Thursday’s Work-in-Progress: Four Fun Facts About My Year in Jewish Books

Earlier this week, I wrote about “My Year in Jewish Books” on my “other” blog (which is called “My Machberet” and features news and notes on matters of specifically Jewish literary and cultural interest). But as a practicing writer who knows how significant reading is to the vigor of her writing practice–not to mention as a practicing writer who frequently writes reviews of Jewish-themed books as part of that practice–I’m going to devote this “Work-in-Progress” post on Practicing Writing to some observations based on my analysis of that list of 18 titles.

1) I’m doing OK–could be better, but could also be much worse–when it comes to reading books in translation. We all know about that unpleasant “three percent” figure, right? Well, four of the 18 titles on my list–that makes about 22 percent–were books in translation. I don’t think that the relatively healthy connection between Jewish literature and literature in translation is incidental. I do think that when you belong to a diaspora culture, and you’re drawn to certain books accordingly, you’re going to be reading books that were written originally in different languages.

2) I purchased way more books than I thought I had. I live in a New York City apartment, and I receive a lot of free books as review copies. I’m also a regular visitor to the public library. I had begun to believe that I was not, in fact, as conscientious a book-buyer as I should be. I am frankly a bit surprised by the fact that I purchased so many of the titles on this list (basically half of them). Maybe the fact that several were Kindle purchases–and therefore not visible in my office or on my nightstand–has something to do with my surprise here. Keep in mind, again, that these are by no means all the books I bought this year. They’re only all the books on Jewish themes that I bought for myself. That leaves out all the books that I purchased as gifts, and all the books that I didn’t necessary consider to be “Jewish.”

3) Unsurprisingly, I am still reading quite a lot about the Holocaust. More than half of the books on this list deal with the Holocaust and/or its after-effects in some way. I should have more to say about this–especially given that I’m still thinking about Daphne Merkin’s recent reflections on Holocaust-related films. But for the moment, I’ll just let the fact sit there.

4) Without additional analysis, I can’t really know the extent to which all of my “Jewish” reading reflects my habits more generally. But here is how the genre distribution works out here: Novels on this list: 10 (56 percent); Memoirs/memoiristic essays: 2 (11 percent). Other nonfiction: 2 (11 percent). Poetry collections: 2 (11 percent). Graphic novels/books for young readers: 1 (5.5 percent). Short-story collections on this list: 1 (5.5 percent–appalling, but I suspect that here, at least, the stats would be better for the “non-Jewish” reading list. I read at least six other collections this year.)

Have I inspired any of you to review your own reading for the year? If you’re inclined to write up any similar post(s) for yourself, please be sure to share the link(s) in comments. I’d love to come by and read what you have to say.

2 thoughts on “Thursday’s Work-in-Progress: Four Fun Facts About My Year in Jewish Books

  1. Regarding #3, there have been stories this week about the remembrance of Pearl Harbor fading away, and how the survivors’ group has disbanded after 70 years.

    Remembrance of the holocaust is in similar peril. And of facts such as the French sending 76,000 to the camps … all by themselves, voluntarily (the subject of “Sarah’s Key”).

    For many (unlike we who are the children of families that survived the holocaust in Europe, in hiding), it is too big to wrap one’s mind around. Films perhaps help, as reading does.

    And perhaps my interest in pursuing the same study, as yours may be, is to not let it slip into history and out of memory.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Lovely and important thoughts, L.C. Thank you.

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