Posted by: jbwuk | July 8, 2009

Lateral thinking

I’m still doing my publishers’ rounds and collecting lots of interesting suggestions.

What’s interesting is the challenges that come out of these meetings. The first one is the question of the Jewish author. Now for most publicists it’s quite obvious: we are a Jewish book festival so we invite Jewish authors. Right? Well, not quite.

I hate inviting authors simply because their mother was Jewish. It makes me feel very bad. I would lie if I said we never do it but we usually try to find another excuse for having them. But this is not always easy to explain or justify. Actually you think we invited this author because he is Jewish but, no, we did because he writes about ethics, a very Jewish concept. In good faith then, why did we not invite another author who writes on the same topic and is not Jewish?… In some cases we have, but we must confess this is rare. Are we right to do so? Should we or not concern ourselves with these fiddlerontheroofquestions? How Jewish do you want your JBW to be?

The whole thing puts publicists who don’t have a Jewish radar in a difficult position and I can’t blame them.

Now the other situation is when there are no obvious Jewish connections but publicists are desperate to get their author a gig or we so love the book or the writer that we try to find a solution. We like to call it lateral thinking and I love it. For instance, what about a book by an Irish matchmaker and an Indian novel about arranged marriages. The challenge now is to find the book on a similar topic by a Jewish author so we could have a fantastic and fun session. The only thing that comes to mind at the moment is Fiddler on the Roof but inviting Sholem Aleichem might be problematic although I’ve just found out 2009 is the 150th anniversary of his birth. Or we could invite an author writing on the failure of marriage born out of love, proving the point that arranged marriages are a lot more successful sumand that certain things are better not left to chance…

Then here is a different challenge: I’ve read the most fantastic little book, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (Canongate), by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and fiction writer. You may have seen the reviews (all unanimously enthusiastic) and the books in your local bookshop. It is an amazing feast of creativity, 40 tongue-in-cheek stories that still make you think. In some of them, God is a He, a She or a They. Sometimes there is no God at all. But they are all incredibly clever, funny and surprising. One can say that his exploration itself is Jewish if none of the suggested possibilities and so is he. Unfortunately for us he is based in Texas but we would still love him to come over. If not, maybe we could have late night readings. Well, we are exploring but in the meanwhile you can listen to his interview.

I had another treat recently. I went to listen to Susan Neiman at the LSE. She is a moral philosopher, the Director of the Einstein Forum and the author of the recently published Moral Clarity, A Guide for Grown Up Idealists. Her talk was on heroes and heroism. She made the very interesting distinction between Achilles, the romantic hero with a tragic destiny and Ulysses, the enlightenment hero who succeeds thanks to his intelligence, the cosmopolitan wanderer who eventually returns to his aging wife. Heroes don’t have to be martyrs although we like them to be as it gives us excuses for not following in their footsteps. She also raised the question of a culture which prefers victims to heroes and the danger of legitimacy coming from the world did to you rather than what you did to the world.

RosenstrasseShe mentioned some of her heroes, among them the little known Rosenstrasse protesters, 6000 courageous non-Jewish wives of Jews in Nazi Germany who demonstrated against the arrest of their husbands and obtained their release, 25 of them actually coming back from Auschwitz. There is a monument in these women’s memory done by the East German sculptor Ingeborg Hunzinger, the grandfather of Julia Franck we recently blogged about, author of The Blind Side of the Heart.

In a bit more than one hour, Susan Neiman could only cover a small portion of her very rich book which I highly recommend. She has agreed to come to JBW and will definitely be a speaker not to be missed. Until then, why not tell us who are your heroes?



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