Tuesday, October 29, 2013

From the Remainder Table

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb.

I doubt if we will ever go to Paris again but ever since reading Paris: The Secret History  and Paris to the Past I have been assailed with a desire to create a database of interesting histories of particular physical locations in Paris.  I dream of an iphone app which will sync me with a GPS and a page of Angelique as I pass through what is left of places mentioned in the text.

Just Say Nu by Michael Wex. I bought this out of a sentimental attachment to the author, whose book Born to Kvetch was a surprisingly brilliant study in ethno-linguistics or, to put it another way, the underlying world view behind an embattled language.  No mere collection of colorful terms Born to Kvetch is a philosophy, an anthropology, and a tone poem devoted to a negative, fearful, creative, bombastic, and often backwards way of expression.  I consider it a very fine ethnographic study and I am using it now to re-write my Haggadah.  The second book was just lying there on the remainder table, begging to be taken home qua dictionary.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel. Needs no explanation. I've been waiting to have some time to read it and now I've decided that since it was there at a reduced price I should just go ahead and get it and make time.

The Frozen Rabbi, by Steve Stern.  This is not my sort of book at all. I generally read either straight up sci-fi/fantasy, dystopian novels, murder mysteries, or non fiction. But there it was, lying on the table, begging to be taken home.  The topic? From the back of the book "...the story of how a nineteenth-century rabbi from a small Polish town ended up in a basement freezer in a suburban Memphis home at the end of the twentieth century.  What happens when an impressionable teenage boy inadvertently thaws out the ancient man and brings him back to life is nothing short of miraculous....the voracious pace lets Stern spill a hundred years of vivid Jewish history onto the page..."

I looked inside the book and it is, indeed, very funny. But I don't think that is why I bought it. I am also in the middle of reading Andrew Solomon's book "Far From The Tree" about children who are different from their parents or what their parents expected.  Right at the start he draws a distinction between horizontal and vertical forms of heritage and places ethnicity/language/religion among the "vertical" forms that our parents transmit to us without question and without fear and compares that to the "horizontal" identities that our age/sex/gender orientation and politics often create for us among our peers.  Of course within two pages of offering us this definition he undercuts it, seemingly without noticing, by describing his mother's fraught relationship with her Jewish Identity, an identity that her father attempted to renounce in order to fit in to America's anti semitic landscape, that she attempted to renounce by marrying out, and that she was driven back into by the fact that she couldn't pose as non jewish for the purposes of marriage.  Its as though being Jewish--what it is and the fact of it--was a frozen Rabbi raised, scolding and hectoring, from a freezer inside Solomon's own house.

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