I don’t mind if the weather is horrible, actually I quite prefer it if I have to work. Of course, it’s much nicer when we can have lunch in the office’s garden or at Camden Lock, but on the whole it makes it easier to sit in front of the computer. And thank you, English summer for removing any temptation whatsoever to be outdoors!
This is also lucky since, because of our move to Kings Place, if we want JBW events to be part of their programme, we need to have finalised as many sessions as possible by the end of August. Of course, it’s not as simple as it sounds. When programming 60 events, you always have to look at the big picture, who is speaking when, particularly on the Sundays when we run 3 sessions at the same time. In an ideal world, you think of your audience going from one session to the other, following their interests. In reality, people can be amazingly eclectic and want to go to the 3 very different sessions happening at the same time and none of the ones before or after. There is also a domino effect when one speaker suddenly wishes to be late rather than early in the day or the week and everything has to be shifted around. At the moment, most of the programme looks perfect but I know it will change as responses come in.
So we know for sure that Eli Amir, Aharon Appelfeld, Shalom Auslander, Zygmunt Bauman, Peter Cole, David Conway, Umberto Eco, Linda Grant, Hillel Halkin, Adina Hoffman, Anthony Julius, Etgar Keret, Deborah Lipstadt, Jonathan Sacks, Jonathan Safran Foer, Bernard Wasserstein and quite a few more (I won’t tell it all in one post!) have promised to be at JBW 2012.
I had one of the most exciting meetings a few days ago, one of these occasions which makes me realise (in case I’d forgotten) how lucky I am to do what I am doing. I don’t always get to hear the talks at JBW live because I’m running around, and more often than not I have to watch them on our website, but even better is to sit on the making of a session, in that case, one on Ulysses with Henry Goodman and Howard Jacobson. I knew that Howard considered Joyce’s masterpiece as the greatest Jewish novel of the 20th century so when Henry, who is one of the best read and humblest persons I know, suggested a talk and reading of Ulysses, I immediately thought of Howard. After a flurry of emails, here we were discussing the idea, or rather they were as I was simply listening and relishing the conversation. Henry has been reading a book by Declan Kiberd, Ulysses and Us which greatly inspired him. He was fascinated by the growth of the cult of Bloom and the way in which it reaserts a sense of community. Bloom is a sort of modern prophet, as a Jew, the best placed person to guide someone out of trauma. Ulysses debunks the heroic tale, celebrates weakness, with obvious parallels with the comic novel. It was decided both would talk about the book, Henry would read passages and if possible an actress would also be invited to join in. Now who would be the ideal Molly?
Another exciting ongoing discussion is the choice of our 60 books to celebrate JBW’s 60th anniversary. A small committee of Jewish Book Council members got together to discuss the terms of reference. We’ve agreed a Jewish book is Jewish by content and that the author’s religion is not enough to make him/her feature on the list. Yet, some people suggested only including Jewish authors but but this would go against JBW’s ethos. We all agreed that we should only have one book per author although choosing which one is not always obvious. Sadly Judith Kerr, Maurice Sendak and Shel Silverstein (I just love The Giving Tree) will be absent from the list as the majority ruled against including children’s books. Some books which mattered a lot when they were published have been excluded because it was felt they had become too dated. I don’t even dare give any example. I know the debate will be intense when we finally publish our list and that hoping for consensus is simply futile. It would actually make the exercise useless and boring and I definitely look forward to the oncoming discussions.
I’ve been doing my fair share of reading. One book I particularly loved was Pierre Assouline’s superb Vies de Job, unfortunately not translated into English. But through it I discovered Yosl Rakover Talks to God by Zvi Kolitz, a most moving declaration of faith against all odds, supposedly written by one of the last combattants in the Warsaw Ghetto: “You have done everything to make me lose my faith in You, to make me cease to believe in You. But I die exactly as I have lived, an unshakeable believer in You.” The story itself had a strange destiny as although first published in an Argentinian magazine as fiction, it was republished as true with all the disputes it would eventually entail.
A very thrilling read is also Peter Cole and Adina Hoffman’s Sacred Trash about the Cairo Genizah. It has an incredible cast of characters, scholars who would risk their lives to be the first to lay hand on precious manuscripts. It’s a fantastic story of authorised looting but above all of the discovery of the most fabulous stash of documents that would help understand the lives of a community over centuries. I’m sure Peter and Adina who are so good at retelling the tale will brilliantly share that excitement with us at JBW 2012.