Monday, May 28, 2007

(Thomas Pynchon, punted after 100 pp)
This is the third time I've tried to read this since it came out in 1990. Pynchon's 2 insterstitial books, Crying of Lot 49, and Vineland, are both California based. He hates the first, and after trying three times to get into the latter, I give up. I was up at an organic farm, and the moldy hard back copy beckoned as something to read. In a conversation with a bookstore clerk while buying Against The Day, I recall his trenchant observation that Pynchon's writing in V is amazing when he's evoking the era before WWI, but the stuff about NY city in the early '60's is unmemorable. It may be that Pynchon wraps his mind around things most grippingly by surrounding them with his omatidia reading perspectives. The description of Mendocino in the Reagan years did not really click for me, and I gave up yet again.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Emma Lazarus (Jewish Encounters)
(Esther Schor, 368pp)
I didn't even recall who this poet was until I began reading this. Her poem, at the base of the Statue of Liberty, is a little tired, weary, and teary-eyed, but it does capture an authentic emotion behind America's powerhouse, drawing upon immigrant genius. This bio would be of great interest to someone who'd like to learn about well-to-do Sephardic Jews in 19th century New York city. Emma L's intensely driven ambition enabled her to draw in Emerson as a tutor, and even though he felt a little queasy at her poetry, she finagled him into accepting a dedication, "To my friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson". The author, Esther Schor, has lavished her own affection on her subject, but I didn't really want to spend the time to learn about such an ambitious, but only moderately talented, Jewish woman.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Life of David
(Robert Pinsky, 224 pp -- stopped after 120)
Since I've enjoyed several other Schocken books, I eagerly sought out Pinsky's volume. Unfortunately, I never really got into it. The language is odd, perhaps poetic, but not transparent, and the biography doesn't really build to tell the life in a coherent, gripping way.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation
(Naomi Seidman, 312pp)
Amazing tour of the Jewish diaspora's experience, as seen through language. Every chapter of this book brims with wit, insightful scholarship and rewarding observations about how the language of the Bible has filtered the relationship of Jews to the cultures in which they've found themselves. The opening chapter discusses the hotly contested impact of translating a "young maid" as "virgin" (parthenos in the Greek Septuagint). Following chapters build in a natural way, hitting upon fascinating topics such as how the early Christian Church's adoption of the Septuagint pushed the Jews into a particularist insistence on Hebrew, rejecting the translation that had originally been made for Greek Jews. The last two chapters, about Elie Wiesel and IB Singer, are full of fascinating revelations.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I Married My Mother-In-Law: And Other Tales of In-laws We can't Live With--and Can't Live Without
(edited by Ilena Silverman, 320 pp)
With chapters by Michael Chabon and his wife, Ayelet Waldman, this seemed promising. In fact, most of the pieces sound pretty whiny, especially the many that memorialize conflicts with inlaws of marriages that themselves foundered (ex-in-laws must be a tenuous category indeed). There's some interesting questions about how to balance the fact that your in-laws incarnate all that is wonderful and annoying in your spouse, but this book didn't seem to have even the one essay that nailed that issue.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
(Timothy Ferriss, 7:04)
This guy will become the new Tony Robbins, as a more humane, less scary incarnation of sheer will to power.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play
(Neil Fiore, 7:29)
Very useful, and the author walks his talk.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

(Sherwin Nuland, 256 pp)
This is a fine entry point into Moses, the son of Maimon (the Greek form is to add -ides to the namesake). Nuland's a surgeon, and crisp writer, and this is the third in the series edited by Jonathan Rosen that I've read (along with Rebecca Goldstein's equally worthy work on Spinoza and David Mamet's vociferating Wicked Son. I am quite impressed with these concise, personal accounts written by super Jews, so I will seek out Pinsky's biography of David soon.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Kiss me like a stranger
(Gene Wilder, 6 CDs)
Mad genius, friend and colleague of Mel Brooks, and writer of Young Frankenstein, as well as the husband of Gilda Radner. His account of his life shows the neuroses, without obsessing about them in the prose. For example, he chose Gene Wilder as his screen name, and only after assuming the name did he realize that he'd adopted his own mother's name as his.