Jewish Book Week has gone too fast as ever and we are now tying in all the loose ends following the festival. We are delighted to say this was our most successful ever in terms of attendance. We definitely tried to offer as varied a programme as we could, touching on the widest range of topics, and we had a fabulous array of writers and chairs. They are all now available to listen to and we should also have the videos uploaded by the end of next week. As to those sessions that maybe did not work as well as we’d like, let me assure you we’ve learnt our lessons.
I paid a visit to the charming Marcus Gipps, our book fair manager. We all know that our scantier selection of non speakers’ books was a disappointment to many but, as explained in a previous post and more than once at the festival itself, we have no choice than to evolve with the rest of the book world, whether we like it or not. The good news though is that following this first edition, Blackwell will double its non speakers stock next year and display it in more imaginative way to make sure that our visitors are aware of all the books available. In the meanwhile, support them by visiting the new books section of our website and buying books on line through them and you will also be supporting JBW at the same time. Blackwell offer an interesting point system which gives discounts to loyal customers.
As to our speakers’ books, here is our best-sellers list: Anthony Julius (91), Amy Bloom (75), Rebecca Goldstein (67), Eli Amir (64), Anita Diamant (59), Jonathan Safran Foer (57), Ruth Barnett (55), Albie Sachs (54), Stig Dalager (51), Assaf Gavron (49) and Olivier Philipponnat (48).
Yesterday evening I went to the lovely Daunt in Marylebone for the launch of Alberto Manguel’s new book, A Reader on Reading, and there was much bemoaning of the current trends in publishing, the lack of imagination of big publishers in search of profit and not much else, the e-book (only worth it if you are going to the North Pole for a year) and the risks of obsolete technical platforms (apparently the British Library put the whole Doomsday Book on a system that cannot be open now…) . Alberto was invited to JBW twice and had to cancel on both occasions because of ill health but I was delighted to see him well yesterday and we discussed the possibility that he might come next year… He is a wonderful speaker, a lover of books since childhood. He movingly told how, an ambassador’s son (his father was the first Argentinian ambassador to Israel), his family moved all the time and it was reassuring to be able to open a well loved book and find the same loved story. He talked about his experience as a teenager of reading aloud for Borges and listen to him deconstruct a story like a mechanic. He also talked about the role of literature and how he wrote his first novel to reconcile the shocking discovery that the very same teacher who had opened his mind to so many books was also the man denouncing young men and women to the Argentinian dictatorship. He shared his passion for Lewis Carroll and for Alice’s no nonsense answers to nonsensical claims, an example that should be followed by all. He was, as ever, brilliant, kind and generous. Any book lover would do well to read his wonderful essays.
I have just this morning finished reading Naomi Alderman’s gripping new novel, The Lessons. Naomi made quite an impression with her first novel Disobedience about a rebellious young woman in a very Jewish orthodox world. She confirms her talent with this second one, much wider in scope and totally different from her first book. At first a college novel about a group of friends at Oxford, she debunks the myths of the supposedly superior education and shows the price one may have to pay for it. But it is much more than this, a novel about love and the painful search for fullfilment, a novel about money and its destructive power, about want, loss and suffering. It often reminded me of Michael Arditti. The Jewish element is definitely minor here, replaced by a fascinating exploration of catholicism and a religion that reveres Christ on the Cross. The second book is often the most difficult thing to achieve after a successful first novel but Naomi Alderman has passed the test with flying colours.