All the books we must read

I’m about to say the most suburban, stereotypical, adult thing I have ever said, but… well… here goes: In my book club this month,

Ok, that wasn’t so bad.

In my book club this month, we read All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I had never heard of it before, being as out of it as I am, but it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015. So it’s kind of a big deal. I didn’t even realize that before opening the book, even though it’s right there on the front cover.

I started reading it and within pages, could not stop. This is the type of book you start reading because you saw it on the table, knew book club meeting is in a few days, need to procrastinate everything else, and forget you had a miles-long to-do list before you reach page 265 and realize you’ve forgotten you have a life outside of an orphanage in World World II Germany.

Anyway.

This book couldn’t have come at a weirder or more appropriate time. Donald Trump has made an entire first world country crazy. Brexit was literally happening while I read about the demise of Europe. Things in Israel are heating up again. Elie Weisel passed away at 87.

I absolutely adore this book – Doerr treats language like fine cooking… just enough this, not too much that. The language was beautiful – in the way I actually stopped in my tracks every 50 pages or so when I came across a line so perfect I had to stop and read it again and again. The characters are well-developed, imperfect, unexpected and I can’t help caring about each one.

And the plot lent itself to a healthy dose of good, classic storytelling.

There are so many themes and metaphors and philosophical musings displayed throughout the novel. Light. Technology. Awareness. Belonging. Mental health. Here are some of the book’s themes that have been stuck in my mind since:

Parenting during war:

“Isn’t life a kind of corruption? A child is born, and the world sets in upon it. Taking things from it, stuffing things into it.”

“There is a humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That’s how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.”

“This, she realizes, is the basis of all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.”

Communication:

“Radio: it ties a million ears to a single mouth. Out of loudspeakers all around Zollverein, the staccato voice of the Reich grows like some imperturbable tree; its subjects lean toward its branches as if towards the lips of God. And when God stops whispering, they become desperate for someone who can put things right.”

“To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.”

Standing up:

“How do you ever know for certain that you are doing the right thing?”

“All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?”

“Seventy-six years old, and I can still feel like this? Like a little girl with stars in my eyes?”

Fear-stoking, other-blaming:

“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.”

“Is it right to do something only because everyone else is doing it?”

“Sometimes the eye of a hurricane is the safest place to be.”

“What the war did to dreamers.”

With Elie Wiesel’s death occurring just days after I finished… with all the talk of war and horror and hate in the world today… this line perhaps is what we’re left with if we plan to take heed:

“Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world.”

Writing, Etgar Keret, and where the &%*# is Peter Pan?

Every year or two I get an itch to complete something on my bucket list. Last year, it was performing in the Vagina Monologues. For the past six months, it’s been getting back into my writing habit.

I’ve been on a quest to discover the right outlet for skill-sharpening. It’s no shock that Israel would lack easily-accessible writing courses for English speakers. There are a few here and there, amateur and professional,  and I’ve been dipping my fingers into different pots trying to find the right one.

I recently completed a memoir-writing course with Madelyn Kent, a former NYU-Tisch writing instructor turned olah chadasha. She led me to Evan Fallenberg, a seasoned oleh (1985), who writes, translates and teaches, operating from The Studio, a workshop for writers in his home. On his website I found out he was bringing Etgar Keret to speak there the next week.

So last night I drove the hour and 45 minutes in evening traffic, up past Netanya, to hear Etgar Keret talk. His writing and his speaking go hand-in-hand, which was fun to discover.

It was also funny to hear him say that he can’t write from truth; he needs to make up his stories and keep the true experiences unwritten. He has trouble taking the experience and turning it into a written story. Opposite problem from me, you see.

The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God was the first present my then-boyfriend/now-husband ever gave me, and I became completely enamored and inspired with Keret, seeking more. But since then (2005) I have not been able to tap the inspiration the way I’ve wanted.

The last time I wrote something I was really, utterly, completely proud of was in 2003. It was a series of short-short stories about some of the very first ways I experienced Israel. The truth of it and passion behind it lent me a hand I never realized I had before.

And slowly I began to come to the conclusion: it’s much easier for adult-me to write based on experience than actual story-telling. Kid-me could tell you tales of worlds and planets and creatures; at sleepovers with my best friend, from my sleeping bag on the floor I would sprinkle her and her younger sister with colorful characters that just flowed from my mind to my mouth. I would dream of places I knew by heart, and before I went to bed, I’d think up new chapters for my reappearing players. I didn’t just have imaginary friends – I had fine-tuned characters.

But somewhere along the way, Peter Pan grew up and I can’t find that place anymore. And now that I have a kid, I really, really want to. Maybe it’s what will help me reunite with my story-telling. That, and working on this item from my bucket list.