Today and yesterday, we’ve been enjoying a first, here in Jerusalem. As some of our local jokers like to say, ‘for the first time in 2000 years’, we’ve had an auto race. A lot of enthusiastic people lined the sidewalks of our fair city, watching some very powerful automobiles, with wild colors and futuristic shapes run circles around our city at top speeds. And from what I’ve heard, no one was disappointed. It was called ‘formula 1’ but I’ve no idea what that is… I’ve never attended such a race in my life, and didn’t go to watch because I had this irrational fear that one of the cars would get out of control, and crash into a throng of spectators. Truthfully, I have mixed feelings about the event. Because in recent years, the traffic in our town has become very slow moving. So much so, that I usually take public transportation when I want to go downtown. And my feeling was that they should improve the traffic conditions for the common citizen before inviting the fastest drivers in the world to race around. But of course, I’m happy that everyone had a good time.
On the other hand, I did visit the ‘Book Fair’, which is an annual event that has been going on for a long time. Book week is celebrated each year, and during that week there are interviews with writers, critics, and literary figures in the papers and the media, and publishers bring their new offerings to the public, and their books are sold at a discount. Many of our local citizens take part in the festivities, and have a very good time. I decided to celebrate the occasion by reading two books; one in Hebrew and one in English. And both of them turned out to be better than I expected. Which made this year’s experience a great pleasure, and one I’ll remember. In fact, I was so impressed by the English author, which I read for the first time, that I bought another book of hers at the book fair, though this time it was translated into Hebrew.
The English author that I’ve started reading just now, is Margaret Atwood. I read a very appealing recommendation on a blog I follow, and decided to try reading one of her books. My first was ‘Robber Bride’, and then I watched an interview with her on youtube, and an address he gave at a convention where the subjects of ebooks and the future of publishing were discussed. Though I agreed with her attitude towards both these subjects, I was amused by one of the points she made. She argued that the form of the book was not so important, and didn’t have to be permanent, that the content of the book that was the essence. And to illustrate her point, she asked the audience if there was anyone who remembered reading from a scroll. For there was a time when books appeared as scrolls. This got a cheerful laugh from the audience. But had she been speaking here in Jerusalem, most of the audience wouldn’t have understood her joke at all, because a large part of the population still reads from a scroll about three times a week.
Books are a very important part of our lives. Not only do we have a very rich and wide variety of our own literature, but we take great pains to translate from all the other languages and cultures of the world. We are a small people, and our language is almost unknown in the world at large. Yet there is a great abundance of translations available here of world literature and history, and studies in almost every area. This includes translations of modern literature and bestsellers as well. All the classics are translated, and even this book I bought by Atwood, was a second, new translation of her book, ‘Cat’s Eye’.
For years and years, I traveled everywhere with a book in my brief case or backpack, and if I ever had to wait for anything… I always pulled out the book that I was currently reading, and was transported to a better world than the one immediately around me. Today that has been replaced by a small 10 inch netbook, which is always with me, and I have a number of books in ebook format which I read on the computer, and find it quite convenient. I’ve had friends tell me that they couldn’t give up the feel of handling a paper book, or the smell of a book. I can understand them, and I still read paper books and have many that are precious to me, but I don’t have that nostalgia for the paper book. It is often easier reading from the computer. And while I haven’t yet bought a device like the Kindle, I have seen them and read from them, and they seem even more comfortable for reading than the computer.
There were times when it looked as if books were going out of fashion in certain circles. Television was seen as a serious competitor. For a while there, it looked as if the youth was no longer so attracted by books. I remember how incredulous it seemed, when I first saw youngsters reading the classics interpreted to the comic book form. And then along came the video, and video libraries… they seemed more attractive to the young than the dusty volumes on the shelves. After that came the computer, and computer games, and the internet. Where did books fit in, we wondered, when compared to all this fascinating material? And yet, more and more volumes are published. And what a pleasure it is to visit the book fair, and to see the many subjects covered by the thousands of books in print, checking out the titles, and the volumes by favorite writers.
The book fair is held at our ‘Liberty Bell Park’, which honors a replica given us by the US of the American Liberty Bell. It’s a beautiful place to visit, not far from the old train station on the south side of central Jerusalem. There are grassy areas, and beautiful trees and playgrounds for children, and during the fair there is free entertainment for the little children, including story telling, songs, and a clown. I still remember, about 25 years ago, when I and a lot of other Jerusalemites, got together in this park to celebrate the American 4th of July, their independence day. And the Americans brought a number of movies of jazz groups. We sat there through the night, and watched the movies on a giant screen outdoors.