If you’re a practicing writer, you’ve surely attended your share of author readings; if you’re a publishing writer, you’ve perhaps read work of your own. And if you’re an author–especially an author with the support of a big press–you’ve probably embarked on an reading tour.
Few of us, however, occupy the literary limelight as Israeli author Etgar Keret does. And even fewer do so to such effect. As my writer friend Sara wrote in an email after we attended “A Special Event with Etgar Keret” at Manhattan’s Symphony Space this past weekend: “I knew I like Keret’s work, but to see him on film, in the flesh, and through his stories was really moving. It is a rare and beautiful thing to make an audience laugh and cry in the same beat – and [Keret]’s humanity and heart were palpable – not something I necessarily feel at run of the mill author readings.”
Indeed. (Sara really has a way with words!)
Allow me to take you through the evening as closely as I can.
It began with a reading of a new Keret story (as far as I can tell, unpublished in English), “Car Concentrate.” Keret introduced the story, which was translated by Nathan Englander and performed/read, beautifully, by Scott Shepherd.
It continued with two short films, each based on a short story by Keret, and introduced by him. Notably, Keret told us that watching others’ adaptations of his stories provides perhaps his most intimate sense of how readers perceive his work. (He also told us that these are his “favorite” screen adaptations of his stories.)
Film #1 “What Do We Have in Our Pockets?” Written and Directed by Goran Dukic
Film #2 “Crazy Glue.” Directed by Elizabeth Orne
Because of privacy restrictions, I can post only a link to the “Crazy Glue” film, but I encourage you strongly to spend just a few minutes of your day watching it!
Next came the feature presentation: the U.S. Premiere of “What Animal Are You?: A Documentary”. Directed by Gur Bentwich
The official synopsis: “For this entertainingly intimate documentary portrait of renowned Israeli writer Etgar Keret, filmmaker Gur Bentwich accompanies his longtime friend on a whirlwind book tour to the Big Apple. Between readings and interviews, Keret ruminates on his life as a writer and the recent death of his father; he also hangs with New York pals including author Nathan Englander and This American Life’s Ira Glass. By turns poignant, absurd and hilarious, What Animal Are You? is a personal and playful journey with one of world literature’s most original voices.”
All I can say is that this is a truly superb film, and I hope that many people will see it, whether they’re drawn to it through the Jewish film festival network, or through literary programming, or however the work is accessible.
I was reminded of two other items from my past acquaintance with Keret/his work as I watched the film: hearing him read “What Animal Are You?” at Baruch College of The City University of New York about a year ago (I’ve located a clip of him reading the same story elsewhere, below), and reading this essay on Tablet about his father’s shoes and the spring 2012 tour (which I now know to be the tour on which the documentary is based).
The evening’s closing segment was a conversation between actor Josh Charles and Etgar Keret.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have discerned that I’m a fan of “The Good Wife,” so having the chance to see Josh Charles (a.k.a. Will Gardner) up close (Row H!) was pretty exciting. (Also exciting: having him see and respond to my post-event tweet!)
— Erika Dreifus (@erikadreifus) October 6, 2013
— Josh Charles (@MrJoshCharles) October 6, 2013
More seriously, the conversation was really lovely to witness because Josh Charles was so un-Will Gardner. That is to say, he wasn’t one of the Lockhart Gardner name partners that evening (I know, it’s a shock–an actor actually has an identity different from his starring role?). He was visibly honored to be on stage asking Keret questions. (He was also, quite adorably, repeatedly touching his wedding ring, which those of us who follow these things know to be quite new; I couldn’t help smiling when he used the phrase “my wife,” suspecting, somehow, that he was taking some extra pleasure in saying those words.)
At one point, Keret recounted an anecdote about a reading he once gave in Tuscaloosa, Ala. I can’t possibly do justice to his narrative (or to Charles’s reaction to it). But I can point you to the poem of mine that I couldn’t help but think about after they’d moved on to the next thing.
There was so much to hear and see and think about packed into this relatively brief program. Especially for Keret fans. And especially for writers.