Much heated conversation is conducted in these pages and elsewhere in the media about Israel. We debate every aspect of Israel’s present and future — the ups and downs of its political leadership, the role of religion in the Jewish state, the path to peace with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, the security risks that threaten its very existence, and much else besides.
Over the many years I've spent bumping around the book business, I have introduced my wife, Ann, to a great many literary lions and lionesses, but nothing quite compares to the evening when we first met Dora Levy Mossanen at a book-signing for John Rechy at Dutton’s in Brentwood.
Investigative journalists do not tend to make good storytellers. After all, they are trained to write in the taut prose of a daily newspaper, and they are constrained by the discipline of fact-checking. As a result, sometimes they cannot see the forest for the trees when it comes to a charming and cherished fiction that fixes itself in a family’s collective memory.
Jerusalem is always in the headlines, or so it seems, but the same city on a hill has commanded the attention of the Western world without interruption since biblical antiquity.
No book is regarded with more fear and loathing in the West than the Qur’an, the fundamental religious text of Islam, and yet I am confident that most people who are anxious about what is written in the Qur’an have never actually held a copy in their hands, much less opened it and read it.
No book review I’ve written for The Jewish Journal has prompted as much feedback as the one I wrote about “A New Voice for Israel” by Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of J Street. His argument that Israel must make uncomfortable compromises and take dire risks in order to secure peace with the Palestinian Arabs is clearly unsettling to a great many Jews, both in Israel and America.
Jennifer S. Hanin was raised Catholic and converted to Judaism after marrying a Jewish man.
Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a variant of Gresham’s law at work in the arts and letters of the digital age: Is bad writing driving out good? The sheer volume and velocity of the blogosphere, for example, seems to hide the moments of discernment and reflection.
As a rule, a novel speaks for itself and its author, but when it comes to Joseph Heller, we are privileged to have an especially intimate source of information about his life and work.
The long history of the Jews in Poland has been almost wholly eclipsed by the Holocaust. Fully half of the victims of German mass murder were Polish Jews, who numbered approximately 3.5 million on the eve of World War II.
Calvin Trillin, as we are reminded in “Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: forty years of funny stuff” (Random House: $27), has long served as a polestar in the American literary firmament.
When Hirsh Goodman speaks about the destiny of Israel, people listen.
“The letters of the Jews as strict as flames,” writes Karl Shapiro in the poem titled “The Alphabet,” “Or little terrible flowers lean/Stubbornly upwards through the perfect ages/Singing through solid stone the sacred names.”
Memoir has come to be regarded nowadays as a highly corrupted literary form, but we are reminded of how rich and meaningful a memoir can be in “The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” by Edmund de Waal (Picador, $16.00). First published in 2010 to great critical acclaim, the book is now available in a handsome paperback edition, and it’s nothing less than a treasure trove between covers.
The best way to tell if a city has a sizable Jewish population, as my father used to say, is by the number of good Chinese restaurants.
Some beloved and celebrated authors will hit the road in support of their latest books as this summer begins. Here are a few of the most intriguing titles and some of the places where their authors will be reading and signing their books in Southern California:
Based on firsthand experience, I can say that if you find yourself in a room with Michael Shermer, he’s likely to be the smartest guy present, and I do not mean in the Enron sense. Shermer, author of “Why People Believe Weird Things” and “The Science of Good and Evil,” among other books, is the founder of Skeptic magazine, and a fearless and tireless advocate of rationalism in the face of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds. And he brings a scalpel-sharp and laser-focused intelligence to his work as America’s arch-skeptic.
The headliners at the 2011 edition of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books range from literary luminaries like Carolyn See, Dave Eggers, T.C. Boyle and Jennifer Egan, to fitness icon Jillian Michaels and master prestidigitator Ricky Jay, but the biggest news is the change of venue. After a 15-year run at the UCLA campus, the event has moved to the lively and welcoming campus of the University of Southern California in downtown Los Angeles.
“Icon” is a much-used word — and I am as guilty as anyone else of overusing it — but when it comes to the Hollywood sign, no other word will do. In fact, Leo Braudy’s fascinating new book, “The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon” (Yale University Press, $24), is published as part of the “Icons of America” series, which includes artifacts ranging from the Liberty Bell to the hamburger to “Gone With the Wind.”
If there is a Palestinian Arab who deserves to feel aggrieved, surely it is Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. Three of his daughters and a niece were killed by a shell fired by the Israel Defense Forces during the fighting in Gaza in 2009. Yet Dr. Abuelaish has refused to resort to recrimination and struggles instead to make sense of these tragic deaths.
Adolf Hitler may have been bloody in tooth and claw, but he was enough of an aesthete to understand that Paris was the center of gravity for European culture. On the only visit he made to the city during World War II, he went sight-seeing like any other tourist, then or now. Still, the open-mindedness that made Paris so appealing to artists, writers and intellectuals from around the world inspired only contempt in the Fuehrer.