Monday, 22 June 2009

Books etc

There's a lot of stuff in the press and the blogosphere at the moment about Iran. Some of it is interesting, some of it is (I suspect) woefully uninformed

(here's a test for any prospective pundit, irrespective of medium: name five cities in Iran, other than Tehran. No? I thought not. Please raise your hands and back away from the microphone/television camera/computer keyboard slowly...)

..and some of it just plain wishful thinking.

Despite - or, perhaps, because of - 24 hours rolling news, twitter and citizen journalism, I'm still a big fan of old school journalism, writing and reportage: I favour research, consideration and cautious but informed assessment over hyperbole and the rush to get the account out first. I suppose that it's a bit like Chou En-Lai when he was asked, sometime in the 1970s, about the historical impact of the 1789 French Revolution. "It's too soon to tell," was his response.

Why do I think about this? Because, no doubt, in the next year or so loads of books - fiction and non-fiction - are probably going to be written about the antecedents, causes and consequences of the current spot of bother in Ahmedinajad-Land. Some of it, no doubt, will be well informed if a bit behind the curve. Others will be a long way behind the curve. And some of it will be as embarrassing as (to paraphrase my favourite book review, ever) catching your uncle wanking in the school playground...

One book about Iran that I suspect will be very good - and, since it was completed a while ago, ahead of the curve - is the forthcoming title from Ron Leshem, author of the excellent Beaufort. A couple of months ago, Leshem talked publicly about the book for the first time at The Studio. It isn't about politics per se; it is about the country itself, about its people, their hopes, their aspirations and fears...

(How did Leshem do his research? Clearly, visiting Iran is out of the question as an Israeli and a Jew, best-selling international author or not. So he did the next best thing and started off by making friends in the country. Thru' Facebook. So 21st Century...)

Anyway, the book, still officially untitled, is due out in August: another reason for me to work on improving my pathetic Hebrew. God, I hate being illiterate...


Talking about reading and writing and speaking Hebrew:

Last week, I stayed up after my bedtime to watch the live presentation of the 2009 Sapir Prize. Often described as the Israeli Booker

(despite the grumblings of assorted types each year that it (gasp, shock, horror!) considers books impertinent enough to be [hold your nose] commercial successes [the best art coming from starving writers of course, etc etc...whatever]

...the award ceremony takes place during Hebrew Book Week. Generally speaking, it is a big deal. Or so I thought.

Anyway, after half an hour of trying very hard to follow proceedings, I surrendered. I was just about able to follow the compere as he introduced the five nominees and their books; when a classical actor type with a rich baritone started to read from each work, I acknowledged that I was out of my depth and gave up on the Hebrew language for the night.

Not to worry, I thought: the winner will be in all the papers the next day.

Not unreasonable, no?


Jpost - nada. Ha' - zilch. - a big fat zero.

As far as the three main English language newsportals in Israel were concerned, the Sapir Prize didn't happen.

So I summon Mrs Goy to perform her wifely duty and check the Hebrew websites for me.

She did find out, but it took quite a bit of hunting.

How strange - I always thought that Israelis liked their literature.

(The winner, by the way, was Alon Hilu, for The House of Dajani).


The consolation - if one can call it that - for trying to avoid being fucked over royally by Steimatsky's and Tsomet Sfarim whenever I want to buy a book in English, in Israel (these are the two big bookshop chains in Israel; they have an immoral - and I use the word without qualification or exaggeration - hold over the book trade in Israel) is that I get to spend more time in second hand bookshops.

Melchett Mike writes here about Halpers, on Allenby in Tel Aviv; there is nothing to add other than that I agree wholeheartedly. Excellent place...


Anonymous said...

from alon's "about" section:

"In the early 90’s, he published two short stories: The Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, describing an ultra-orthodox woman who tries to break into the cage of a lion in the zoo and have sexual intercourse with him "


Adam E. said...

I bet that led to a few more burnt-out dustbins in me'ah she'arim!
Att; "Goy" - should that not be "commercial"? Perhaps you were holding your nose to hard and hit the 'i' key by mistake?

Goy said...

Yes, that would be "commercial". Spelling has never been a strong point...

Adam E. said...

Are English language books that hard to get hold of affordably? I'm heading out to Israel soon, so maybe I had better stock up? Any particular genres that they are short on?

Goy said... depends. I whine a lot, but then English isn't an official language of Israel, so why should English language books be widely available?

On the other hand, English is widely spoken...the two main book chains tend to carry a rather limited range of bestsellers, genre fiction (crime and science fiction/fantasy are both popular here) and non fiction usually leaning towards the "Jewish Interest" category.

The selections do seem a bit random at times - but that may be a matter of personal taste. I was looking for Marilynne Robinson's 'Home' last week, and couldn't find it anywhere. What does bug me is that books are so unconscionably expensive. The standard price fro a paperback ranges from NIS 60 to 80 - £10 to £12.50 - and is usually towards the upper end of the price range.

You can order off amazon, but p&p is extortionate; there is, however, a company called the book depository which apparently ship free of charge to Israel. I haven't tried them out yet, though...

I tend to stock up whenever I'm in England. But that's just me. I hardly need an excuse to squander hard earned money on books...