Tag Archives: literature

whereabouts of the muse 2

D2506_056

Reading biographies helps one regain perspective regarding the long run in life. Especially these days, as we find ourselves overwhelmed with news from all of the world, instant messages, and social networks. We live in the middle of constant social ferment and never ending noise and chatter. The radio and TV amplify the sound of advertisement, and the telephone signals that a new message is waiting for us while we try to study texts from the internet, or converse with a friend. We are constantly in the ‘now’. So much so, that we lose sight of the slow movements characteristic of the progress of nature, and the affairs of man.

D2506_073

The biography of Gertrude Stein, brought me back to thoughts on the movement towards ‘new art’ in the period between the two world wars at the beginning of the last century. Among many other important artists and thinkers of the art world, I was reminded of Picasso and Hemingway, both of whom influenced my own attitudes towards art and writing. But the scene that played out in the biography, especially in the salon of Gertrude Stein, with all the fine artists around her and Alice B. Toklas, was very different from my memory of the scene, based on the many stories I had heard and read over fifty years ago.

D2506_072

I had read Hemingway with great enthusiasm at first, and grown a little tired of him after a while. Decided it was about time to revisit, and picked up ‘Moveable Feast’ where he describes his first flowering as a writer of literature, after starting out as a journalist. He relates to some of the same scenes and people that appeared in the biography of Stein. Once again, I loved the way he wrote. But a lot of time had passed since I first read his writing, and I had changed. The world had changed too. We have different expectations from a thinking man today. But there is a description in that book, of how the writer went about his work. He contemplated his subject, determined to write one sentence that was completely true. And after studying the words and the composition… when finally satisfied that he had written a good sentence, he went on to write another. His descriptions of the creative process, and the way he went about writing, sounded just right, even after all this time. Reading his conclusions about how to write were up to date even now, regardless of the sport he enjoyed… his cruelty to animals is no longer acceptable. But I found personal inspiration in rereading his work.

D2506_107

Some of my blog readers may remember the two posts I wrote a little over two years ago, contemporary fine literature, and contemporary literature part 2, which dealt with my search for new reading material. After spending many years with a heavy work load, during which I pretty much abandoned reading for pleasure, and lost touch with what was happening outside of my own country, I was hoping to find those who had emerged as the outstanding men of letters, and what was considered fine literature in the world today. Especially in English language literature. But after reading some ‘best sellers’ and some of the recommended reading in the critiques of the top journals, I found it very hard to relate to what was popular today. I was going to search further, and I asked my readers for recommendations. Well, I got some interesting comments, and quite a few mails. I checked out the critiques of different recommended books, and went on to read some of the books. I read quite a few. But many seemed negative to me. I realized that this was the age of the ‘flawed hero’ or the anti hero. And in many popular narratives, the stories concerned victims. or people who had surrendered to the caprices of fate. I was seriously considering going back to classical literature, but hadn’t given up completely, when my internet friend, David Lockwood, shared a quote by Robertson Davies, and I looked him up on the internet.

D2506_100

I read the Deptford trilogy, one book after another. It was good. There were some weak moments… at times the narrative just sort of coasted along. But the story was woven with the same threads through three volumes, and there were some very fine passages along the way. His themes reflect the nature of life and human awareness and sensitivity. Each of the three volumes present a part of the same story with some overlapping, as seen from different perspectives. And one realized along the way that what is seen from different points of views can seem like different stories even if they relate to the same cold facts. The focus was not on heroes or villains, but on those who live their lives between the raindrops, characters who are usually part of the background when the narrative is focusing on heroes. I liked his style very much. I enjoyed reading his books and wanted to read more.

D2506_119

These books helped me to divert my attention from the horrors that had invaded the day to day life around me. I was inspired to consider the general nature of human beings and the lives we live. It was possible to dismiss the extremism that had been forced upon us, and had influenced my judgment regarding all I saw or heard. When I finished the trilogy, I recommended it to Chana who reads English. I wanted to recommend it to other friends of mine, and looked for a translation into Hebrew. But to my disappointment, I discovered that none of his books had been translated. What a shame. I hope that someone does take on the job. I’ve already started to read another of his trilogies. This time, the Cornish trilogy. It concerns the academic life, and so far it has been very interesting.

D2506_121

The photos published here were taken yesterday, on a sunny day between bouts of winter weather, while walking around the Nachlaot neighborhood in central Jerusalem. I started my walk feeling sad, but I so love this town that I was soon awake with appreciation. I found my consolation in literature. But this city of mine is my own personal inspiration, even in bad times. Found some excellent examples of graffiti, yesterday, and enjoyed the images of the local modest housing which has attracted many artists and students. Spent time in the shuk, which is the market place, and watched people going about their business. As the hours passed, I grew more positive and encouraged. Came back with many more photos than could be printed here. But I might share some more on a future blog. May it be a good year for all of us.

D2506_122

whereabouts of the muse 1

IMG_1914-1 (Medium)

There is an adage in Hebrew that says, ‘the muse disappears when the canon roars’. As a rule, I don’t have trouble finding my muse. She finds me most of the time. It’s not that I never have trouble writing or photographing. Sometimes it’s hard to get what’s on my mind onto the paper. But usually, I get to work after something has caught my fancy. I don’t have to go looking for inspiration.

IMG_1063-1 (Medium)

And yet, at times of war or tragedy, my thoughts are on the tragedy. And I lose touch with creativity. This time, with the start of the violence, I had thoughts so terrible that I couldn’t bear them. Not just thoughts… dreams too. I would wake up in the middle of the night after a particularly depressing dream, and couldn’t fall asleep again. And often, during the day… I would find myself staring out… not focused on anything… or through my window… and my heart would be filled with sorrow. After a while of this, all I wanted, was not to think. But that’s a bit of a problem for me. Because I’m used to thinking. I think just about all the time. So I tried to find a way not to think of those specific things that bring on overwhelming unhappiness. And one easy solution presented itself to me. The situation in which I am least likely to think my own thoughts is when I am studying, or reading the thoughts of someone else. So I started reading.

IMG_0057-1 (Medium)

In the past few years, my primary reading interest has been current fine literature. I’ve been trying to find new writers who have the impact of the literary giants I loved in the past. I thought it would be a good way for me to keep in touch with what concerns the generation that is dealing with the current problems of life. And to better understand the problems and the challenges of those people who are starting out now, living their adult lives, and those who’re right in the middle of it all. I have to admit that I did not have much success in my quest. But in the last half year, I started getting the feeling that I understood the issues of the day better than I had before I started this project.

IMG_5521-1 (Medium)

But now, with this new intention of redirecting my own thoughts, reading fine literature did not do the job. If I read about the problems of others… or even a page turning mystery… my thoughts would often return to the problems of Israel, and to the threats to my own safety, and the safety of those I loved. For each day there was news of some pal who had suddenly knifed an innocent victim, waiting for a bus, or walking down the street, lost in his or her own thoughts.

IMG_5248-1 (Medium)

So I moved from fine literature to biographies. I always have a few books around that I haven’t yet read. Sometimes I will read a review that interests me, and buy the book ‘for later’. I used to have quite a pile of books that I kept for ‘retirement’. But I have been retired for some time now, and I’ve read most of those books, starting when I had my first heart attack some years back, and had nothing to do while I recuperated. But recently, there has been a new fashion of ‘give and take’ public libraries. A stand or a closet… sometimes even a number of closets that are set up in the public domain, and the public is encouraged either to take a book for free, or invest a book for which one has no need, and so these little public libraries offer free reading material to passers by, and are continuously being replenished, without any official staff to maintain order. I have run into quite a few such libraries and occasionally found interesting books.

IMG_5055-1 (Medium)

The first biography I started reading was the autobiography of Arthur Miller, who had always interested me, since his first plays were being performed. It was one of the books I had on my bookshelf, waiting for the appropriate time. His recollections were very interesting and I felt I got to know him quite well through the autobiography. His attitudes and choices made fascinating reading. Moreover, he seemed honest and straight forward, and I felt I was getting to know the real man, which was quite different from his public image as I remembered it. I underlined many sentences as I made my way through the book, and even read some of those selections to my friends. And after that, I went on to read a biography of Gertrude Stein. These books really did help me to redirect my thoughts.

IMG_3333-1 (Medium)

While still reading the book on Gertrude Stein, I saw an autobiography of Isaac Asimov in one of those free public libraries. I read that one after reading the very impressive Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. He served as president of the United States during the 1870s. And previous to that, was the chief of staff of the U.S. army during the civil war between the states. I had first become aware of this volume when reading praise of it by Bob Dylan, who had read it in the 60s. Though I have always found interest in history, and had read a bit of American history, this book helped me to understand the US civil war better than anything else I had read before.

IMG_7260-1 (Medium)

Isaac Asimov was an American professor of biochemistry, who became famous as a writer of science fiction, and later as a popular teacher of science. He was one of the most prolific writers ever. He wrote or edited more than 500 books. He was famous for offering the reader historical background in the explanation of scientific concepts and inventions. Reading his autobiography, I was delighted by his modest description of his own life, his learning processes and the way in which he worked. In fact, as I read about certain questions he had about the Jewish religion… questions to which he did not find answers, though he himself was Jewish, I deeply regretted that he had already died, and I was unable to write to him and explain a mysterious ceremony that he had seen, and never understood. As I read about these lives, I was surprised by the difference between their public image, and what I thought they might be like when I read their works as compared to my impression when reading of their actual lives. When I was younger, long before the invention of the internet and Wikipedia, I was not that interested in the private lives of writers and thinkers. I had the feeling that I had gotten to know them through their work. Nowadays, when I run into a new writer or painter or photographer, I often look them up on the internet. It seems that I know a lot more about the people whose work interests me than I did in my youth. Such knowledge was less available then to the casual reader.

Pan_5550-1 (Medium)

Usually, I like to write what I have to say in a single post. But this time, I have to conclude with a ‘to be continued’ bottom line. I want to thank those who’ve commented on previous posts, and those who’ve written me mails. Thanks to Chana for these pictures of me, here on this post. The situation here in Jerusalem right now is so difficult for me, that I find it hard to write… I am trying to get back on track again. I hope to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked in further writing.

Never Ending Meeting

D2400_34

Written in Hebrew by Nathan Alterman 1938
Free translation by ShimonZ 2015

I was taken by storm while singing to you
those stone walls stood in vain;
my passion is yours, your garden is mine
dizzy, without hands, how could I open doors

D2399_07

Let the sin and the judgments languish in books
while suddenly and forever my eyes are shocked
through the warring streets and raspberry sunsets
and too, you’ve bound me in bunches

D2399_13

Don’t ask for the bashful to approach
alone in your country I’ll go
I ask for nothing
my prayer is that you’ll take from me

D2399_11

From the ends of my sorrow
in the black of night
on the long, empty, asphalt streets
my god has sent me to offer the little children
raisins and almonds to console my poverty

D2399_18

How good that your hand still grabs our hearts
have no pity on us when we’re too tired to go on
don’t let us crawl for refuge to a dark lonely room
leaving the stars that still shine outside

D2399_14

There the moon is shining; sends us a smiling kiss
and the damp heavens thunder and grumble
the sycamore dropped me a branch it could spare
and I’ll grab it up for my support

D2400_35

And I know that while the drum keeps beating
to the pace of the city and the issues at hand
I’ll drop one day with my head bashed in
and find our smile… between the parked cars

a new chapter

D2229_071

Those of my readers who follow me regularly have read of my odyssey from my old home, staying with a dear friend, and then in rented apartments, till I finally moved into my new home as described in last week’s blog post. I shared with you my agony and my bliss… sometimes the blues, and sometimes the wonder of a youngster who looks around him and is amazed by the beauty and the endless possibilities of the world around him. Being uprooted from my old world was painful. But coming face to face with new environments and conditions taught me to appreciate what I had taken for granted. And I discovered I was more flexible than I had thought. And that as long as I was alive, I could learn new things, and new ways of dealing with life. As rooted as I was in old habits, I discovered that even habits could change.

D2229_073

Though I worked in a number of fields, most of my career was spent as a professional photographer. Towards the turn of the century, everything I had known about my profession changed, as we moved from film to digital photography. It wasn’t easy. I had to learn new skills and acquire new tools. But somehow I managed to learn the new system.

D2229_077

Now, moving into my new home, I’ve had a similar experience. Not so much, in having to learn new skills and standards. For I, like everyone around me, have made many adjustments as our world changed over the years. But in moving into my new home, I came face to face with all that had changed over the years. I see those changes reflected in the physical reality of my living space.

D2229_076

Two of my great passions have been the written word and music. The first recordings I bought were 78rpm records. After some years, the 33rpm records made their appearance, and then there were ‘long playing records’ and stereo. The quality of the recording improved in stages, and each time, I bought the latest devices so as to appreciate the added element in recorded music. I had a very fine record player which allowed for minute adjustments of the weight of the ‘needle’ on the groove of the record, so as to avoid excessive wear on the vinyl. Because after a while, one could always hear the sound of the needle in the groove, and sometimes there were bumps and scratches on the record that spoiled the purity of the sound. It was for that reason that I was so excited when the stereo reel to reel tape recorder became available in electronic stores, and backed up my favorite recordings with copies on tape. A few years later, the cassette player became the player of choice. Eventually, many of my favorite pieces were recorded again on to cassettes, joined by original recordings which were sold in cassette versions. This system was replaced by the CD, and over a number of years I bought several CD players as well as a sizable collection of discs.

D2229_075

With the advent of the digital age, it became possible to transfer recorded music to digital files, and to play them on the computer or on an MP3 player. A few years ago, I started converting many of the records, and taped recordings to digital files. Today, I listen either to internet radio, or to recordings that have been converted to digital files. But in my old home, I still had an extensive collection of records, reel to reel tapes, and recorded music cassettes, as well as the instruments made for playing these old recordings. That old record player with diamond needle whose weight could be adjusted still stood on the top of a music chest in my old home, within which were stored musical recordings on a number of different media. No sign of any of that in my new home.

D2229_078

The walls of my old living room used to be covered with book cases and shelves, bearing more books than I ever counted. It was a great pleasure for me to access many of my favorite books at a moment’s notice, and to reread a thought or piece of information. I remembered the place of each book on the many shelves around me. The books are still with me. They have been moved to my new library. But they are no longer as crucial as they once were. Because now I often read digital reproductions of books on my computer or Kindle, and when I want to review a quote or a poem, they are often available on the internet, and it’s even faster to find them on the computer than it is to locate the book and bring it to the table.

D2229_080

This week, Chana and I visited an old barn in the northern negev, where books have been donated and collected from people in the area. We met two very charming people who are doing their best to organize these treasures of a previous generation. A visitor may buy any of the books for ten shekels, regardless of size or topic. The price is between one seventh to one thirtieth the original price of the books, but there are not that many customers. We heard the young man singing as he worked. The young woman, Adi is her name, offered to help us find any particular book we might be looking for. We told her we were just looking. I saw many books I have read and loved… and some I have never encountered. I didn’t expect to buy any. But as it happened, I did buy two: ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ which had impressed me greatly as a young man, and ‘Prey’, a delightful book by Michael Crichton, which I gave to Chana as a present. I was touched but not saddened by the great array of books. For though they told of the conclusion of an age, I knew they had been replaced by a fine new method of enjoying the written word.

contemporary literature part 2

D1289_58

To continue our discussion on books, I was looking for contemporary fiction which would speak of the existential issues of mankind, of the aspirations of the young generation today, of the influence of technology on the life style and the mentality of contemporary society, and of the eternal questions as they are reflected in this generation. I have to add that in recent years, I have become aware of the ‘post modern’ influence on the arts, and usually I have not been comfortable with that style. I don’t wish to explore the depths of that philosophical point of view in this post. It deserves a post of its own. But I will mention two prominent characteristics of the post modern viewpoint. The narrative often embraces paradox and irony, and there is a general belief that two or more contrary ‘truths’ can exist together.

Saturday

About a year ago, I discovered Ian McEwan, and read ‘Saturday’ and ‘Amsterdam’ by him. My impression was that he has a beautiful language, and is a writer of classic gifts. Then I began to read his ‘Black Dogs’, and was unable to continue to the end. It was the first time I began to wonder whether the post modern point of view had begun to find it’s way into contemporary literature. This year I discovered Margaret Atwood, and continued to read her after purchasing a Kindle. The Kindle was bought primarily to make it easier for me to purchase recent books in English, without waiting a long time for the books to be sent to me. After getting the Kindle, I discovered T.C. Boyle and Richard Ford. I feel that I’m beginning to learn the nature of the fine writing of this generation.

Robber Bride

Sometimes it takes a while to acclimate to a different culture. I didn’t expect the new literature in the west to express my viewpoint, or to be concerned with the issues that most concerned me. I’m an Israeli, steeped in the Jewish culture, and also an old man. I am aware that society has moved forward, and that I haven’t kept up in many ways. But as I have mentioned on occasion, I’ve always believed that a sign of great art is that when we enjoy it, even when coming from very different circumstances than those of the artist, we feel that the artist is touching on some meaningful points of our own lives.

Cat's Eye

In reading Atwood, I enjoyed her lively imagination, and her beautiful poetic prose. It seemed that she was a vehement critic of certain failures of society, especially in relation to woman’s place in society. But I was also dismayed by a prevalent sense of alienation in her writing, the pessimism, and the almost constant sadness. I read three of her dystopian volumes. I believe that she has some very important things to say. But at the same time, there is a sadness and a helpless attitude in her writing that is very discouraging. ‘Cat’s Eye’ was a masterpiece. But it was fatalistic, unhappy. And it’s major character was alienated throughout her life, and unable to enjoy love or a healthy union with a partner. Worst of all, I had the impression that her characters found it hard to make life changing decisions. ‘The Robber Bride’ was another fine book of hers that I read. And here too, I felt that choice had been overcome by fatalism.

The Women

I discovered T.C. Boyle a couple of months ago. I have read two of his books, and have already bought a third. The first I read was ‘The Women’. It tells the story of the women in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life. I was familiar with Wright’s work, and had even read some of his writing. I felt that I knew a little bit about this great American architect. I didn’t know much about his personal life. When reading the book, it seemed a bit like reading about the life of a celebrity. I believe the story was built on a skeleton of relevant facts. And it was very interesting to get a lot of information on his private life, and be able to see him from a different perspective. But I felt that someone who was unfamiliar with the work of the man, would have gotten a very mistaken impression of what his life was all about. For each of us has good characteristics and bad. And by ignoring all his good points, the man seemed like a megalomanic donkey. In reading some of the reviews after having read the book, I encountered such opinions. But I believe that the portrait was twisted and warped.

Independence Day

The fourth contemporary writer that I encountered was Richard Ford. His name turned up in a review of another book which I decided not to read. But from what I did read about Ford, I thought that he might be a good example of a prime author of this 21st century. I chose to read his book, ‘Independence Day’ first, because it had received two prestigious awards. It was very well written. There was both subtlety and depth in the drawing of the characters, and a psychological understanding of the forces at play, between the lines of the narrative. But the hero of the story was in fact an anti-hero. This was a man who avoided commitment at all cost. He was unable to love, and had great difficulty parenting his children. Like other characters I had met in recent reading, he seemed a sort of helpless loser who was pushed and dragged through life by fate. He spoke of ‘existence’ as being enough for him. There seemed no drive to achieve something that was greater than himself. It wasn’t only that he was devoid of any great aspirations. He seemed unaware of anything greater or more important than banal human affairs.

D1381_188

And so my friends, I would like to ask you who are more involved in the English language culture than I am… is this all there is? Are there other new authors out there who give us a spark of hope? Is there a more balanced approach to the affairs of man? Or is this the spirit of the times today. I know that sadness is as much a part of life as happiness. But are books today offering just the sorrow of life? I have received some recommendation for new reading in response to the first part of this article. I haven’t really checked them out yet, because we are in the middle of the holiday season. But I would be very happy to receive still more recommendations, and reading material I might try. It is not that I have nothing to read. I have never run out of things to learn, and I can continue to read the wisdom of the past and to enjoy it. But I would like very much to understand the direction of today’s generation, and I was hoping to find something a little more positive. I do appreciate your comments.

contemporary fine literature

D2114_01

Let me share with you, my friends, a quandary that has been occupying my thoughts in the last two months, since the purchase of my Kindle. Though I was once very fond of European and western literature, I’ve not kept up with what was happening in that area of artistic endeavor… for many years. And so, with the newly acquired ability to order books in English and have them delivered in a matter of minutes, I started my search for contemporary literature in the west.

D2113_20

To understand what I was looking for, you should have an idea of my taste in reading material. I won’t speak of the subjects that I have been following in my own language, sometimes in translation. For I have an interest in history, philosophy, and anthropology, as well as the physical sciences. But what I haven’t been reading for years, is contemporary fiction and poetry. And that is what I wished to explore and update. In fact, even describing this subject was a bit hard for me, because I kept thinking of ‘modern literature’, forgetting that ‘modern’ is a designation for a cultural period that has already been swept into the past.

D2113_16

In my younger days, I devoured the writings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, and quite a few of the modern European writers and Thinkers. I was especially enthusiastic about the American and English writers. I will mention just a few of my very favorite volumes and writers. Albert Camus was an all time favorite. But I especially appreciated the Stranger and The Plague. I read many of the works of Saul Bellow, but the book that stood out more than all the rest, was ‘Henderson the Rain King’, and I recommended that book to many of my friends. I would recommend it to all of my readers, if you haven’t read it. It is a truly exceptional literary adventure. I read all of John Steinbeck, and loved ‘East of Eden’ the most. Admired Earnest Hemmingway very much, and though many have read his ‘Old Man and the Sea’, and that is truly one of the great peaks of modern literature, there are some others, like ‘Moveable Feast’ that are well worth reading. One of the books I came upon almost by accident, was ‘Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes written as a short story in 1958, and later expanded into a novel. It left me with a life long impression, and is one of the reasons that even now I continuously look for new works of Science Fiction. But I regret to say, that I haven’t found much recently that has captured my attention in that field.

D2113_18

Another modern science fiction book that really made an impression on me was ‘Cat’s Cradle’ by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. But the more I read of him, the more treasures I found, and I believe that ‘Breakfast of Champions’ is one of the great works of 20th century fiction. I especially loved the conversation between man and god. William Faulkner was a great inspiration for me. Reading his prose was like reading poetry, and it was while I read him in the original English, that I first ventured to think that I might like writing in that language. I would suggest ‘The Sound and the Fury’ to those who have not read him. And of course, the mention of this inspiration brings to mind Joseph Conrad, who wrote in English though his own language was Polish, and is surely an inspiration for all those who have learned to love English as a second language.

D2113_17

Discovering Jack Kerouac lead me to the Beat Generation and a treasure trove of fine writing after WWII. I could write at length about what I found there, but this post has a different purpose. Yet, in that connection (and again, I can’t tell the whole story here), I would like to mention still another great book, which came out late for me, but which I managed to read, and I treasure it to this day; ‘Straight Life’, the autobiography by Art Pepper, that great saxophone player and composer, whose music I love and listen to, often. And I can’t forget the important contribution of Norman Mailer to the public discussion of values and the meaning of life, even if he was not always at his best, and embarrassed himself by his actions on more than one occasion. Still I consider ‘Advertisements for Myself’ a beautiful example of the aspirations of some of the finest intellectuals in the west after WWII.

D2114_05

Though I have a special love for thinkers, and writers who are influenced by philosophy, I do like adventure and amusement, and spent many enjoyable hours reading Graham Greene and Raymond Chandler. Their writing offered a penetrating view of the society around them, even while entertaining the reader and offering an escape from some of the more dismal realities of their times. Such writers were a balance to such as Aldous Huxley and Arthur Koestler, two of my favorites… who continuously grappled with the possibilities of further expanding the awareness of man, and coming to terms with meaning in life. And here I might mention that Koestler too adopted English as a second language.

D2113_14

So this gives you an idea of what I look for and what I have found valuable in reading western authors. It is just a partial list, but it represents my taste. And I was sure that if I went looking for contemporary authors, I would discover like minds among the present generation. In the last few months, I have found three very interesting authors, and I am presently reading their works. I have read four volumes by Margaret Atwood, two books by T.C. Boyle, and am presently reading ‘Independence Day’ by Richard Ford. I realize that this post is getting long as it is, without a discussion of these writers as compared to my expectations. Perhaps I will have to write a ‘part 2’ to this post, for further discussion. But let me just say, that I hope to find inspiration in my reading. I believe in human choices, and believe that even when criticizing the wrongs of society, and our own failures as human beings, it’s equally important to be constantly on the look out for what can nurture our own potential, and that of our fellow man.

People of the Book

D2088_008
the entrance to the park

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.

D2088_010

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.

D2088_023

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.

D2088_039

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’.

D2088_047

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.

D2088_049

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.

D2088_053

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.

D2088_071
putting on a show for the little kids