Page 7 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

Basic HTML Version

B y A . A l a n S t e i n b a c h
n his
Art of Literature
Schopenhauer wrote: “Authors may
be divided into falling stars, planets and fixed stars. The
first have a momentary effect, the second have a much longer
duration, but the third are unchangeable; they possess their own
light and work for all time.”
The metaphor is striking and apt. The “planets” and “fixed
stars” represent the authentic, sophisticated books which become
mentors of the human heart. They are not to be tasted but
swallowed and digested. They comprise the only riches time
cannot squander. One can clearly discern them in the literary
firmament even with the naked eye. They are, in the words
of Plato, “immortal sons deifying their sires.” Their constancy,
their mission to preserve inviolate all that mankind has dreamed,
thought and aspired to, their trusteeship of cultural legacies
to be delivered from generation to generation—these render them
permanent suns flooding with felicitous rays the spirit and mind
of man.
It is the “falling stars”—the spate of books that appear with
a flash and then sink into oblivion—which seem to be such a
pathetic waste. A time there was when books were written
only by thinkers who had something significant to say and
who possessed the writer’s craft to communicate it lucidly and
persuasively. They were impelled to write because deep within
them captive truths were straining to be freed from their con-
finement. The vocation of letters came to them as natural as
Of late, however, there has been a proliferation of books by
“writers” whose sole qualification is their ability to sign a
sizable check to defray the cost of publication. They cannot
resist the allurement to admire their names in print. To such
as these Lord Byron alluded: “ 'Tis pleasant, sure, to see one’s
name in print; / A book’s a book, although there’s nothing
in ,t.” Is it conceivable that some of these eager authors were
in their childhood among those who carved their initials on