This blog is going to be about writing, so at first I assumed that meant the second post shouldn’t be about the book I’m reading. Then I thought, no it’s perfect. Writing must begin with reading. We are what we eat, Brillat-Savin, the 19th century gourmet famously said. And I think we are what we read too. I know I am.
My first reading consisted of books that were about people who were nothing like me. Beginning with my first school readers about those goody goodies, John and Betty, and their pets, Scott and Fluff. All these books were about people who lived in England or America or sometimes in the Australian bush.
I was a Jewish girl who lived in the suburbs of Australia. I spoke with an Australian accent and went to Sunday school where I listened to stories from the Old Testament and learned to read and write Hebrew. When my parents wanted to tell each other things they didn’t want my brothers and me to know about they communicated in Yiddish.
Which leads me to the book I’m reading at the moment. It’s called The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and is by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Michael Chabon.
The premise of the book is that Israel doesn’t exist and instead a temporary Jewish state has been set up in Alaska where the language spoken is Yiddish. I love that I’m an insider here; that I get the joke about a gun being called a sholem; that I know what an eruv is, and that Chasids are called black hats; I understand why it matters what time sunset is on a Friday, and the significance of an addict tying off with a tefillin strap. But I also love Chabon’s use of language, and even though I’m not usually a crime reader, I love that the book is so plot driven.
I especially admire Chabon’s similes and metaphors. ‘His heart describes a sudden knight move in his chest,’ when he’s just been writing about chess. ‘He rose into the air like a charred scrap of paper…’ Here’s another one: ‘Around the grave site, black clumps of fir trees sway like grieving Chasids.’ There are lots more, but when you want to find them of course you never can.
Read it yourself.