This week at Manhattan’s Spanish and Portuguese synagogue, writer and director Etgar Keret appeared before the book group of Dor Chadash, an organization that brings together Israeli and American Jews. Much like his stories, Keret, the author of “The Girl on the Fridge” and “Missing Kissinger,” among other books, was incredibly approachable and exciting.
In response to a question about those who have criticized his stories for seeming as if they were written “on a bus,” the writer explained that there are different models of writers. “One structures his stories to say, ‘I am smarter than you and I know more.’ And the other says, ‘I don’t know more than you. I just want to share my experiences with you.’”
Keret said that he prefers the latter because he likes his stories to feel like the writer is speaking to the reader.
That is not to say that there is not a lot of work that goes into his stories. They often start out to be 20 pages, and are ultimately cut down to 10 sentences, he said.
At the book club event, he related how an Israeli soldier came up to him after a reading and said, “I could have written that.” And Keret responded, “That’s very nice. But you don’t have to because I already did it.” He didn’t take what the soldier was saying as a criticism, but rather that his work succeeded in referencing something inside the soldier that was true for them both.
He told the group: “When people say, I read your story and then I wrote my story, it is the biggest compliment. When writers make you feel intimidated, I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea that you have to come to a writer kneeling.”
His advice to writers: “If you try to write like Dostoyevsky you will never write like Dostoyevsky. But if you write like yourself, you will be world champion.”