.com/

March 14, 2011
Books Everyone Should Read

This is awesome…what “Jewish” books do you think everyone should read?

3:19pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZVUxjx3c2Mza
Filed under: literature lit 
March 14, 2011
To walk into a modern-day bookstore…

wwnorton:

An excerpt from Nicole Krauss’s article on bookstores in The New Republic:

To walk into a modern-day bookstore is a little bit like studying a single photograph out of the infinite number of photographs that cold be taken of the world: It offers the reader a frame. Within that frame, she can decide what she likes and doesn’t like, what is for her and not for her. She can browse, selecting this offering and rejecting that, and in this way she can begin to assemble a program of taste and self.

March 14, 2011
Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Austin Ratner

Over the next week, we’ll be posting “Words from our Finalists,” so you can get to know the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize finalists a little better.

First up…Austin Ratner

Austin…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Austin

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

Rejection. It’s worse than dating.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

I have always written incessantly from the time I was a child.

Who is your intended audience?

Whoever will take me.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I just finished a novel about two brothers on a roadtrip from L.A. to Cleveland in the summer of 1999.  I’m in the middle of another about a labyrinth.

What are you reading now?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

If I had to pinpoint it to one moment it would be a Monday lecture on nasopharyngeal bacteria in my last year of medical school, the day after the Cleveland Indians blew the 1997 World Series.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

Most people think of success as celebrity, but as Carrie Fisher said, celebrity is just obscurity biding its time.  I’ll be mostly satisfied if I have a modest readership in my lifetime, the respect of a few critics, and if people are still reading my books 4000 years from now and comparing me to Shakespeare.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

I used to like to write in an L.L. Bean chamois shirt and I wore out the elbows and had my dry cleaner sew patches over the holes with scrap fabric from old laundry bags.  One patch was bright purple and one was orange.  One day I decided I needed to toughen myself up and I threw it out.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

A persuasive dream.

You can read more about Austin Ratner by visiting his website: http://www.austinratner.com/Site2/Home.html

March 11, 2011
Cynthia Ozick Accepts Jewish Book Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award

On Wednesday, March 9th, the Jewish Book Council was pleased to present Cynthia Ozick, “the grande dame of Jewish literature,” with the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award. JBC Board member, Francine Klagsbrun, an author of several acclaimed books and a regular columnist for the New York Jewish Week, presented Ozick with the award. Both remarks follow:

Francine Klagsbrun–

I call her Shoshana, She calls me Aliza. We have used these Hebrew names since we first became friends almost forty years ago. So how do you speak, in two minutes, about a friend whom you love, admire, and recognize as one of the great writers of our time—of all time? You speak first, I believe, about her majestic language. Is there another writer who can make you feel a heat wave as Cynthia Ozick does in Foreign Bodies, her new novel, when she tells, among other things, how “Hot steam hissed from the wet rings left by wine glasses on the steel tables of outdoor cafes”? Is there another writer who can make you see, as Cynthia does, “a delicate young oak, with burly roots like the toes of a gryphon exposed in the wet ground”? That, the tree on which the “Pagan Rabbi” hanged himself.

To speak of Cynthia Ozick is to speak also of magical storytelling and indelible characters. Is there another—will there ever be—another character like Ruth Puttermesser, that funny, bookish, Jewish lawyer with the wild imagination, who creates a female golem, becomes mayor of New York, and is brutally murdered only to go to Paradise and discover that “the secret meaning of Paradise is that it too is hell.” Ruth Puttermesser, whom, I suspect, has a little of Cynthia Ozick in her.

And to speak of Cynthia Ozick, is, of course, to speak of the Jewish soul and sensibility that seep into all her works. Tonight we pay tribute especially to the pride, wisdom, learning—and fearlessness—with which she has written Jewishly and shown the way for younger writers to do so. Foreign Bodies, her novel, is not a “Jewish book,” as such. Its themes are broad and wide. Yet this book gives us an unforgettable image of Europe seven years after the Holocaust as a place that one character calls Nineveh, the sinful land in the book of Jonah.

Cynthia Ozick will never put aside her rage at the Holocaust, but she has not limited herself to it in illumining the Jewish landscape. Along with fiction, she has written essays on Sholem Aleichem and Gershom Scholem, on Franz Kafka and Anne Frank, to name a very few. Her Jewish soul and Jewish sensibility have touched and taught the entire world. For us, in the Jewish world, she has been a beracha, a gift, a blessing, an unending source of joy and wonder.

Dearest Shoshana, it is an enormous honor for me to give you the Jewish Book Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Cynthia Ozick–

Thank you for this unexpected and beautiful honor. Thank you, distinguished eminences of the Jewish Book Council! Thank you, Carolyn Hessel! And from the bottom of my soul, thank you, Francine Klagsbrun, for your friendship and its million extravagant kindnesses, of which your words just now are the most electrifyingly generous. Nevertheless I hope, in the face of so much to be grateful for, that you will not be disconcerted if I dare to rename this moving and inspiriting award, if only for this one occasion. The reason is this: “Lifetime Achievement” doesn’t quite fit the case. Call it, instead, the “Lifetime Starting-Out” award — since a writer, no matter how long she has worn her white hairs, is always starting out, is always beginning again, is always in doubt of how to begin, and is always in need of shoring-up. So it is with your magnanimous encouragement tonight that I offer a handful of reflections on what it is to write as a Jew in America. You will see that these are starting-out thoughts. I started out with them long, long ago, and I am still at the beginning of trying to figure out what they might portend.

Lionel Trilling, one of the most influential literary critics of the century we have so recently left behind, and the first Jew to have been officially appointed professor of English at Columbia University, is remembered in particular for two Jewishly oriented statements, one more shocking than the other. “Being a Jew,” he wrote, “is like walking in the wind or swimming; you are touched at all points and conscious everywhere.” Now what is notable about this comment, uttered by a man of grandly capacious intellect, is that it is all sensation, even physical sensation: it suggests a kind of watchful trembling. There is nothing in it of Jewish civilization or culture or history or heritage or even bookishness. But the second statement, by contrast, is nothing but literary in intention; and its intention is wrapped in fear. “I know of no writer in English,” Trilling insisted, “who has added a micromillimeter to his stature by ‘realizing his Jewishness,’ although I know of some who have curtailed their stature by trying to heighten their Jewish consciousness.” The phrase “realizing his Jewishness,” by the way, appears in quotes, to let us know it is meant to be spoken in derision. This deeply vulnerable remark — we might even call it cowardly — is not especially surprising from a man who had to fight to be admitted to a university English department at a time when Jews were told they would not “fit in.”

But set against this self-suppression a declaration by a Jewish writer who was Trilling’s contemporary, and who, unlike Trilling, was fearless, and whose stature, precisely because of this fearlessness, is assured and lasting. Saul Bellow, speaking of his early immersion in American literary classics, proclaimed “no barriers to the freest and fullest American choices… . It was admiration, it was love that drew us to the dazzling company of the great masters, all of them belonging to the Protestant Majority — some of them explicitly anti-Semitic. But one could not submit to control by such prejudices. My own view,” he went on, “was that in religion the Christians had lived with us, had lived in the Bible of the Jews, but when the Jews wished to live in Western history with them, they were refused. As if that history was not, by now, also ours.”

Trilling meekly accepted that the Jewish mind and its gifts were outside history’s mainstream. But Bellow refused to be refused, and in announcing that the legacy of Western history was also the Jewish legacy, he aspired to the acme of literary power, and himself joined that dazzling company of the great masters. By now, of course, English departments everywhere have a full roster of Jewish professors, and there are numerous Jewish presidents of distinguished universities. As for Jewish writers, their freedom of self-expression can no longer be disputed anywhere. Wherever literature flourishes, Jewish books proliferate, and the younger writers in their ambitious and energetic battalions startle us with unexpected societal perspectives or fresh interpretations of inherited themes. In Israel: the ancient landscape and the ancient language, each made new. In America: a fourth, or even a fifth, native-born generation for whom the mythos of immigration is a remote and faint echo; and at the same time an influx of brilliant young immigrants catapulted from Soviet suffocation into the American language. And into the free streaming of Jewish wit, Jewish memory, Jewish laughter and Jewish hurts.

Of both America and Israel, it can be said that Kafka, or rather the tormented Kafkan sensibility, is finally overcome. Kafka’s forlorn perception of a Jew writing in German — of himself writing in German — was that of a helplessly struggling beast without a secure hold on the language that is his singular birthright. He described such Jews as having their hind legs “still stuck in parental Judaism while their forelegs found no purchase on new ground.” He called this quandary — or quagmire — “the impossibility of writing German,” even as he recognized the more painful “impossibility of not writing” at all. Every born writer in every language will feel the impossibility of not writing, but who can imagine a native Israeli writer contemplating the impossibility of writing Hebrew, or a Jewish writer in America despairing of the possibility of writing English? The parental Judaism, as Kafka terms it, finds easy purchase in both environments. Kafka’s dilemma in the linguistically threatening confusions of Prague, where he lived through anti-Semitic street rioting, is hardly ours. American Jewish writers are, incontrovertibly, the confident and sovereign owners of the American language.

But what of Hebrew, the indispensable classical and contemporary carrier of the parental Judaism? Only recall that legendary debate, in Jerusalem in the 1950s, between two renowned Jewish Nobel laureates, Saul Bellow and Shmuel Yosef Agnon. Agnon asked Bellow whether his novels had been published in Hebrew. Not yet, Bellow replied. Too bad, Agnon said, because the work of Jewish writers in Diaspora languages is bound to be ephemeral; it will never last. Bellow countered with the example of Heinrich Heine, whose poetry had entered German folk memory to such an extent that even Hitler’s most zealous book burners could not suppress it. Of course, by offering Heine, Bellow was implicitly defending his own status as a Jew writing in the American language. “Heine?” retorted Agnon, meaning to needle his visitor. “Oh, but we have him beautifully translated into Hebrew. He is safe.” Yet neither Bellow nor Agnon appeared to notice the still deeper irony of this impassioned conversation. Bellow’s Hebrew was imperfect. Agnon’s English was imperfect. So there they were, the champion of the American language and the champion of the Hebrew language, each championing his cause in … Yiddish! Yiddish too, it should not be forgotten, is an indispensable carrier of the Jewish literary mind.

Owners of the American language though we are, there is sometimes a certain veil of separation. It is rarely felt, but I remember a time, not so long ago, when I felt it with a kind of anguish. It came during several hours of joy, it came simultaneously with that joy: a contradiction of emotions. I had found myself in the company of three renowned writers, as celebrated by their readers as they were sublime in their prose. We four sat together at a little tea table, and I was swept away: the wit flew, the literary gossip danced along, the ideas intensified, the braininess was thrillingly rampant, all without cynicism or sarcasm or spite, good talk flowing freely in waves of sympathy and friendship. Ingrained in these superior minds, I saw, was a noble genuineness and a heartfelt honesty. And at the end of that intoxicating evening, when it was all over and I was back home again, I fell instantly into an abyss of shame and despair, a sadness so unstoppable as to be close to grieving. It was the year before the Twin Towers atrocities; America was still cocooned in its innocence of terrorism. But as we sat there, all of us charmed by the talk, the second intifada, so-called, was at that very moment decimating the cities of Israel — day after day buses were being blown up, cafés, groceries, baby carriages, torn bodies strewn bloodily in the streets, murderousness heaped on murderousness. Yet for my companions at that exhilarating little table it was all remote. They were untouched. It was not that they would have been incapable of being touched if it had come into their thoughts — but it did not live in their thoughts, it was not an element of their lives. Whereas for me it was the sorrowing center of every breath.

It goes without saying that as a writer I was in possession of the whole of my companions’ world: culturally speaking, there was nothing that they possessed that I did not equally possess. In a literary sense we had everything in common. But my grief was absent from their ken. A membrane of separation hung between us, and left me orphaned and alone. And this membrane, this frequently opaque veil, is part of what it is to be a Jewish writer in America. It may not, it will not, define our common subject matter; but it defines our subjectivity: the historic frailty of Jewish lives, the perilous contingency of the ordinary. And it can lead to a sort of credo of choosing. Trilling or Bellow? Vulnerability or fearlessness? Cowardice or courage? To own the American language is a glory in itself; but even more significant is the power to pierce the veil. At that jubilant little table I was abysmally at fault. It was I who had orphaned myself. I did not speak of what I felt, of what I dreaded, I did not tell my sorrowing. I let it lie sequestered and apart, like a secret. Perhaps I was reluctant, in so harmonious an atmosphere, to introduce the depravity of terror — though in a very few months it would introduce itself, horribly, in New York, not far from our little table. Participating wholly in American writerliness, I failed to reciprocate: I did not summon American writerliness into my Jewish subjectivity. That night, I chose Trilling’s way over Bellow’s, and I have regretted it ever since.

Every language carries history in its sinews and bones. If you look hard at the inmost structure of the word “beauty,” you will see the Norman Conquest. It may be the same with writers. The inmost structure of a Jewish writer will carry the history of a long, long procession of Jewish ideas and experiences — and this will hold whether the writer wishes to abandon or cultivate those ideas and experiences. In either case, they must be grappled with. Here Trilling’s images of wind and water turn out to be apt. Realizing one’s Jewish consciousness, as he put it while putting it down, is finally not to curtail; instead, it unfurls a sail. And when the sail is in place, the voyage can begin.

Please know the depth of my gratitude for this signal recognition. Since I am just starting out, I hope I may some day be worthy of it.

March 8, 2011
JBC Bookshelf: Expanded Edition

In an effort to create some pre-book award ceremony (tomorrow!!) order in my life, I’ve finally gone through some of the spring titles that have come across my desk. Sorting through the newbies, there’s  a wonderful assortment of fiction, poetry, Israel studies, Passover haggadahs, and memoirs. A few of the highlights are below, and stayed tuned for next week’s guest blogger Reyna Simnegar‘s posts…a special pre-Purim treat (Reyna is the author if the recently published Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love).

Israel

A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, Daniel Byman (June 2011, Oxford University Press)

The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against Israel, Michael J. Totten (April 2011, Encounter Books)
Interested in the topic? Check out last year’s NETWORK author Thanassis Cambanis, who recently spoke for us at a Birthright alumni event

Peace in the Making. The Menachem Begin – Anwar Sadat Personal Correspondence, Harry Hurwitz and Yisrael Medad (January 2011, Gefen Publishing House)

Passover

Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities, David Arnow (March 2011, Jewish Lights Publishing)
This is the expanded edition with new chapters

Haggadah in Another Dimension Celebrating in 3D, Michael Medina, Emi Sfard, Eli Neeman (Kippod3D)

The Szyk Haggadah, Arthur Szyk, Byron L. Sherwin with Irvin Ungar (April 2011, Abrams)

Fiction

Tel Aviv Stories, Ashley Rindsberg (2010, Midnight Oil Publishing)

Foreplay: Hannah Arendt, the Two Adornos, and Walter Benjamin, a play by Carl Djerassi (April 2011, University of Wisconsin Press)
A new play detailed the private lives of some of the greatest figures of the 20th century German intellectual scene

The Oriental Wife, Evelyn Toynton (July 2011, Other Press)
A tale of love, tragedy, and betrayal among Jewish immigrants caught in the conflicting space between Old World values and American ideals

Jerusalem Maiden: A Novel, Talia Carner (May 2011, Harper)
The story of a young woman in early 20th century Jerusalem who struggles with her faith as her desires pull her away from home

Girl Unwrapped, Gabriella Goliger (May 2011, Arsenal Pulp)
A coming-of-age story set in 1960′s Montreal

Folktales of the Jews: Tales from Arab Lands, Dan Ben-Amos with Dov Noy (April 2011, JPS)
The third volume in JPS’s folktale series, which selects and publishes representative tales from the major ethno-linguistic communities in the Jewish world. The first volume, Tales from the Sephardic Dispersion won a National Jewish Book Award.

View past editions of JBC Bookshelf here.

March 7, 2011
JBC in Jerusalem

The JBC team traveled to Jerusalem last month for Jerusalem International Book Fair. Check out some of the below posts to learn about some of the interesting projects we came across and interesting people we met:

Ludwig Mayer Books

The Jewish Book Council team has had an amazing first two days at Jerusalem International Book Fair. We’ve spent time meeting authors, reviewers, and our publishing peers from all over the world and will be sharing some of the interesting bites from our trip throughout the week.

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Simtaot Books

Our friends over at Urim Publications connected us with one of their new colleagues in the field, Simtaot Books (translated as alleyways). Yesterday, I had a chance to sit down with Uriel Cohn, editor of Simtaot Books, to hear more about the project.

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For the Love of Japan

As international as the Jerusalem Book Fair is, I certainly wasn’t expecting to have a Russian man ask me「どこに住んでいますか?」  (“doko ni sunde imasu ka?” –Japanese for “where do you live?”).

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