Bintel Blog

Adam Kirsch: Give Philip Roth Your Prize, You Ignorant Swedes

By Daniel Treiman

That’s my summary of this Slate article from literary critic (and recent Disraeli biographer) Adam Kirsch. In the piece, Kirsch takes to task the folks who dole out the Nobel prizes, for their ignorance of American literature, and their anti-Americanism. He also thinks one American writer, in particular, is particularly overdue for a medal.

I should stress that this post’s title in no way reflects my own view of Swedes, who, based on what I’ve been able to glean from my vantage point here in America, seem to be delightful people.


And the Emmy Goes to… Mr. Warmth

By Daniel Treiman

Legendary insult comedian Don Rickles took home an Emmy tonight for “Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program” for the documentary “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,” which is, of course, about him.

“It’s a mistake,” Rickles said. “I’ve been in the business 55 years and the biggest award I got was an ashtray from the Friar’s in New York.”

Rickles has been on a roll lately. Last year, he came out with a book, titled “Rickles’ Book,” which was, of course, about him. (Notice a pattern here?) It did quite well.

“Five weeks on the New York Times best seller list was quite a treat for me,” the octogenarian funnyman told the Atlantic City Weekly. “I call myself the Jewish Mark Twain. I never wrote anything in my life.”


Former Forward Hand Max Gross Schlubs It Up for All of New York to See

By Daniel Treiman

Former Forward hand and “From Schlub to Stud” author Max Gross is flaunting his schlubby ways on WCBS for all of New York to see.

Now, some might be surprised to tune into WCBS and see a schlubby young man with a wild red Jewfro talking up a book with a subtitle like “How to Embrace Your Inner Mensch and Conquer the Big City.” But, as Max notes in his television interview, we are living in a very schlubby era — Seth Rogen, Jack Black, etc. — so it’s not altogether surprising that the mainstream media is taking note.

Still, I would argue that “From Schlub to Stud” has the potential to further raise the profile of this funny Yiddish word. Indeed, judging by the results of a Google search for the word “schlub,” Max may very well be schlubdom’s foremost living exponent.

Awhile back, I blogged about the New York Post article that would turn out to be the genesis moment of Max’s schlubby project.

Full disclosure: I am mentioned briefly in Max’s schlubby book.


Obama Digs Roth, But McCain Prefers Wouk

By Daniel Treiman

A few weeks ago, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg — who has lately established himself as a key contender for the title of Mr. Jewish Journalist — grilled Barack Obama about Israel and other topics of Jewish interest. Now, he covers some of the same ground with John McCain.

Since Obama, in his interview, volunteered that he is a fan of the writers Philip Roth, Leon Uris and David Grossman, Goldberg grills McCain on his Jewish literary tastes. And while the two presidential hopefuls may have very different views on the potential utility of talking to Iran (“you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism,” McCain told Goldberg), at least they can agree when it comes to Leon Uris:

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Quizzing Obama on the State of Israel — and the State of His Kishkes

By Daniel Treiman

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg (who in the 1990s wrote for this rag) chatted this weekend with Barack Obama about Israel and Jewish issues.

Goldberg, who recently penned a widely discussed article for the Atlantic looking at Israel’s difficult choices through the prism of the tensions between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and writer David Grossman, finds that Obama has done some reading on the topic — from Leon Uris to “The Yellow Wind,” Grossman’s 1987 look at life in the West Bank.

Goldberg poses a smart question — one that has also been raised by another smart Jewish journalist — that cuts to the core of Obama’s challenges in the Jewish community. I’m talking about “the kishke question,” the implications of which Goldberg does a good job of summarizing:

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Did Tolkien Take a Page From Purim?

By Daniel Treiman

Jewschool’s Ben Dreyfus notes a striking similarity between J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece “The Lord of the Rings” and the Purim story:

Haftarat Zachor (which is read twice this year here in Jerusalem) + Megillat Esther = The Lord of the Rings. One of them is totally plagiarized.

After winning the war with Sauron, Isildur is supposed to destroy the One Ring. He declines to do this, and as a result, his royal line ends and he is killed in battle, and the Ring continues to cause trouble. Many years later, when the Ring is finally destroyed, Isildur’s distant descendant Aragorn becomes king, and the monarchy is restored.

After winning the war with Amalek, Shaul ben Kish is supposed to kill Agag. He declines to do this, and as a result, his royal line ends and he is (eventually) killed in battle, and Agag’s descendant Haman continues to cause trouble. Many years later, when Haman is finally executed, Shaul’s father’s descendant Mordechai ben Ya’ir ben Shim’i ben Kish (one of the Men of the West, living in exile) becomes second to the king.


Klinghoffer: God Is a Conservative; Alterman: Jesus Is a Liberal

By Daniel Treiman

It gives me great pleasure to announce the upcoming publication of a book from Forward columnist David Klinghoffer, titled “How Would God Vote?: Why the Bible Commands You to Be a Conservative,” which is due out this summer from Doubleday.

But while Klinghoffer believes that God is a conservative, Nation columnist Eric Alterman apparently thinks that Jesus is a liberal. The cover of his new book, “Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America,” (due out next month) features cartoon renderings of 42 famous figures whom the author seems to consider paragons of liberalism, including the Jewish fellow from Nazareth who inspired the world’s most popular religion.

I doubt, however, that Klinghoffer would be too fazed by Alterman claiming Jesus for the liberal cause, since Klinghoffer did, after all, write an earlier book titled, “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus” (though, to be fair, its thesis wasn’t “because he’s a liberal”).

Other famous Jews included along with Jesus in Alterman’s book-cover liberal pantheon are: Paul Wellstone, Albert Einstein, Gloria Steinem, I.F. Stone, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Paul Newman, Barney Frank, Russ Feingold and the author himself.


Goodbye, Grace

By Gabriel Sanders

Writer Grace Paley died yesterday. A New York Times obit says that, “In a sense, her work was about what happened to the women that Roth and Bellow and Malamud’s men had loved and left behind.” Paley was 84.


Happy Birthday, Harry

By Alana Newhouse

Dutch writer Harry Mulisch turned 80 yesterday. “I have a theory that everybody has an absolute age which he will always have,” he said in an interview. “My absolute age is 17.”


Samuel Freedman on Michael Chabon’s ‘Love Letter to Exile and Dispossession’

By Daniel Treiman

Michael Chabon

Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon’s latest novel “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” set in an imagined Jewish homeland in Alaska, has drawn critical raves. But it also elicited a widely discussed New York Post item provocatively titled, “NOVELIST’S UGLY VIEW OF JEWS.”

Barbs flung by the wildly sensationalistic Post are easy to laugh off, and Chabon did just that, telling the rival Daily News: “My mother, when she saw this item in the Post, she was kvelling. She said, ‘Now you know you’ve arrived as a Jewish-American writer. When you’ve been condemned by other Jews as an anti-Semite, you know you’ve made it.’”

Now, however, comes a biting critique from a more reputable corner: Columbia journalism professor and New York Times columnist Samuel Freedman.

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Worst… Book Title… Ever

By Daniel Treiman

mobile modernity

Wondering what the book’s about? Fortunately, there’s this informative back-cover testimonial from Stanford literature professor Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht:

Reading the texts of a culture that could only achieve its Germanness by being so utterly Jewish, along the lines of the 20th-century’s terminal mass migrations, Todd Presner’s book opens our 21st-century eyes to a new way to narrate — and to be obsessed with — the Holocaust, i.e. that which will never be arrested in concepts because it forever exceeds our conventional thought and imagination.

Thanks for clarifying, Prof. Gumbrecht!


Borat: From Silver-Screen Star to Scribe

By Aram David

As I watched the bonus outtakes on the DVD version of Sacha Baron Cohen’s box-office hit, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” I realized that while the Borat routine might get old in the temporal sense, it somehow never stops being funny.

That’s why I was excited to read about the new travel guide that “Borat” is writing for Doubleday’s Flying Dolphin Press imprint. According to its publisher, the dual-titled book, “Borat: Touristic Guidings To Minor Nation of U.S. and A./Borat: Touristic Guidings To Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” is both a guide to America for Kazakhs and a guide to Kazakhstan for Westerners.

It remains to be seen how well Baron Cohen’s very physical humor translates to the written word. But if it’s even half as funny as his film, it’s sure to be a pop-culture — and financial — smash. Perhaps it will even propel him onto Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people for a second year running.


The American Jewish Inexperience?

By Alana Newhouse

Sholom Aleichem, Bintel Blog readers. (Your turn: Aleichem, Sholom). I’m currently on tour promoting “A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward”, so my posting will be spotty for a little while. But here’s something that could keep you busy for some time.

In the latest issue of The Nation, William Deresiewicz makes a connection between current fiction by Jewish writers (Chabon, Englander, Foer) and what he sees as the rather dismal state of American Jewry:

My own experience tells me that American Judaism has long been beset by a deep sense of banality and inauthenticity. To the usual self-contempt of the liberal middle class is added the feeling that genuine Jewish life is always elsewhere: in Israel or the shtetl, among the immigrant generation or the ultra-Orthodox. Jewish culture as lived by the non-Orthodox tends to feel bland and thin even to its practitioners — the last, worn coins of a princely inheritance… The most visible of the current generation of self-consciously Jewish novelists appear to be avoiding their own experience because their own experience just seems too boring.

Read the full article here.



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