Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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Jewish reade rs to Jew ish writers, bu t if they re tu rn to them hab it­
ually and with more than ju s t a look-see curiosity, then some p a r t
o f th e ir passion as reade rs is also bound up with a will-to-
Jewishness, if only metaphorically o r vicariously so.
T h e po in t o f these observations is tha t it is reade rs — and , o f
course, publishers, who a re on to the ir needs and eager to p ro ­
mote the wherewithal to meet them — who define American Jew ­
ish lite ra tu re fully as much as, if no t more than , writers. T h e lat­
te r are hung ry fo r words, cadences, the pace and curve o f a story;
the fo rm e r are hung ry fo r things Jewish and eager to assimilate
any and all re ferences to Jews to th e ir personal quest fo r a more
substantial o r more m ean ingfu l identity. T h e will-to-Jewishness
is generally much s tronge r on the p a r t o f readers than on the
p a r t o f writers, in o th e r words (the writers manifest a fa r s tronge r
will-to-authorship, o r will-to-fame), although very o ften n e ithe r
re ad e r no r w riter could probably say very precisely what this Jew ­
ishness is all about.
Whatever it is about, though , it involves books and , as we like to
believe, always has. Moreover, the books tha t carry and create the
passions o f Jew ishness are no t ju s t books-in-the-abstract bu t
books tha t tell stories abou t Jews — mad Jews, funny Jews, pious
Jews, su ffe ring Jews, bookish Jews — it hardly matters, so long as
they are recognizable as Jews. T o be a Jew-in-a-book is to be au ­
thentically Jewish, especially if the book has been written by a
“Jewish w riter” and is felt to carry the heavy accents o f Jewish life.
T o read such a book and to have the oppo rtun ity to talk abou t it
with o thers who have read it o r are read ing it is also to do some­
th ing au then tica lly Jewish. Indeed , within the lives o f many
Am erican Jews such re ad ing and ta lk ing -abou t-read ing has
gained something o f the status and the sanction o f a Cen tral Jew ­
ish Act.
We begin to touch here on the mysteries o f canon-form a tion —
on th e ways in which a body o f cove ted tex ts is selec ted ,
in te rp re ted , and transm itted . T h e au th o r ’s role in these myster­
ies may be p rim ary bu t it is not exclusive o r even necessarily p re ­
dom inan t; all the a u th o r does, a f te r all, is write the books (al­
though it would be naive to believe tha t writers then take no in­
terest in what happens to the ir writings). T h e truly crucial role