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Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist Daniel Torday

Monday, May 01, 2017 | Permalink

Jewish Book Council is proud to introduce readers to the five emerging fiction authors named as finalists for the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. Today, we invite you to learn more about Daniel Torday and his book, The Last Flight of Poxl West, a novel about a teenager and his relationship with his uncle, a World War II hero of the Royal Air Force.

A warm congratulations to Daniel and the other four finalists: Paul Goldberg, Idra Novey, Adam Ehrlich Sachs, and Rebecca Schiff. Join Jewish Book Council on May 3, 2017 at The Jewish Museum for a discussion with the authors and announcement of the recipient of the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature! Register for free tickets here »

What're some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

All of it! The more time you spend writing, the more you understand all the things that somehow won’t work in a novel. Flannery O’Connor said it best: “You can get away with anything you can get away with as a writer, but nobody’s ever gotten away with much.”

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Harold Brodkey. Joan Didion. The Wire. Art Spiegelman. Marilynne Robinson, the paintings of Egon Schiele. Annie Dillard. Albert Goldbarth. Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan.

Who is your intended audience?

I’d like to think I write for the reader who loves to read as much as I do! I’m as happy re-reading Saul Bellow’s short stories, or some big thousand-page biography by Robert Caro, as I am watching a baseball game.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I’m trying to put the finishing touches on a new novel. It’s tentatively called BOOMER1. Though yesterday it was tentatively called something else so who knows. It’s about a guy in his early thirties who quits New York, moves into his parents’ basement in suburban Baltimore and tries to foment a revolution, sparking millennials to force baby boomers to quit their jobs.

What are you reading now?

Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles. Vivian Gornick’s little book on Emma Goldman, Revolution as a Way of Life. Gershom Scholem’s Sabbatai Sevi biography. Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life.

Top 5 favorite books

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

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

Oh, I always wanted to be a writer. At my bar mitzvah, a succession of cousins and uncles suggested I would make a great lawyer. Each, a lawyer himself. I spent every September in my twenties buying LSAT prep books on Amazon, and every October not reading them. Luckily this writing/teaching thing seems to be working out, but there’s always the Fall 2017 LSAT….

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

I was so excited when I found out Michiko Kakutani was reviewing The Last Flight of Poxl West in the Times. I (embarrassingly) wrote everyone I knew to tell them. My old college friend, John Green, who has sold literally tens of millions of copies of his books, wrote back to say something like, “That’s cool, but you know what the best is? Just one person, somewhere, truly engaged with your work.” So, that.

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

I forget who but someone smarter than me said something along the lines of “the art of writing is the meeting of the seat of the pants with the seat of the chair.” So I try to be disciplined: sitting front of the computer for three hours a day, all week long, when I’m at work. A whole lot of it’s going to get thrown out, anyway.

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

I think the dream is for a reader who feels they see the world a little more clearly, in a little more detail, and a little more generously, after closing every novel they read. So if they read me, I’m just happy to know that’s what they’re doing when they do it.

Daniel Torday is the Director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College. An author and former editor at Esquire magazine, Torday currently serves as an editor at The Kenyon Review. His short stories and essays have appeared in Esquire, Glimmer Train, Harper Perennial's Fifty-Two Stories, Harvard Review, The New York Times, and The Kenyon Review. Torday's novella The Sensualist won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for debut fiction; The Last Flight of Poxl West received the 2015 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction.

30 Days, 30 Authors: Daniel Torday

Tuesday, November 17, 2015 | Permalink
Celebrate Jewish Book Month with #30days30authors! In honor of the 90th anniversary of Fanny Goldstein's tribute to Jewish books in the West End's branch of the Boston Public Library, Jewish Book Council invited 30 leading authors, one for each day of the month, to answer a few questions.

Daniel Torday is the author of the novel The Last Flight of Poxl West. The book was reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review, and in the daily Times, Michiko Kakutani said the novel "announces Torday's emergence as a writer deserving of attention." Esquire Magazine called Poxl's ending "the best 149 words published this year." Torday's novella, The Sensualist, won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for debut fiction. He is the Director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College.



Friday, May 22, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Daniel Torday wrote about contemporary Jewish writers in a world post-Philip Roth and alluding to the Torah in the modern novel. He is the author of the recently published novel The Last Flight of Poxl West and has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Almost a decade ago now, after much deliberation, my wife and I decided to take our honeymoon on the island of Dominica. An old friend had honeymooned there and loved it—it was the nature island of the Caribbean, and while we loved the beach and each other, we didn’t want just to lie around in the sun for two weeks. I’d long heard of the island because my grandmother’s cousins, John and Rene, had been living there for almost two decades. John had been a World Bank official. In a lifetime of travel around the world, that was where he had decided to settle. So we’d visit. We would spend a week at an eco-tourist resort on the ocean side of the island, and then spend three days with these cousins on the Caribbean side.

We left North Carolina Monday morning after our wedding. After sleeping the whole flight from Miami, I awoke to see where, outside my window, out of the blue sea moaned the wild green island. Dominica is less than ten miles across. The entire island is comprised of a series of volcanoes, as high as forty-seven hundred feet tall. It appeared as if we were two people, in love, flying together directly into a tangle of verdant jungle. Instead we landed, took a vertiginous two-hour jeep ride that tested the limits of my inner ears, taking 145-degree turns on roads that seemed to drop a thousand feet straight into steaming chasms, to a resort called Jungle Bay. Simple huts had been built using the trees cut down to clear a space for the place. Utter beauty. For a week we kayaked, got daily massages together while being plied with fresh fruit juice, ate papaya and mango and pineapple our guide picked and cut while we walked.


A week later we took a taxi to my cousins’ house. The place was called Curry’s Rest. The villa was marked by name on our map. The Caribbean side of the island was tamer. As we turned to the east side of the island, the dramatic roads we’d driven in on calmed, unfurling their view to the low sea off to our right. We looked each other in the eyes, and then out at the sea, tranquil together. Then we were ascending again to Curry’s Rest. After fifteen minutes of increasingly narrow unpaved roads up, my cousin John greeted us. He was in his 80’s, hunched and swarthy with Austrian Ashkenazi blood and Dominican sun. By his side he held a machete.

“Welcome, welcome,” he said. “Put down your bags and I’ll give you the run of the place.” My new wife and I looked each other in the eyes. For a week we’d been massaged, rum-punched to relaxation. Now we were going to see something together. Curry’s Rest was an eighteenth-century villa. To the far right of the building was the original structure. John showed us the red coffee beans just inside its open front, which he’d picked and was sun-roasting on chrome platters. The main house was one open room with scalene ceilings. On the second floor was their bedroom, where John told us his wife was napping, and a guestroom where we would sleep. It did not look like somewhere someone might honeymoon. But it did look like a place where someone might stay put.

After settling our belongings, my wife and I followed John on a tour of Curry’s Rest. The only remaining sugar mill, the reason the island had been settled centuries earlier, sat in ruins maybe a hundred yards from the main house. A Brit named Curry had purchased the place from the Dominican government in the nineteenth century. John bought the place from a Mr. Green. The whole property was almost 300 acres, but if they promised to donate all but fifteen acres of the place to the Dominican government, with the understanding it would remain untouched, they could buy it.

They bought it.

We walked the grounds. My wife went in front and listened, and I felt love—she was paying attention to John for me, and she was paying attention because she was interested. Her gentle generous curiosity had brought me to her, and here it was on display. My octogenarian cousin slapped his machete into coconuts and lifted them for us to taste. He was hunched and bald, five feet tall, but he was an elderly ball of kinetic energy. We went back to the house and napped—neither my wife nor I had the energy to keep up with him—and that evening, as the sun cast pink light over the tops of the trees, we drank rum punch. Rene came to join us. She was suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, John had explained as we walked.

“You might not notice it,” he said. “Or you might.”

Now we sat on the porch. The door to the large main room of the house was wide open. A bat swooped into the house. I looked at my new wife to see if she had noticed. She had. Her eyes grew wide to match mine.

Another bat swooped into the room. Two more flew out. Neither of my elderly cousins seemed to notice.

We drank our rum punch, which was twenty-three times as good as what we’d had at our resort. My wife and I both let our eyes pass over Rene. We smiled at her and she smiled back. She was slight, with a head of luminous grey hair. We were eight days married. Our love was big and present, like you could touch it. It wasn’t something you could forget if you tried. Across from us was a married couple, isolated in the jungle while one lost her memory. Rene had left her home in Prague at the outbreak of World War II for a safe haven in London. That was where she had met John, who had escaped Austria under similar circumstances. I’d long wanted to hear the story. I asked Rene if she would tell us. She smiled and said nothing.

“When we met it was 1941,” John said. “We were living in a big group home south of London, full of East European refugees. We’d only known each other a month when I was called up for service.” My wife and I had been dating on and off for nearly eight years. We loved each other something fierce. But it hadn’t always been easy. Love never is. For a couple years we were broken up. By some luck, a year after I moved to a place in Fort Greene, she did, too. On September 11, though we weren’t together, right after I arrived at my office on 55th Street and saw the buildings fall, she was the first person I called. Though we were each dating someone else, we spent that afternoon at a mutual friend’s Midtown apartment, watching the CNN crawl. I loved her even when we weren’t together. One Friday afternoon a year later we ran into each other in Grand Central Station. She’d come back with me to my place. After living together for two years, we were engaged.

“In those days you didn’t always have choices,” John said. “The day I was to head in for service in the British Army, we rode together to the train station. Already we were in love. I asked Rene if she wanted to marry me. She said yes. We’ve been together since.” The two of them were sitting just a couple of feet apart. The sun had now set. We were in that half-light that comes amid the first moments of evening. It was as if the world between us wasn’t real. Bats flitted in and out of the great dark room beside us.

I looked at my new wife. She wasn’t paying any attention to the bats now, either.

“But what I really want to know,” my cousin John said, and we really wanted to know what he really wanted to know, “Is how was that new resort? We’ve heard much about it, but haven’t yet seen it.”

We spent the next hour telling him about the resort. I’d had awful pain in my back when we were sea kayaking and my wife had to do much of the paddling. The highlight had been our long walk up to the boiling lake, where our tour guide, a local man named Jesus, had answered his cell phone at the highest point of the hike, to make plans for with friends for later that week. The lake was obscured by plumes of steam that lifted out of the water. I was afraid of heights, and didn’t like getting close to the edge. 

“I got close to the edge,” my wife said.

She had. I’d followed. There I’d seen something I wouldn’t have otherwise: for a couple seconds the steam would lift, and down in the chasm below we could see the gray roiling water. Without her nudge, I’d never have seen it. Maybe this was the truth of love: the spectacular world you’d never see without the person who brought you there.

I reached out and grabbed my new wife’s hand. She looked at me, I guess, but dark had fallen over us on that porch at Curry’s Rest. I wanted to know what my cousins were thinking. I could only make out the shadowy forms of bats flitting in and out of the house. We couldn’t see John and Rene’s faces. We knew they were there, like they knew we were here, the two of us starting out on the years that lay before us, behind them, green mountain jutting from some blue sea.

Daniel Torday's novella The Sensualist won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. Read more about him here.

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Year Five, A.P.R. (After Philip Roth)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Daniel Torday wrote about alluding to the Torah in the modern novel. He is the author of the recently published novel The Last Flight of Poxl West and will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

We currently reside in the fifth year since Philip Roth announced his retirement from writing fiction, and while many of the faithful held out for a Brett-Favre-style return (well, I did anyway), it now appears Roth meant it. Since Nemesis came out in 2010, we’ve had the entertaining Roth Unbound by Claudia Roth Pierpont, looking back on each of his books. There’s been word of an authorized by Blake Bailey— who may well be the greatest living literary biographer, as his perfect books on Cheever and Richard Yates evince.

But no new Roth.

So what does this void mean for the working Jewish novelist? Is there a substantive sense of a lack of leadership, of competition, in having one of the world’s best living novelists (as Nadine Gordimer called him in the pages of The New York Times Book Review) permanently sidelined? I’ve always loved that when James Joyce met WB Yeats, he told the elder poet, “You are too old. I have met you too late,” apparently meaning too old to teach him anything. The gall! And yet there’s something exhilarating about the brash young novelist (he turned out pretty good) shouting up at the legend.

I don’t harbor in my pen any of Joyce’s limitless skills or pretensions, and I was in my mid-twenties before someone handed me any Roth. As an undergraduate I mostly read Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Melville. But then in my early 20’s I read Goodbye, Columbus, and a whole world opened up before me—as a writer. That the intimacies of urban, suburban and post-urban Newark could be the setting for a literary novel was news to me. My own growth as a writer seemed at times to follow what I read in book after book of Roth’s—his Prague came before the Prague I was making on the page in my own first novel, his Neil Klugman seemed to cast a shadow over my own narrators as he did over those I found in Harold Brodkey, in David Bezmozgis’s Natasha, in so many books I was reading. I’ve got not a thing to teach Roth, like Joyce felt he did Yeats. But I still think of him, however subconsciously, every time I open a fresh Word file.

But I suppose on some level in surveying a literary field with Roth on the sidelines, what we can see now is just a wide open sense of the possibilities for the Jewish novelist, he or she now running out over the edge of some Wiley Coyote cliff, trying hard not to look down. One never wants to name names, but when we read Bezmozgis, Molly Antopol, Nicole Krauss, Gary Shtyengart, Adam Levin, Lara Vapnyar, Jonathan Safran Foer (this list could go on for pages), so many of the huge list of Jewish novelists and story writers working today, there is a sense of waiting to see who will take up that mantel that Roth so long held. And hoping in some weird way that one day we’ll all look down to find there’s one more Roth novel under our feet, back on the field for one last season, against all hope.

Daniel Torday's novella The Sensualist won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. Read more about him here.

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Alluding to the Torah

Monday, May 18, 2015 | Permalink

Daniel Torday's novella The Sensualist won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. His debut novel, The Last Flight of Poxl West, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2015. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

My years as an undergraduate were neatly bookended by reading the two most highly allusive books of modernism: week one at Kenyon College I read TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, and it was as if the top of my head was properly blown off. End of my final year there I wrote a senior thesis on the role of Shylock in James Joyce’s Ulysses, a system of literary allusion to Merchant of Venice that ran through every page of that book. Small surprise I found myself seeking out the Jews in Joyce.

When the time came to write my own first two books, though, I found my system of allusion was nowhere near so broad. I have not tried my hand at getting down just a bit of Sanskrit, as Joyce did in Finnegan’s Wake (I’ve heard that there are as many as 60 languages used to some degree of competence in that novel, though I’ll never try to find out myself—not smart enough). I don’t have a strong sense of the Greeks, as Eliot did.

What I had was the Torah.

And it’s not a bad resource, as five thousand years of its being read might already have suggested. In the moments when Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac arose in mind, or Noah at sea searching for a mountaintop, no matter how distant, there was a sense that rather than reaching for Joyce or Eliot’s resources—or Joyce or Eliot, for that matter!—there was a deep and weighty model at hand. Some of that nearness-to-hand came to make me realize that the years of Hebrew school drudgery weren’t for naught. I’d internalized a lot of stories there. Some came from having recently been through a project of re-reading Genesis and Exodus.

Some, though, came from a markedly non-Jewish source: Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful novel, Housekeeping. I’ve long been a huge fan of the book, but in teaching it every year for the past four or five years in a novel-writing workshop I run, something deep and mysterious has arisen about novel-writing—and about the Pentateuch—for me. There’s a kind of near-mysticism in the Calvinist underpinnings of that novel that feel somehow non-denominational, and yet familiar from my own dabbling in reading about Kabbalah as a kid. Somewhere early in that novel its narrator, Ruth, says, “Everything that falls upon the eye is apparition, a sheet dropped over the world’s true workings.” I don’t know exactly how I square that sentence with my own sense of faith, but I do know it comports with my worldview.

But late in Housekeeping, Ruth moves into something that sounds more to my ear like Midrash. Chapter 10 starts this way:

Cain murdered Abel, and the blood cried out from the earth; the house fell on Job’s children, and a voice was induced or provoked into speaking from a whirlwind; and Rachel mourned for her children; and King David for Absalom. The force behind the movement of time is a mourning that will not be comforted… Cain killed Abel, and the blood cried out from the ground—a story so sad that even God took notice of it.

Every time I read that page my secular and Jewish educations seem to yoga their way right over each other—Wednesday nights at Hebrew school, Saturday mornings as a 19-year-old holed up hung-over in the library reading Faulkner, year after year of looking for the touchstones of my first novel all seem to bend until they touch top of head to heel of foot.

There are systems of allusion and there are systems of allusion; there are stories we’ve heard so long they are no longer stories, but instead some part of our DNA. I’m humbled to feel that in some way I’m able to share mine with those sitting in shul on Saturday morning, those sitting reading the Torah in the comfort of their own home, and those reading Housekeeping every time the headspace opens up to do so.

Read more about Daniel Torday here.

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Writing the Tradition

Friday, August 02, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Daniel Torday wrote about Jewish novella-writers and discussed the complicated "Jewish Writer Question." Daniel's novella The Sensualist won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

After five years as a magazine editor in New York City, I took the leap and the risk to exit the race and take an MFA. I was in my 20’s and didn’t know much more than that I loved books and wanted to write one. My first workshop there was taught by an African American writer whose novels I love, and whose advice—every word of it—has stuck with me every day since.

In one of my first days there, I turned in a short story about a Jewish kid who goes to visit his grandparents in Montreal, and after a long night of drinking ends up skinny-dipping in a hot tub only to see, dramatically and in great detail, that his grandfather isn’t circumcised.

This fact came under appropriate scrutiny by my fellow workshop members. Maybe the writing wasn’t so hot (it wasn’t). Maybe no one wants to read a long description of an octogenarian’s foreskin (they sure don’t!). So I demurred. The story’s been in a drawer since.

But in private conference after workshop, the novelist sat me down. He could see how dejected I was.

“Look look look—so maybe you didn’t pull of that scene,” he said. “But you’ve got material here.”

I looked at him. I said it seemed like people weren’t responding. Maybe I should find something else to write about—I’d been a magazine editor the past couple years, played mandolin in a successful bluegrass band. Who wanted to hear about these people in my family?

“But you’re part of a tradition, man,” the novelist said. “The great Jewish writers! Babel, Singer, Malamud, Bellow, Brodkey, Ozick, Roth! Part of the tradition. Keep after it.”

He was right. He didn’t know I’d spent the past decade reading the Russians, reading Melville, Hawthorne, Austen, Joyce, Woolf, Pound, Faulkner, James, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and that I’d never read a word of Babel, Singer, Malamud, Bellow, Brodkey, Ozick, Roth.

The Tradition. Keep after it. First I’d have some reading to do.

So I did.

Daniel Torday's debut novel, The Last Flight of Poxl West, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2015.

The Complication of the Jewish Writer Question

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Daniel Torday wrote about Jewish novella-writers. Daniel's novella The Sensualist won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

About three days after my second daughter, Delia, was born, I got a call from the editor of a novella I’d published the previous year. She said, “Congratulations!” I thought she was talking about the new baby. After three long minutes of my bumbling about diapers and sleeplessness she said, “You don’t know, do you? You won the National Jewish Book Award!”

My first response was: Holy Oh My God! My second was: I mean, G-d! And my third was: Wait, so, does this make me a Jewish Writer? Because some part of me doesn’t know what that means, and what that means for me.

So here are some facts:

My father was bar mitzvahed one year before I was. My grandparents both converted to Catholicism in Budapest in the ‘40s to survive the war. I have not been to shul in a very long time. I teach undergraduates, and when a seminar falls on Yom Kippur, I generally fail to cancel class. I have written and published short stories about a kid who makes a brother for himself out of duct tape; a guy who is being tortured for not believing the day is thirty hours long; an affair between two non-religiously affiliated adults who have an affair on or around September 11. My second daughter, Delia, who I mentioned above, definitely has an Irish name.

But then here are some concurrent facts: I was bar mitzvahed after many years of Hebrew school, and went on to be confirmed in the shul I attended all through my teenage years. I know what the word “shul” means. I fast every year on Yom Kippur even if I’m teaching—and would probably cancel class if I had the foresight when writing a syllabus. Though my grandmother died too afraid ever to admit she was Jewish after the war, having lost almost everyone in her family, my grandfather told us his family’s history long before he passed a couple summers back. My novella has a major scene that takes place at a Passover seder. I did not have to do “research” in order to find out how a seder goes, to look up the Hebrew for the Four Questions—my memory has them. The book I’m finishing now, a first novel, is in part about a Jewish teenager who is forced to leave his home north of Prague before the war and who ends up piloting a Lancaster bomber for the RAF. My first daughter, Abigail, has a name derived from the Hebrew for “a father’s joy.”

Which is all to say: Am I a Jewish writer? I am Jewish. I have now written two books with decidedly Jewish themes. I have spent time drafting stories and other books wholly absent Jewish themes. Earlier this week I posted a blog here about my favorite “Jewish” novella writers—Roth and Bellow, both of whom are widely thought of as Jewish writers. And who are among my major influences. But then I also love James Salter, who was born James Horowitz. And EL Doctorow. And JD Salinger. All of whom never quite got that moniker.

Which is all to say again: Am I a Jewish writer?

Here’s one more fact:

Last summer I was assigned a review of the New American Haggadah, translated by Nathan Englander and edited by Jonathan Safran Foer (Jewish writer; Jewish writer). And so for the first time in many years I sat down and read Genesis and Exodus. When I did, I had a feeling not of learning, or of readdressing, but of a bone-deep memory that put tears in my eyes by the end of my reading every day. Jewish writer? In many ways complicated. Jewish reader? I’ll own it without equivocation.

Daniel Torday's debut novel, The Last Flight of Poxl West, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2015.

The Jews and the Novella

Monday, July 29, 2013 | Permalink
Daniel Torday's novella The Sensualist won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. His debut novel, The Last Flight of Poxl West, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2015. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I’m biased, having recently published a novella with strong Jewish themes. And this is deeply unscientific and probably not defensible. But I’ll just say it unequivocally and then back off if need be: the most timeless, lasting novellas of the second half of the 20th century were written by Jewish novella-writers. With apologies to Jim Harrison and Denis Johnson, whose novellas I love and teach, it seems to me that Philip Roth and Saul Bellow are the two major novellists (the proper epithet for the novella writer) of the past sixty years. You’d be hard-pressed to put Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus” and Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day up against virtually any other novella of their epoch and find them wanting. Those novellas have grown to be foundational texts of their times, cornerstones of those two major Jewish American writers’ oeuvres.

But more than that, what distinguishes Roth and Bellow as novellists is the sheer quantity and quality of novellas each published—frequently. A quick perusal of the TOC of Bellow’s Collected Stories turns up nearly as many novellas as “stories”—“The Bellarosa Connection,” which was published stand-alone; “A Theft,” one of the Nobel-winner’s finest; “What Kind of Day Did You Have?” clocking in at 70-plus small-print pages. And after the small masterpieces of his mid-career gave us the 86 pages of The Prague Orgy, 96 pages of The Breast, and the speedy The Ghost Writer, the back half of Roth’s celebrated late-career output finds the hopefully-future-Nobelist (a fan can dream, can’t he?) alternating big novels with quick strike novellas published as “novels”: The Dying Animal and Everyman.

Now none of this is to asperse those great mid-to-late century gentile short-novels we can’t but read with envy: Tobias Wolff’s The Barracks Thief, the famous novellas of Marquez and the short masterpieces of Don DeLillo (which, OK, maybe start to poke some boulevard-size holes in my theory, but this is a blog post, after all, and far from comprehensive). And if we’re moving back more toward, say, 1940, I’ll read each piece of Faulkner’s Go Down Moses and If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem again as soon as I get a chance (while trying not to make too much of their Old Testamenty titles).

But I’ll just end by saying that if there was a Jewish-ish writer of the mid-century who gives Roth and Bellow a real run for their money, we might need look no further than… JD Salinger. No one seems to claim Salinger as a “Jewish Writer”—certainly not the way we do Roth or Bellow—though the influence suffuses the Glass family, who like their creator were the scion of a Jewish father and gentile mother. Still: each part of Franny and Zooey, my favorite parts of Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction— those I’ll go back to soon. And again. Right after my next run-through of that heavily Salinger-influenced novella I’ll always call my favorite: “Goodbye, Columbus.”

Read more about Daniel Torday's The Sensualist here.

Related: "West and Schwartz, Dreaming at the Movies" by Ilan Mochari.