New Books

I’m always very excited to get books to review from Schocken Books, whose many claims to literary fame include being Kafka’s first publishers. Lately their Nextbook division has been putting out a series called Jewish Encounters. They seem to be basic books about famous Jewish personalities, mainly medieval ones, by well-known Jewish intellectuals. This weekend I gobbled through Elie Wiesel’s Rashi. It was a little bit like Wiesel’s lectures that I’ve heard occasionally on WBUR. His voice comes through, and his concerns, and the depth of his familiarity with Jewish texts and comfort with the many languages of Jewish textual discourse. I never felt like I was over my head–in fact, I would have been happy to read something a little more challenging on the subject. On the other hand, I suspect that for most of our readers here, feeling comfortable and in the hands of a master teacher will be a great introduction to Rashi. In some ways this is similar to Nextbook editor Jonathan Rosen’s decision to have Sherwin Nuland, a well-known physician and writer on popular medicine, cover Maimonides. In Nuland, he picked someone who consciously patterned himself on his subject–and perhaps the same is true of Wiesel, who lays things out simply and humbly, just like Rashi.

Nextbook has changed the name of their online magazine from Nextbook to Tablet. If you tend to connect with Jewish culture in an intellectual way, you’ll find a lot of neat stuff there.

W.W. Norton sent me a preview of the new Illustrated Book of Genesis by R. Crumb. You know, R. Crumb, the underground cartoonist, creator of Devil Girl and Mr. Natural? There was also a wonderful preview of this book in the New Yorker. The drawings are shockingly…conventional. He draws God as an old white man with a long white beard, etc. etc. The images seem to owe a lot to Gustav Dore and a little to Devil Girl. Not only is this a midrashic reading of the bible by one of my formative cultural influences–Crumb is in an interfaith marriage.  We reprinted an interview with Crumb and his Jewish wife, cartoonist Aline Kominsky that was first published in Heeb.