The ProsenPeople

Have an Extra $40 Million on your Hands?

Thursday, February 12, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Well, fear not! We found a way for you to spend it. Sotheby’s is auctioning off what scholars in the field have described as “the finest private library of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world.”

From The New York Times:

These 13,000 books and manuscripts were primarily collected by one man, Jack V. Lunzer, who was born in Antwerp in 1924, lives in London and made his fortune as a merchant of industrial diamonds. The collection’s geographical scale is matched by its temporal breadth, which extends over a millennium. But this endeavor is not just an exercise in bibliophilia. These are all books written in Hebrew or using Hebrew script, many of them rare or even unique. Most come from the earliest centuries of Hebrew printing in their places of origins and thus map out a history of the flourishing of Jewish communities around the world. . . Sotheby’s has put it on sale as a single collection. Through next Thursday it is being handsomely displayed to the public.

To read whole Times article, click here.

And, if you’re interested in viewing this collection, check out Sotheby’s viewing schedule.

The exhibition of the Valmadonna Trust Library is on view through next Thursday at Sotheby’s, 1334 York Avenue, at 72nd Street, Manhattan; (212) 606-7000.

Above Photo: Rob Bennett for The New York Times

JPS Aims to Donate 2500 Pounds of Books

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

When the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) discovered four years ago that Jews serving in the U.S. military were offered only the New Testament as their “standard issue Bible,” the nonprofit publishing company responded by raising more than $70,000 to send free copies of the JPS Tanakh (an English translation of the Hebrew Bible) to 13,000 Jewish servicemen and women.

Bravo, JPS!

To read more about this project, please click here.

Like Israel? Like Books?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter 

Then we have the perfect trip for you! Registration for the Jewish Book Council and Hillel’s Taglit Birthright Israel Journalism/Literature trip opens next week.

Israel was built on the written word: the words of the Torah that first designated Eretz Yisrael, the words of the Sages and rabbinic figures who recorded the history of the land, the words of Theodor Herzl who inspired the modern concept of a Jewish state, the words of the journalists who brought the plight of those aboard The Exodus into living rooms across the world, the words of delegates who crafted the Balfour Declaration and Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the words of authors who inspired a struggling nation in its early years, and the words of the next generations of writers who explore, deconstruct, and promote the fast-paced, vibrant and tumultuous culture of living in Israel. With the Taglit-Birthright Israel Hillel/Jewish Book Council trip to Israel, these words come off the page and become an unforgettable experience.

Registration for Summer 2009 will open on February 17th for anyone who ever applied in the past (but didn’t go) and Feb. 19th for totally new applicants. Registration is open until March 4th. To register, please visit

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Sana Krasikov

Sunday, February 08, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our fourth installment of “Words from our Finalists”…Sana Krasikov

Sana…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Sana

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

Deciding where to begin. There are so many ways to tell a great story – especially a story with different perspectives. You spend months building a house in your mind and then have to make a practical decision about where to put the door so that the reader can enter and not feel completely bewildered.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

I’m always relying on new sources of inspiration, and they’ve changed over the years. Just talking with people has been a big part of it – conversation for me is one of the great pleasures of life. I was in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, talking to a woman who was selling me lentil soup, and she said, “I hate Saddam Hussein, but I like him for one thing: invading Kuwait.” It turned out that she had been able to escape an arranged marriage, and take her kids, because she was on a plane heading to Egypt when Saddam entered Kuwait. In the chaos that followed, her husband was stuck in Kuwait while she fled to the States. An event that meant disaster for thousands turned out to be the agent of her deliverance. I heard somewhere once that Isaac Bashevis Singer would eat his meals at cafeterias on Broadway. Just so he could chat people up and listen to their stories. It’s such a shame we don’t have cafeterias any more.

Who is your intended audience?

I try not to think about an intended audience. My first commitment is always to the reality of characters and the world of the story. I want to be so inside it that it doesn’t even feel like fiction.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I’m starting a novel that moves through different locales and time periods, Depression-era New York and San Francisco, 1950′s Moscow, and the gas fields of the Barents Sea.

What are you reading now?

I’m going through a Murakami phase. When I was living in Moscow for a year, I’d go into the English-language section of the book store on the main strip and see exactly three types of titles: Candace Bushnell, a single copy of Woody Allen’s Without Feathers and about a dozen Huraki Murakami novels. I thought, wow, they really like Murakami here. Now that I’m reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I can see why. He’s willing to push the mystical boundary of realism the way an author like Dostoyevsky did. Underneath a lot of my own writing, there is bedrock of realism – a classical, sometimes dark realism that’s very much rooted in a Russian tradition. I wouldn’t exactly call Murakami writing “magical,” but I love the way he tries get at a reality beyond the senses.

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

It came in bits and spurts. My second job out of college was at a law-firm in downtown Manhattan, on Battery Park. About two months after I started, I lost my sublet – and for about a month, while I looked for a place to live, I moved into one of the “war rooms,” where they kept boxes of documents for the legal cases. I kept an inflatable mattress and showered at a gym across the street. In that month, the biggest challenge was not to get found out by the lawyers – I’d be there at eleven getting ready for bed, and people were still in the offices working. I think those few weeks shifted my frame of mind somewhat – being in the middle of that environment and also existing in an alternate reality from it. I ended up doing a lot of writing in the evenings and mornings – there was an odd seamlessness to the days. Of course I couldn’t go on living like this. But I ended up writing a story that helped me win a fellowship later, and I think the experience gave me a taste for a kind of misanthropy that’s served me well. After all, writing is all about finding a place for personal freedom in the public sphere.

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

I think with any art, it always takes a while for your skills to catch up to your vision. I want to become that person – that writer – who is capable of executing her vision. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to be given the gift of growth without paying your dues through some form of failure. You almost have to embrace it.

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

I wish there was a set ritual, but there isn’t at the moment. When I spend a lot of time in my head, I feel that a walk helps – any stream of sensory input that isn’t intellectual can bring me back down to earth. Today I walked to a skating rink and watched about a hundred kids, six and seven-year olds, skating. Some of them would fall over, others were very confident on the ice. They would skate up to the side and start their own conversations in separate little groups, all while speakers blasted a radio station down at them. I thought – wow, there are entire social worlds about which I have no idea. And I also, kids today must have to learn to tune out a whole lot of media at an early age.

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

This is going to be my most Jewish answer. I think we as people and as readers are capable of an enormous emotional range. Yet so much of what we see in the movies and on TV, and read in books, tells us that there has to be a big redemptive note at the end. I hope my stories resonate with people’s own life experiences. And in the end I hope people can feel that the more painful parts of life are not things that need to be avoided altogether, or treated as contagious, or something to be medicated for. What’s beautiful about so much of Jewish music is that even the major chords can have a minor feel to them. There is no stable major or minor tonality that you have in music that’s written on a western seven-note scale. The characters in my stories often find themselves in difficult circumstances, but it doesn’t mean they let the sweetness of life go by untasted. I think to expand our capacity for joy, we need to allow it to have an element of the opposite.

Sneak Peek…

Friday, February 06, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Spring issue of Jewish Book World is coming soon! To celebrate, we thought we’d share a sneak peek of the issue with an excerpt from Jaclyn Trop’s article “Book Trailers: Seen the Trailer? Now Read the Book!”:

Imagine sitting face-to-face with a potential reader, explaining why he or she should pick up your book. Add music, colors, animation, and a flash of plot to support your argument. Can you make the sale?

You have three minutes. Go!

Book trailers—short promotional videos that authors post to the Web—are a marketer’s dream, adding another tool to the sales arsenal while reaching an exponential audience. These videos, which are like movie previews but for the pixilated screen, can strike to the heart of a book’s premise in a way a traditional print advertisement can’t. Best of all, they can be replayed on command, e-mailed and shared among Web users with the click of a button.

“Once something goes up on the Internet, it’s there forever,” said Sheila Clover English, CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, which creates and distributes book trailers. English trademarked the term “book trailer” in 2002 and has seen business increase from 12 trailers in 2005 to more than 200 last year.

Production time varies—from a couple of weeks to less than a day—and costs can range from several thousand dollars to pennies, depending upon the author’s degree of involvement. But distribution is free of charge, and trailers can be posted anywhere, from YouTube and to author blogs and reader forums.

Unlike the ephemeral power of a radio or television spot, a book trailer is “actively working for you,” English said. “It’s always selling your book.” A new author can expect his or her trailer to be viewed between 10,000 and 50,000 times in a two-week period. On average, between 30 and 60 percent of viewers make a direct purchase after watching, English said.

To read the complete article, be sure to check out the Spring issue of Jewish Book World. To subscribe, please click here.

Preview some of the trailers featured later in the article:



Ted Solotaroff on his Commentary Days

Thursday, February 05, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Nation just published a two-part article written by Ted Solotaroff on hisCommentary days. John Palattella writes:

[In 2005] Ted was immersed in writing a memoir about his own days as a literary editor and critic. “Adventures in Editing,” the second part of which will appear in the next issue of The Nation, is an edited version of that memoir, which was left unfinished when Ted died in August. “Adventures in Editing” concerns Ted’s first magazine gig: the years he worked under the tutelage of Norman Podhoretz at Commentary in the early 1960s.

To read part I and part II of this article, please click below:

Part I: Adventures in Editing: Ted Solotaroff’s ‘Commentary’ Days

Part II: Further Adventures in Editing: Ted Solotaroff at ‘Commentary’

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Elisa Albert

Thursday, February 05, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our third installment of “Words from our Finalists”…Elisa Albert

Elisa…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Elisa

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

The wide-open possibilities, I suppose. When you’re not bound to facts, the “what-really-happened”, those endless open roads can be daunting. How to make the right choices for your characters? How to be true to life while making the whole thing up?

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

I fell in love with books as a kid and always felt driven to express myself in such a way as to honor what I found in my favorite writing. Lorrie Moore’s short story “How to Be a Writer” (from Self Help, 1984, click to read) struck me like a bolt of lightening in high school. And I have an extremely dog-eared copy of The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories edited by Tobias Wolff; I must’ve torn through that thing a hundred times.

Who is your intended audience?

I actually try to avoid thinking about audience altogether; it can hobble me in a lot of ways. The real or imagined expectations of real or imagined readers (your mom, your mom’s friends, your friends’ moms, your teachers, your friends, your enemies, the lady at the drugstore, that guy who wronged you a decade ago,ad nauseum) seem to serve only as a limiting, censuring force, and to write fiction I believe one needs to be free of all that.

Do you think your work speaks predominantly to your generation? Future generations? Or, older generations?

My work transcends time and generation, speaking to the core of universal human experience. Okay, no, sorry. I really couldn’t say, but I do feel fairly rooted in this present moment, both as a reader and as a writer. Who knows how that might translate over time?

Who is the reader over your shoulder?

Some conglomeration of the teachers I’ve been so blessed to have (Binnie Kirshenbaum, Jayne Anne Phillips, Stephen McCauley, and David Gates, especially), and some best version of myself — a reader who is sympathetic, empathetic, aware, well-versed, and capable of holding two opposing ideas in her head at the same time. Basically, a presence I adore and trust, and with which I don’t feel the least bit self-conscious or afraid.

Are you working on anything new right now?

Well! I just finished an opus: his name is Miller David Schwarzschild and he’s nine days old as of this writing. Next up, I’m editing an anthology of original personal essays by literary authors on sibling relationships, under contract to Free Press. Working title is Freud’s Blind Spot, and contributors include Erica Jong, Julie Orringer, Peter Orner, and Joanna Hershon. I’m also taking notes for a new novel about travel (the notion of the wandering Jew looms large), playing with a couple short stories, and writing two essays for upcoming anthologies, one on my feminist “click” moment and one on sex.

What are you reading now?

I finished Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland recently and was utterly charmed, moved, and delighted by it. An absolutely elegant and perfectly wrought book. So very deserving of its reception.

Very different, but no less excellent, is Gilad Elbom’sScream Queens of the Dead Sea, which I found at Dove and Hudson, Albany’s wonderful used bookstore, and picked up on a whim. A wacky, wild, very funny and perverse ride through a few days in the life of an Israeli metalhead working at the local mental institution.

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

I don’t think I decided to be a writer so much as decided that my attempts to be anything else were just not going to cut it. I did decide to go to grad school while temping at a really depressing little literary agency, though, and taking that step was a big commitment, in my mind, to giving the writing a serious go.

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

A steady and constant writing life is the ultimate goal for me. Pushing forward and quite simply doing the work, day in and day out. It’s a huge challenge for me: I tend, quite honestly, toward rather dramatic bursts of productivity book-ended by periods of creative despondency and self-loathing. I feel like I’ve conquered the world and the worst in myself when I can just do the work, do the work, do the work, and let the chips fall where they may.

Also, lately, I very much aspire to breastfeed and nap at the same time.

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

I circle around it pretty elaborately: a walk to the store, a cup of tea and a snack, the window shades just so, the soundtrack extensively mulled, the laundry done, the house clean. (See also, above: creative despondency.) Then, when there’s nothing else to be done, when I have no choice but to face whatever I’m trying to write, I write. And if it goes poorly, at least I have the solace of some nice music in a clean house.

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

I suppose the answer depends on the reader. On the broadest level, and at its best, fiction can do miraculous things: show us bits and pieces of ourselves in stories with which we might not otherwise immediately identify, expand our capacity for real-life empathy by forcing us to empathize with characters we’ll never actually meet, and make us think about how vastly different perspectives on the world can form a really vibrant, if challenging, harmony.

You can read more about Elisa Albert by visiting her website here.

Waltz with Bashir: The Book

Monday, February 02, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Created simultaneously with the Award winning film, Waltz With Bashir: A Lebanon War Story (Ari Folman and David Polonsky), the graphic novel, will be published by Metropolitan Books on February 17th. The novel, and film, depict Folman’s exploration of war, repression, and remembrance in connection to the 1982 war in Lebanon. Drawing on the stories of other soldiers and his own returning fragments of memory, Folman pieces together the war and his place in it.

In the interview accompanying the press release for the book, David Polonsky answers how the experience of reading the book is different from seeing the movie:

David Polonsky: The role of the viewer changes in an interesting way. In the cinema, as a filmmaker, you own the audience, but with a book it’s completely reversed. You’re at the mercy of the reader, who can close the book at any moment. To say it differently, the book puts the story into the reader’s hands while in the movie theater the viewer is in the hands of the storyteller. So the job of keeping the reader’s attention is more of a challenge. Also, I’d say that in the graphic novel the story is tighter, we were able to present the historical facts more clearly, and the panels, without the special effects of the movie process, are more detailed and refined.

And the audience’s relationship to it is different. The pace of the book allows for a better grasp of the nuances and a more reliable transfer of information. Reading a graphic novel, you’re not in danger of losing track of the story and you have time to pause over the panels and take in details that otherwise fly by. Another thing is that in the book the drawings are able to stand as art in their own right, and you see how much of the story the carry. Both the illustrations and the reader’s mind get to play a larger role.

And…a preview of the book:

Image used courtesy of Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company and authors Ari Folman and David Polonsky

And…here’s the trailer for the movie:

Check out PW for more information about the book.

For a longer excerpt, click here.

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Anne Landsman

Monday, February 02, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Second up in “Words from our Finalists”…Anne Landsman

Anne…meet our Readers

Readers…meet Anne

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

There is no blueprint for writing fiction, no map, no recipe. The fiction writer stumbles upon his or her story the way an archeologist rubs the dirt off an important historical find. There’s a huge amount of luck involved, lots of calculated guesswork and many hours of looking and thinking. What guides you through the process is curiosity about human beings and their vagaries, and a deep-seated fascination for the way people live their lives.

Who or what has been inspiration for writing fiction?

As far back as I can remember, books were a big part of my life. I remember how much I loved looking at picture books, and the way I would examine and inhabit the images that ran alongside the narrative. As I learned to read, the images diminished and disappeared, and then magically re-appeared within the body of the text, in the writer’s descriptions. For most of my childhood, I lived within the pages of novels. When I was immersed in reading a book, I felt wedded to the characters I was reading about, and sometimes found it hard to accept that other readers had other sorts of relationships with these characters, or saw them in a different light. Even though I grew up in a small South African town, I had a visceral connection with contemporary American Jewish books as my mother fed me a constant diet of Potok, Uris, Malamud and Wouk. New York City neighborhoods glittered in my imagination. I wondered what a frappe was, and what an egg cream tasted like, and one hot summer as I lay indoors reading, reading, reading, I believed that I was Marjorie Morningstar. I loved the tactile nature of books, their smell, the feel of their pages, the illustrations on the cover. I think I began writing fiction as a way to recapture that magic, but from the inside out. I moved from being a dinner-guest to the host at the feast that is the novel.

Who is your intended audience?

I like to think that all kinds of people would be drawn to my work as we all live in families of one kind or another, we all experience the pain of a losing a loved one, the joy of seeing a new life come into the world, as well as all the twists and turns in between. I’m intrigued by family ties, how they get stretched, expanded, broken, renewed by circumstance, history, geography. These are universal concerns, not limited to one particular audience. And being a Jewish writer is such a gift because we straddle several traditions, cultures, histories, giving us access to such a wealth of ideas. I’m a South African, Lithuanian, American Jew who grew up speaking fluent Afrikaans (as my second language), loved Shakespeare, Bronte and Dickens, and went to cheder three times a week. All of these strands influence who I am, and how I write, and they connect with people all over the globe.

Do you think your work speaks predominantly to your generation? Future generations? Or, older generations?

Although both my novels deal with the past, they have contemporary narrators who reflect on both the past and the present, with an eye on what lies ahead. Since one of my main interests as a writer is the workings of memory, and how our lives are built on the complex interface between what we’ve lived through, and what we hope for, I feel that I can speak to future generations as well as older generations as we all find themselves in exactly the same predicament. No one escapes the beginning of life, or the end. And we all have dreams, disappointments and desires along the way.

Who is the reader over your shoulder?

For better or worse, the reader over my shoulder is me, and I tend to be very hard on myself. I’m quick to judge, and this gets in my way. The best advice I could give to an aspiring writer is get out of your own way, immerse yourself fully in your story and, mostly importantly, keep writing.

Are you working on anything new right now?

Yes. It’s set in the past but this time I’m trying something different. Instead of doing tons and tons of research before writing, I’m doing the research as I go along. I recently wrote a post-it with the phrase “drive-by research” to explain the process to myself. Also, I’m not going for historical accuracy as it has a fairy tale aspect to it, a kind of magic. The language has taken on a life of its own, which is is thrilling but also terrifying. I never quite know if it’s going to keep on coming, or dry up!

What are you reading now?

I just finished the The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln, which was begun in 1690, and is the diary of a 44 year-old German Jewish widow and mother of fourteen children. She chronicles her family’s story so that her children will know their own past. She shows a remarkable business sense, a sharp eye for detail and a deep sense of piety. (And this might give you a clue to the time period my next novel is set in…)

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

I’m not sure I ever consciously decided to become a writer. Very early on – I was perhaps six or seven – I remember trying to draw a horse at school. I was happy with how the head turned out but then really struggled with the body and legs. So I drew a giant bag that covered the misshapen body and left just the horse’s head sticking out. I have a blurry memory of the teacher standing behind me, and me telling a story, or thinking about telling the story of how the horse got into the bag. I remember feeling a rush of excitement as I realized all the different possibilities. What was a picture had turned into a narrative.

Later, I was a girl scout in the only girl scout troop in Worcester, the small South African town where I was born and raised. Seamlessly, automatically, I became the troop scribe, and had a badge with a quill on it to prove it. Writing stories always came naturally to me, and I excelled at writing “compositions” at school, which were short stories in miniature. There were no creative writing programs in South Africa and it didn’t occur to me at that time in my life that I could ever write a novel. I left South Africa during the dark days of apartheid and moved to the U.S. where I went to film school and explored the idea of becoming a director or a screenwriter. For several years after graduating, I worked on a screenwriting project about the life of Frank Lloyd Wright but eventually came back to where I started – spinning a story out of an unusual situation that I had imagined all by myself. I finished my first novel when I was pregnant with my first child, and when it was published, I was pregnant with my second. Motherhood – although sometimes lengthening the writing process – has forced me to take myself seriously, fully inhabit my own skin. Writing has become who I am and how I live in the world. Words are my fins, my wings, my shell.

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

I don’t think it’s possible to define success as a writer, or to ever achieve it, because as you approach what you think it is, it morphs into something else. It’s the ever-receding goal. Once you conquer one peak, you find out that there are many others just behind it. Perhaps it’s better to try to be successful as a human being, knowing yourself and your limitations, as well as your strengths.

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

I write at the Writers Room, a not-for-profit writers’ workspace in downtown Manhattan. I work at whatever desk is available – and this changes from day to day – so there are no permanent talismans or objects on my desk. My talisman is the silent company of others, and the noiseless hum of their concentration. It’s like being in the ocean with a group of surfers, riding the swells and waiting for the next big wave.

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

My novel, The Rowing Lesson, is Betsy Klein’s bed-side elegy for her dying father, Harry. It’s her attempt to capture the essence of who he was, before she loses him forever. I think most of us are fascinated by who our parents really were. We get snippets of them. And I think we want more, because we can understand ourselves better when we understand them better. And that’s what’s at the heart of Betsy’s journey. It’s her attempt to see her father clearly, so she can come to terms with him. She summons him up and tries to understand him and when she does, she is finally able to understand herself.

One of the best compliments a reader ever gave me was that he told me that he was in the middle of reading my book when he got a call from his mother to say that his father was dying. During the difficult days that followed, as he flew from the U.K. to South Africa to be with his father, he kept reading The Rowing Lesson. He said it became the companion to his grief.

Along with the enormous lesson that’s learned when a parent dies, the novel celebrates and underscores the sanctity of life, and what it was like to come of age in World War II era-South Africa, and be part of the vibrant and unique Jewish community there.

You can read more about Anne Landsman by visiting her website here.

Interview with Danny Levine, owner of J. Levine Books & Judaica

Friday, January 30, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Just came across this interesting interview with Danny Levine, owner of J. Levine Books & Judaica.