The ProsenPeople

One-Paragraph Novels

Monday, June 20, 2011 | Permalink

David Albahari is the Serbian-born Canadian author, most recently, of the novel Leeches. The book is a feat of magic, an existential philosophical novel that’s also funny and with enough mysteries to keep the reader guessing. It’s also one long paragraph — that’s right, a 300-page-long paragraph.  Here, Mr. Albahari explains the motive behind his madness.

There are several reasons why I write my novels in one long paragraph. First of all, I simply like it, I like when black words completely cover the whiteness of paper. Secondly, I feel that when I write in a long paragraph, I am paying hommage to the writers who influenced me with their own long sentences and paragraphs – William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard. And finally, I write like that because I believe that a story or a novel is created in the joint effort between the writer and the reader through the act of reading. The long paragraph is like a dark labyrinth through which they have to find their way. Unfortunately, many readers would rather read books written in short sentences than a novel or a collection of short stories trying to explore new possibilities in the world of fiction. Perhaps they have had enough of postmodern and metafictional literature and believe they deserve a break? That might be why many of them recoil when they are faced with a novel written in a three-hundred-page-long paragraph, convinced that it is more difficult to read than a regular novel. That presumption is wrong because a one-paragraph novel also has its dialogues, descriptions, new paragraphs, and even new chapters. True, they are not so marked but any attentive reader will recognize them in the process of reading. Reading should always be fun, I agree, but it should also be for learning and understanding.

David Albahari is the author of the new novel Leeches. He will be blogging all week for the Visiting Scribe.

JBC Bookshelf: Summer Hodgepodge

Thursday, June 16, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

It’s been a while since my last “Bookshelf,” but things have finally calmed down (ha!) here with summer, and I’ve had some time to compile our latest edition.  This one is a real hodgepodge…memoir, fiction, visual arts. But, what better time to immerse yourself in various topics than summer? Are these beach reads? Uhm…some may be…but not really. That edition will come soon. In the meantime…

And This is the Light, Lea Goldberg; Barbara Harshav, trans.; Nili Scharf Gold, intro. (September 2011, The Toby Press)
Also check out With This Night, Lea(h) Goldberg’s final collection published in her lifetime…now for this first time in English. This one was published in June by University of Texas Press.

Smuggled: A Novel, Christina Shea (July 2011, Black Cat)
This is a good book club read…check out the reading guide from the publisher here.

The Synagogues of Britain and Ireland: An Architectural and Social History (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art), Sharman Kadish (May 2011, Yale University Press)
This one is a real beauty and includes 200 images (120 b&w, 80 color).

Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore (Jewish Museum), Karen Levitov (May 2011, Yale University Press)
Published in conjunction with the exhibit at The Jewish Museum in NYC.

Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings  Susannah Heschel (May 2011, Orbis Books)
Selections from the writings of one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, edited by his daughter.

Lunar Savings Time, Aleck Epstein; Becka Mara McKay, trans. (May 2011, Clockroot Books)
Read an excerpt here.

      

     

Adventures in Fatherland

Thursday, June 16, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Check out The Forward‘s tribute to Father’s Day, featuring short pieces by Dan Friedman, Gal Beckerman, and Larry Cohler-Esses...continue reading here.

The Eichmann Trial – Wednesday, July 20th

Thursday, June 16, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

Announcing our first ever non-fiction Twitter Book Club read:
The Eichmann Trial by Deborah Lipstadt!

Join us to discuss the book with Deborah on Wednesday, July 20th, 12:30-1:10 (Eastern).

Follow @JewishBook  and keep an eye on #JBCBooks for updates and to WIN A FREE COPY of the book.

The capture of SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents in Argentina in May of 1960 and his subsequent trial in Tel Aviv by an Israeli court electrified the world. The public debate it sparked on where, how, and by whom Nazi war criminals should be brought to justice, and the international media coverage of the trial itself, is recognized as a watershed moment in how the civilized world in general and Holocaust survivors in particular found the means to deal with the legacy of genocide on a scale that had never been seen before. In The Eichmann Trial, award- winning historian Deborah Lipstadt gives us an overview of the trial and analyzes the dramatic effect that the testimony of survivors in a court of law— which was itself not without controversy— had on a world that had until then regularly commemorated the Holocaust but never fully understood the millions who died and the hundreds of thousands who managed to survive. As the world continues to confront the ongoing reality of genocide and ponder the fate of those who survive it, this “trial of the century” offers a legal, moral, and political framework for coming to terms with unfathomable evil and with those who perpetrate it. In The Eichmann Trial, Lipstadt infuses a gripping narrative with historical perspective and contemporary urgency…

Check out the reader’s guide and additional resources on the Nextbook website.

The How-To, In Case You’re New:

What is a Twitter Book Club?
A twitter book club provides the opportunity for twitter users to engage in real time conversation about a particular, predetermined book. JBC’s book club aims to provide readers with an opportunity to discuss Jewish interest titles with other interested readers electronically.

To participate…

If you aren’t already a Twitter user, please join twitter here. (Confused about Twitter all together? Visit the twitter twitorial. Follow the Jewish Book Council (@jewishbook). During the designated time and date of the book club follow the conversation by searching for #JBCBooks. If you would like to actively participate, please include #JBCBooks at the end of any comments or questions you wish to contribute.

(Note: New twitter users may have to wait up to a week before their tweets get saved in hashtag searches. Open a twitter account at least a week and a half before this discussion in order to join us!)

We hope you’ll join and enjoy the conversation! If you have something to say or a question to ask, feel free to jump in, and don’t forget to include #JBCBooks at the end of any tweet so that other participants can engage with you.


Jewish Book Carnival: June Edition

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

It’s the 15th of the month…so you know what that means. Jewish Book Carnival! The June Carnival is hosted by Erika Dreifus and features posts about Shavuot, Erika’s experience at the Jewish Book NETWORK conference last month, a podcast with Rona Arato, and MORE. And, don’t forget to join us for our Twitter Book Club today with David Bezmozgis!

2011 National Jewish Book Award Guidelines and Submission Forms

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The guidelines and submission forms for the 2011 National Jewish Book Awards are now available here. This year’s submission deadline is October 5, 2011. NO submissions will be accepted after that date. The winners will be announced in early January, 2012.

Any questions? Email me: Naomi@Jewishbooks.org

Book Cover of the Week: Dreyfus

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The paperback edition of Ruth Harris’s Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century (2010 National Jewish Book Award Winner in Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir) will be available next week:


Reminder: Twitter Book Club Next Wednesday

Friday, June 10, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

Need a good read for the weekend?

Check out David Bezmozgis’s The Free World, then join our online book discussion with the author Wednesday at lunchtime via #JBCBooks on Twitter!

Details here.

Para Español, Oprima el Dos!

Friday, June 10, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this weekLevana Kirschenbaum blogged about domestic disputes and gourmet food and Spanish chocolate-chip cookies. She has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe.

As a language enthusiast I have often deplored the fact that languages, against all wishes, are not contagious or transmissible by any means. In the absence of some reliable formal base, except for some language geniuses there is rarely ever a way to just “pick up” a language, in the streets as it were, and I have often noted with some dismay that Arabic and French, in which I conduct many conversations with my relatives in my husband and children’s presence, remain hopelessly impenetrable to them.

When I arrived in New York almost forty years ago, I settled in Washington Heights. To my mother’s question, “Are you at least learning a little English?” I remember replying, without any sarcasm, “Non, Maman. In New York no one speaks English. They only speak Spanish, and I am not learning that either!” Almost nothing has changed in the Heights!

In my long years as a restaurateur and caterer, there was no missing the fact that an overwhelming majority of kitchen employees speak Spanish, and Spanish only. We would step up the body language in creative and often comical ways to communicate our wishes to our crew. But sometimes even that proved not to be enough. Like the day Delfina, a shy new girl, started working with us, moving very slowly. I asked Flora, who worked with me both in my kitchen and at my house, and who was somewhat bilingual, to interpret for me. “Explain to Delfina,” I started, “the importance of working as a team, at a brisk pace, so no one is forced to pick up the slack, etc….”

The bewildering translation of my little speech was a brutal jab in poor Delfina’s ribs, and a single word delivered in a bark: “Avanza!”

That was the day I decided to register for a ten-hour basic Spanish course, just so I could give my own orders in my own kitchen in my own personal style, thank you very much! Oh I wasn’t terribly ambitious, and to this day I serve all my Spanish verbs totally un-declined: Nature, as we say in French. I remember our lovely and very pregnant Spanishteacher, Martha, ecstatically pointing to her belly for a virtual introduction to named and unborn baby Maya, still in her maternal wrappings. On the last Spanish class day, I brought a homemade apple cake (which I had smugly labeled “Torta de Manzana”) and a taping of the wonderful Hebrew lullaby song “Maya,” which we played over our farewell breakfast. We watched Profesora Martha go to pieces. I asked her jokingly why Flora (better known as “Foya” to my tiny son Yakov who was crazy about her: I can still see him rolling up her shirt sleeve to plant wet kisses on a choice plump spot on her arm) always said “Djako, careful when you open the yar of pickles!”

Why couldn’t Yakov just open the jar of pickles? Or why she always said to little Bella before she left for school, “Bellita mi amor, habe a good tine!” why not just have a good time? That made Martha burst out laughing through her joyful tears. Flora and I were quite a team, at work and at home. One day when the hot water supply was cut off for boiler repairs, she urged me “Oy Labana, Dio Mio, don’t inbent no more new dishes today cuz we don’t got no hot water no more!!! Claro patrona?”

Claro Florita!

Here is my Flora-inspired recipe for black bean soup.

Quick Black Bean Chocolate Soup Recipe

Ingredients:

Sofrito:

1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, quartered
4 large cloves garlic
4 ribs celery, peeled and cut in thirds
1 large red pepper, seeded and quartered
1 bunch flat parsley, stems and all
1/2 small bunch cilantro, stems cut off
6 cups good quality canned black beans (2 large cans), drained and rinsed
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine
3 tablespoons bottled hot sauce
6 bay leaves, or 1 teaspoon ground
3 quarts (12 cups) water
2/3 cup grated semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon oregano

Directions:

Heat the oil in a heavy pot. Make the sofrito: In a food processor, coarsely grind the onion, garlic, celery, pepper, parsley and cilantro. Add ground mixture to the hot oil, and sauté until translucent. Add the beans, tomato paste, wine, hot sauce, bay leaves and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook 30 minutes. Add the chocolate, cumin and oregano and cook for 15 minutes more. Adjust texture and seasonings. Serve hot. Makes a dozen servings.

Lévana Kirschenbaum has been blogging for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council. Her most recent book,The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simplewill be available later this month.

If You Will It, It Is No Dream

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 | Permalink

Austin Ratner, 2011 Sami Rohr Prize Winner and author of The Jump Artist, shares his remarks from the 2011 Sami Rohr Priza Gala.

George Rohr (L) and Austin Ratner (R)

82 years ago Philippe Halsman wrote a letter to his girlfriend Ruth Romer from his prison cell in Innsbruck, Austria.

He wrote: “Tell me Ruth have you ever dreamt you were flying?”

And I want to say a few words about flying.

***
Everyone dreams of flying, at least occasionally, don’t they? I had a recurrent dream as a child that by assuming a certain position, I could sneak my feet off the ground without resting my hands anywhere, achieving levitation as it were by catching gravity unawares.

Such a dream is a concrete expression of a wish –the wish to defy the inexorable laws of the universe, such as gravity, which claims the dead as they fall and holds them to the earth, never to rise again.

The wish to rise up, and its predicate – a sense of vulnerability, and a dread of extinction –these feelings pervade Jewish history and Jewish storytelling.

There is the winged seraph of the Book of Isaiah and other angels aloft with the power of an almighty God.

There is the biblical theme of aliyah, ascent, to the land of Israel as an elusive ideal, a sort of heaven on earth protected by god from murderous enemies, from drought, disease, and famine – a deliverance from death.

Even Superman is Jewish. (He’s also from Cleveland.) In 1932 a Jewish man from Cleveland named Mitchell Siegel died in a robbery of his clothing store. The next year his son Jerry, and a friend Joe Shuster, created the Superman story in an evident attempt to make sense of this tragic event.

Superman himself is an orphan, but without Jerry Siegel and his father’s earthbound vulnerabilities.

***
Philippe Halsman’s life story is almost as paradigmatic. But his story, while as tragic and romantic as Superman’s, is also real.

His father fell, and he arose. The Nazi doctor Karl Meixner photographed his father’s corpse and years later Halsman photographed Judge Learned Hand, at age 87, jumping in the air, floating in the plasma of suspended time that is a photograph.

He went to prison and was freed by the French minister of aviation, Paul Painlevé, a former Dreyfusard and one of the first passengers of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

***
The fact is, as of 108 years ago, people can truly fly. Human beings realized that longstanding dream, among many others, through experiment, struggle, error, and persistence.

It isn’t the superheroic flight of levitating at will. It’s flight burdened with the complexities of reality – such as terrifyingly loud toilets and the unlikely event of a water landing – but it’s flight nevertheless, up in the clouds.

The story of the founding of Israel is so compelling because it is an improbable, romantic dream made into a reality, however fraught with complexity that reality may be.

In a smaller way, the Rohr prize echoes that notion of Theodor Herzl’s: “If you will it, it is no dream.”

Writers spell out dreams and visions on the page, of course. Theodor Herzl was a writer – for the same Vienna newspaper in which Sigmund Freud defended Philippe Halsman, one notes – and so was Superman – his day job was as a beat reporter for the Daily Planet. That’s right. Superman was a Jewish writer from Cleveland. And don’t forget it.

And though an artist doesn’t intend his creations to walk the earth, he does hope to create an object of beauty and meaning in the real world – a real world that’s often harsh and indifferent toward its artists.

As the character Lousteau says of the life of a novelist in Balzac’s Lost Illusions:

“You will have ruined your life and your stomach to give life to this creation, and you will be libeled, betrayed, sold, consigned by journalists to the lagoons of oblivion, buried by your best friends.”

Similarly, Gustave Flaubert remarked during the composition of Madame Bovary:

“I am leading an austere life, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent frenzy, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but never abates. I love my work with a love that is frantic and perverted, as an ascetic loves the hair shirt that scratches his belly.”

And the reward for all that sacrifice may be nothing in a society that, according to Flaubert, has the following attitude to great literature:

“It knows that [the classics] exist, would be sorry if they didn’t, realizes that they serve some vague purpose, but makes no use of them and finds them very boring.”

***

Sana Krasikov (L) and Austin Ratner (R)

For a writer, each story, each book, each submission, is a zeppelin full of hope, many of which are doomed to descend in flames.

This prize not only keeps aloft writers’ hopes, but helps defend a place on earth for the existence of art. Physics doesn’t favor the arts, but the Rohr family does.

I don’t pretend that my fellow nominees are undeserving of this prize, or that I’m the only one who might have won it. I congratulate them whole-heartedly and at the same time I hope they won’t begrudge me the right to celebrate today.

Making this book a reality was for me an existential struggle that seemed at many points as if it would end in despair – with years of my life wasted by labor over a book that nobody cared to read. Yet I persisted.

And after all that, this prize is so redeeming of the struggle. It makes me feel that deep satisfaction of making a good and lofty dream come true in reality, against all odds. It makes me feel myself like Philippe Halsman, the Jump Artist.

Winner Austin Ratner (The Jump Artist) Celebrates

Austin Ratner is the author of The Jump Artist. Read more by Austin on the JBC/MJL Author Blog series here and read a mini-essay he wrote on Mark Helprin’s Ellis Island here.