Gearing up for the next issue of Jewish Book World, the Jewish Book Council has been churning out author interviews with increased voracity over the past few weeks—and we’re delighted to see we’re not the only ones!
This week NBC’s Peter Alexander interviewed his sister Rebecca, who is a 2014-2015 JBC Network author touring with her memoir, Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found. Diagnosed at age thirteen with Usher Syndrome type 3, a rare genetic disorder that deteriorates vision and hearing, Rebecca has remained upbeat and determined to live life the fullest over the past 15 years. In her book and in the interview she shares her belief that with the worsening of her senses her life has improved, that she is happier now than she was before her diagnosis. A practicing psychotherapist and an “extreme athlete” who did a full workout in her hospital gown in the minutes before undergoing surgery for cochlear implants, Rebecca’s story and outlook is tremendously inspiring, and her conversation with her brother is extraordinarily heartfelt.
More specific to the JBC Network program, JCC Greenwich has published an entire series of interviews with the authors it is bringing to its community over the coming months. The series is ingenious promotion for the organization’s book events; their program director, Laura Blum, gives a clear explanation of what the author’s live presentation will entail ahead of the transcribed discussion, in which she truly brings out the best of these authors:
Joshua Safran Discusses Chaotic Boyhood and Ongoing Advocacy for Domestic Violence Survivors
You say your mother was a free spirit, but she was also hostage to fantasy. Why wasn't she more concerned about the impact she was having on the two of you, and how did she reconcile her enslavement to Leopoldo?
To some degree my mother and I were both very encumbered spirits. On one hand my mother would dance around in the woods and celebrate the rising moon, but on the other hand she'd fret that her rising moon ceremony is exploitative of a Native American ritual that she doesn't have the privilege of using. She has this passionate striving, yet this very worldly concern about the impact she's having on real or theoretical people.
Part of the book is a cautionary tale in the unintended consequence of being a free spirit. When you have no rules, there's a great amount of freedom, but you also expose yourself to the Hobbsian state of nature in which those who are nasty and brutish can take advantage of you. That's exactly what happened with Leopoldo, who on the one hand was a shaman, a poet and a healer, and he appeared to fit in with my mother's free-spirited world view, but by right of being a free spirit, he was able to be a tyrant. One of the publishers described the book as "the dark side of the Age of Aquarius."
Knish: Laura Silver Goes In Search of the Jewish Soul Food
As your readers will learn, the K-N-S triradical rears up in Hebrew, meaning "to assemble," "to come in." They'll also come across Isaac Bashevis Singer's description of the knish as "the stuff of longing." In what way does the knish in-gather family and community around a common yearning for the past?
In those books by Jack Finney—Time and Again, From Time to Time— he talks about the Brooklyn Bridge and the Dakota as these architectural gateways to another time because they're the same now as they were then. Something about the knish is transportative too. It's not a uniquely Jewish tendency to cleave to the past, but it might be something we'd be advised to do a little differently. There's so much holding on; I wonder if there's a way to preserve some aspects but still move forward. I've heard so many say, "You can't get a good knish anymore!" And I started saying, "Well, what if you make your own?" They'd be like, "Oh, we don't want to do that." Well, how much do people want to contribute to the future of what Jewishness is?
The Bible's Cutting Room Floor: A Conversation with Dr. Joel Hoffman
How do inconsistencies in the unpublished scriptures strengthen or weaken the belief that the Bible is of divine origin?
There's a phenomenon of professional atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, who point out how absurd the Bible is. Most of them haven't understood it. But if you don't think that the Bible is connected to God, then you have a real problem, because you have to explain why, of all the texts from antiquity, this one is not only still around but so widely read. The minute you say that theBible is no different from, say, Aesop's Fables, you have to explain why it is that the Bible has stretched to every corner of the Earth and Aesop's Fables hasn't. If you think it's about a connection to God, at least you're starting out with an answer. If you don't believe it has to do with God, you have to ask yourself: what is it about these texts that made them endure?
I don't think anyone has the right to say they're an expert in what God does or doesn't touch: that's hubris. But one of the reasons I like the texts from the cutting room floor as well as the Bible is that I think these show remarkable insight into the human condition. These texts -- more than Aristotle and more than Plato and more than Ovid -- explain what it's like to be alive.
Ayelet Waldman Unlocks the Secrets of Love & Treasure
An alternative title to Love & Treasure could be Indifference & Property. In a particularly pungent passage, you describe a client of Amitai's firm whose only connection to a diamond brooch that he "had never set eyes on" from a dead relative "he'd never even known existed" was the windfall check he received. What resonated for you about attachment to, or detachment from, stuff?
I have these silverplated candlesticks that I inherited from my great-grandmother. They're my most prized possession. They're objectively hideously ugly. They aren't worth very much because most of the silver plating has rubbed away, but they're valuable to me because of the connection. I saw an identical pair of candlesticks when I visited Yad Vashem this spring. They were in a pile of objects that belonged to a group of Polish Jews who had been murdered. They had value only as part of this exhibition, for the loss they evoked. My great-grandmother's candlesticks had value in the sense of family that they evoke. Absent that human element and connection, it's a trusim to say that property has no meaning. I was thinking of this notion of treasure and the valuelessness of property as opposed to the value of life.
Nomi Eve Paints a Picture of Yemenite Jewry in Henna House
How did you come to incorporate scenes of magical realism in which characters entertain contradictory visions?
As a writer, I grew up on the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and other Latin American writers, and I have magical realism in my heart. What's real? What's folkloric? Magical realism allows you to explore this. In reading folktales of the Yemenite Jewish community from the North, I felt that those stories had a fairytale quality to them that seemed to naturally go with my impulse toward magical realism. Magical realism is the realm of metaphor: this pain is sweet; this love is taking flight. I see images in my head: "Maybe a bird pecked on her ear." But they're not embellishments; they're the heart of the matter.
Annabelle Gurwitch to Make an Effort in Greenwich
In this latest volume, you take us from crushing on an Apple Genius Bar techie to helping a friend die to "sandwiching" between your son and your parents. How do you balance comedy with solemnity?
The thing that attracts me to movies, to books, to any kind of art is the fine line between comedy and tragedy. I wasn't kidding when I wrote in the book that after my mom's mastectomy, I asked her doctor why they didn't make breast implants for people her age if they could make a Tempur-Pedic. Why does she have to have a breast implant that's going to make it look like she has a 20-year-old breast? Can't they figure that out? It's so dark. We needed that laughter.