Monday, June 08, 2009

American Jewish Fiction

The lastest issue of Jewish Book World (the journal of the Jewish Book Council) features a very interesting essay by Josh Lambert called "What Makes a Book Jewish?" This age-old question cannot be answered in a single essay, of course, but Josh suggests possible criteria such as Jewish authorship, or a Jewish feeling (he quotes Saul Bellow "who characterized a Jewish book as one in which 'laughter and trembling' are 'curiously mixed'"). I like his conclusion, where he says that to him, the way to answer this question is to consider why you think anyone should read such books.
Are these books meant to bring Jewish closer to God? To explain Jewish life to non-Jews? To educate, entertain, to perplex, to enlighten? Personally, I hope Jewish books can do all of these things.
This essay was written not only to explore the definition of Jewish literature, but also to introduce Josh Lambert's forthcoming book, American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide. The essay helps him define his criteria for inclusion or exclusion of various titles within this collection of short reviews. He acknowledges that readers might have differing opinions about what constitutes a Jewish book, or which titles should be included in such a compilation. To that end, he has created a companion website at, where you can read book reviews or even suggest additional books.

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