Saturday, January 01, 2011


Le Chat
Guillaume Apollinaire

Je souhaite dans ma maison:
Une femme ayant sa raison,
Un chat passant parmi les livres,
Des amis en toute saison
Sans lesquels je ne peux pas vivre.


In my home I wish to have
A woman sensible and suave
A cat traipsing among the books
Friends in weather foul or fair
If not for them how would I fare

Bob From Brockley, tagged me for a meme game, a challenge I decided to pick up, despite our more recent exchange over his more robust embrace of the ONE STATE SOLUTION.

I say "despite" because I usually tend to dismiss all one-staters as fundamentally militating for an antisemitic resolution to Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. Bob is a very obvious exception. Why so is hard to fully figure out, at least for me. Because I never ever felt in any of Bob's posts and articles that his and my basic sensibilities were at odds. Quite the contrary. Yet here he is putting a great deal of faith and hope in a solution that no rational person would advocate for the 6 million Jews of Israel. My only explanation is that he considers this solution not necessarily a prescription for action, but more in the nature of a horizon of possibility. If I am correct, then it might explain why Bob and I share a sensibility even when we stand on totally opposite sides on this issue. And horizon, BTW, is a rather illusive boundary. One always keeps the same distance from the horizon, even as one walks towards it.

A horizon is not an end. The word comes from the Greek "ὁρίζων κύκλος" (horizōn kyklos), "separating circle",[1] from the verb "ὁρίζω" (horizō), "to divide, to separate", and that from "ὅρος" (oros), "boundary, landmark". And that boundary is always aloof and unreachable. Or else, it wouldn't be a horizon but a border. Which is what I would like to have between Israel and Palestine, a very solid and unmistakable border.

Anyway, enough with this futile thoughts on the first day of the year 2011. Here is my list of the five most interesting, inspiring, or just plain thought-provoking books I read in 2010:


1. Short Talks, by (Canadian poet) Anne Carson.

A slim volume with mini-essays/meditations on each page doing in prose form what poems do in rhyme.

Here is one example:

Short talk On The Mona Lisa

Every day he poured his question into her, as you pour water from one vessel into another, and it poured back. Don't tell me he was painting his mother, lust, etc. There is a moment when the water is not in one vessel nor in the other - what a thirst it was, and he supposed that when the canvas became empty he would stop. But women are strong. She knew vessels, she knew water, she knew mortal thirst.

2. The uses of Pessimism/ Roger Scruton

This article in Dissent drew my attention to Scruton and I decided to order the book. It was a relief to read his analysis of hope as a deceiver and obstructor of proper action. I am always made to feel that my own profound distrust in the redemptive power of Hope is freakish.

3. Hitch 22, by Christopher Hitchens, about which I wrote here.

4. From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto,
by Yosef Yerushalmi

is a study in Seventeenth century Marannism and Jewish apologetics. It's a second reading of the book in which I discovered the interesting detail that after the mass conversion of the Jews in the 15th century and expulsion of the rest of the Jews from Spain, Europeans developed a certain linguistic way of clarifying things to themselves. Thus a converted Jew was a "Jew" and an unbaptized Jew was a "Hebrew".

5. Left in Dark Times, by Bernard-Henri Levy.

Well, it's BHL, so one can expect verbosity and some French gesticulations, but otherwise interesting and timely.


1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,
Stieg Larsson,

It's an addictive kind of novel. Having read the whole trilogy, I find that the first novel is the best and the other two can be skipped without missing out on anything.

2. Glass, Irony and God, by Anne Carson.

A book of poems by my favourite poet. When I read her poems it's as if she has looked into my own heart and mind.

3. Poets on the edge, an anthology of contemporary Hebrew Poets, selected and translated by Tsipi Keller.

A worthy effort at translating Hebrew poetry.

Here is one poem:

A Linguistic Problem/ Dan Pagis

The maiden we call Hebrew

Is the youngest born in a very good family

Her problem, though, she messes around.

Every day it’s another story

You can’t rely on her,

Her word carries no weight.

She’s not even pretty:

She’s got acne, large feet,

Is loud and stubborn as a mule

And what’s worse:

She won’t give in to those

Who want to stifle her unruly voice

And bury her, respectfully,

In the ancestral tomb.

4. Black Dogs, Ian MacEwan

2010 is the year I finally discovered Ian McEwan, an author I had avoided before because I could not bear some of the very poignant sadness in which his novels are enveloped.

5. Amsterdam, Ian McEwan

I read this novel first. It's a blackish, roguish kind of satire whose ironies remind me strongly of Jane Austen. Having read it, I decided to flout my initial balking at McEwan's novels.

Here are some examples where I found very familiar echoes of Austen in his writing:

"Invigorated by this jolt of misanthropy..."

"He was widely known as a man without edges, without faults or virtues, as a man who did not fully exist".

'He turned the conversation towards Garmony's politics and the two passed an agreeable half-hour exploring a shared contempt"

Books to be skipped:

I already mentioned the Millennium trilogy's superfluous two later books but since I read them all I feel it is a bit pretentious of me to say: skip them. One can always learn something from a book, especially when it is a translation from a Swedish culture, about which I know little. What I do know, that it is a culture suffused with anti-Israeli loathing, is not really contradicted in these books where Jewish characters, more decent and virtuous than others, are present in the narrative in what seems an arbitrary selection. Just to have some Jews in the novels.

May 2011 be a year of much reading and much learning. Reading and learning are the antidote not only to ignorance and brutality. It can heal social sickness and cultural malaise. I learned this from my friend Roberta, a 90-year old Canadian woman whose wit and wisdom remain sharp and on topic, even as her hearing and sight grow dimmer. She learned this truth in the aftermath of WWII.


At 5:49 AM EST, Blogger bob said...

I have so much to say about this post, and so little time. I've just written something already 2000 words long that starts to answer the one state part, which I hope to post later today, and I also have lots to say about the books.

In the meantime, you might like this:


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