A Travel Tip

In his last posts, David Rosenberg, whose latest books are A Literary Bible: An Original Translation and An Educated Man: A Dual Biography of Moses and Jesus, wrote about the possibility of a Judeo-Christianity bookstore section and writing about writers. He has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

A little gem, the Hotel St. Michel is where we used to stay before we moved down to Florida. It was recommended by poet Yehuda Amichai, who called it “old Tel Avivi.†Around the corner from Books&Books, the most author-centric store in Florida, its owner, along with the manager of the St. Michel, both friends, teamed up to provide a copy of A Literary Bible: An Original Translation for each hotel room, in lieu of a Gideon’s Bible. (You can google the Miami Herald story.) Although I’d rather recommend the original hotels in Tel Aviv (and wish we were there, too), my point is that literary risk-taking is somewhat out of fashion. It’s stuck to the page, not to real life; it’s not to be found in Bible-less hotels. It’s even hard to imagine anything you can put into a memoir that would seem risky these days; for instance, a literal Oedipus-complex confession—sleeping with mother and killing father—is rather routine, and probably wouldn’t get you on Oprah. The real life of the author is most often bought and spent in university classrooms, so a real risk might be to imagine the ivory tower as nightmare or Kafka’s castle. We’re still waiting for that.

In a recent piece in the L.A. Times, the wonderful writer Dani Shapiro describes “the writer’s apprenticeship†as a soulless slog through “uncertainty, rejection, and disappointment.†Still, although there’s a safety net in academe, Shapiro neglects to mention it, arguing that lawyers and doctors have it easier upon graduation, while “writing school guarantees [writers] little other than debt.†If that were all too true, we might get some riskier writing—and thinking about writing—that walks the edge of financial ruin. Writing that goes against the grain, like the Bible’s Psalm 6, where the poet finds himself in the gutter through no fault of drugs or crime. The authenticity of his or her voice is so startling because the reader who is appealed to is something completely other—God or a soul. What kind of a writer is that, who can create such soul-shaking contrasts

Posted on February 26, 2010

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