Page 28 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
to Jews, and if a book’s literary merit is a little lower than that
of the angels and at the same time puts together Jewish experi­
ences or depicts Jewish character in a way which illuminates life
to the contemporary American Jew, why should that book be
overlooked?
On the same basis, why salute a writer when he publicly rejects,
and in the case of Saul Bellow at a Brandeis University gradu­
ation, even the attempt to what he calls publicize Jewish achieve­
ments and when he doubts that such publicity is effective? That
the publicity may not be effective is no reason to withhold it;
similarly, if Saul Bellow’s book may not be as good as his previ­
ous one it is not necessarily a reason for the publisher to turn it
down.
I like to think that in reading interesting anthologies on
Jewish writing put together by professors at universities through­
out the United States, I hear voices of affirmative Jewish values
which are of literary merit. Whether or not they are highly
meritorious depends in part on the critic and on the reader, and
in part on the judgment of time. I would say parenthetically that
I regret very much—and not because I am an anthologist myself—
the restriction against anthologies, because an anthology can
sometimes be a highly creative work, as reflected in the antholo­
gies of Lucy Dawidowicz and in others I have been reading and
collecting. In these books there are stories by young writers who
are probing and groping their way to an understanding of Jew­
ish life as they see it at the age of 30 or 35. One sometimes senses
it in some of the underground Jewish newspapers, in some of the
university literary magazines, in the Jewish magazines which
unhappily publish very little fiction. But we must continue to
seek out the good books, the thoughtful novels, the memorable
collections of short stories, even the honorable failures, because
there are so many books published, there are so many good
authors undeservedly discouraged. The Jewish Book Council and
its annual fiction award is an important instrumentality in
letting the writer who, in Emerson’s phrase is writing to “the
unknown friend,” know that there is somebody out there who
reads and cares about him and his work.
It is for this reason that one must applaud the Jewish Book
Council awards for the past quarter-century. At the same time,
one can only hope and maintain faith that in the years ahead