Novelist Asks Ira Glass If He’d Hide His Family in the Attic
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
“If there’s another Holocaust, can I hide in your attic?”
Novelist Shalom Auslander puts this question to the host of This American Life and a couple of other TAL alumni — Sarah Vowell and John Hodgman — as part of his promotional effort for his new book, Hope: A Tragedy. Playing on the theme of the “collective Holocaust guilt” of Jews that runs throughout his novel, he crafts some pretty brilliant (and entertaining) video trailers touching on some rather delicate religious ground.
Had I gone looking for some particular place rather than any place, I’d have never found this spring under the sycamores. Since leaving home, I felt for the first time at rest. Sitting full in the moment, I practiced on the god-awful difficulty of just paying attention. It’s a contention of my father’s—believing as he does that anyone who misses the journey misses about all he’s going to get—that people become what they pay attention to. Our observations and curiosity, they make and remake us.
—William Least Heat-Moon
Blue Highways has to be one of the most profound literary travelogues I’ve ever read. It’s almost 20 years old now, but his portraits of America — its people and its geographies — remain unequaled and in the process he gives of himself. For all you Kerouac fans, you might have a new hero for an author, or at least one who you can relate to in a whole new way.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
With William James I met a finite god, which was a pleasure.
—David Hartman, Orthodox rabbi and philosopher who founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
We’re in the final throes of producing this stirring interview for release on September 20th. Hold on to your hats; it’s a dandy!
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Are You Familiar with Israeli Literature?
by Christin Davis, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
“It’s interesting because we all know each other so well,” says Orna Yaron, who along with her husband Meir, helped start the club and are the only remaining members of the 40 attendees of the first book club meeting in 1989. “We know each other’s political inclinations, personal and family situations. We analyze the literature, but everybody comes from his own experience. It’s like group therapy sometimes.”
The group is moderated by a professional, Deborah Steinhart, also an Israeli, who has a doctorate in comparative literature from UC Berkeley. Steinhart went through a few of the authors the club has studied, including Aharon Appelfeld, a prolific writer on the Holocaust; S. Y. Agnon, a Nobel laureate writer; Amos Oz, a journalist and professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University; A. B. Yehoshua, a novelist and playwright; and Amichai Shalev, editor for literature and art on Ynet.
Anyone out there read in Hebrew? Are you familiar with these authors or a fan of their work? What is the major premise of modern Israeli literature? What other Israeli authors should people looking for Hebrew literature be aware of?
I tend to think that fictional characters are in some ways more real than biological human beings. Think of Victorian England. How many people from that era can you remember?. I would say that Sherlock Holmes is more real than the anonymous people who came and went and lived and died in east London. To be a fictional character like that is not such a bad fate.
—Mary Doria Russell, in our “The Novelist as God”
Last week, we lost fiction writer J.D. Salinger and historian Howard Zinn. In the days after their deaths, I noticed Salinger quotes like this one from Catcher in the Rye peppering friends’ Facebook feeds:
“I don’t care if it’s a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel even worse.”
I haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye since high school, but that voice of Holden Caulfield’s is so recognizable and distinct — like someone I know really well but haven’t talked to in awhile. People have been posting RIP Howard Zinn tributes, but many don’t feature memorable quotes, which reminded me of Mary Doria Russell’s commentary about the enduring imprint of fictional characters.
What about you? Are there characters from beloved books whose imprint has stuck with you over time? Do you have quotes from these fictional friends to share?
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Kate Moos, managing producer
Much will be said and written. But for now, all I can think about is Franny and Zooey, the long theological passage in which
Franny Zooey tells his sister she doesn’t have to recite the Jesus prayer to experience God. Janet Malcolm’s 2001 piece in The New York Review of Books says much about Salinger, Franny and Zooey, and its reception by critics who once doted on him.
(photo: “zooey.” by Victoria/Flickr)
“For His Holiness the Dalai Lama”
Colleen Scheck, Producer
During Krista’s interview with this week’s guest, Adele Diamond, she told a story about meeting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India at a Mind and Life Institute dialogue. There, she offered him a gift — a collection of writings from rabbis including Abraham Joshua Heschel, authors Isaac Bashevis Singer and Rachel Naomi Remen, and this passage from Roman Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen’s book, The Wounded Healer:
“The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life, who can give names to his varied experiences, need no longer be a victim of himself, but he is able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevent the spirit from entering.”
Here, Nouwen is addressing ministers, but I read his statement as a potential result of cultivating executive function, things like inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. I find hope in the thought that childhood development focused on fostering executive function and engaging the whole self — through things like dramatic play and deliberate refection — will produce adults who better understand their inner lives and live with greater emotional intelligence, and in doing so remove obstacles to human connection that our culture has built by putting IQ first.
Adele Diamond cites Rabbi Heschel as someone who has strongly influenced her perspective. I’m struck by how she relates Heschel’s practical wisdom and bold notions of faith to how we raise children with strong inner lives. In her conversation with Krista, Adele mentions the following Heschel passage from Between God and Man:
“Deeds set upon ideal goals, deeds performed not with careless ease and routine but in exertion and submission to their ends are stronger than the surprise and attack of caprice. Serving sacred goals may change mean motives. For such deeds are exacting. Whatever our motive may have been prior to the act, the act itself demands undivided attention. Thus the desire for reward is not the driving force of the poet in his creative moments, and the pursuit of pleasure or profit is not the essence of a religious or moral act.
At the moment in which an artist is absorbed in playing a concerto the thought of applause, fame or remuneration is far from his mind. His complete attention, his whole being is involved in the music. Should any extraneous thought enter his mind, it would arrest his concentration and mar the purity of his playing. The reward may have been on his mind when he negotiated with his agent, but during the performance it is the music that claims his complete concentration.
Man’s situation in carrying out a religious or moral deed is similar. Left alone, the soul is subject to caprice. Yet there is power in the deed that purifies desires. It is the act, life itself, that educates the will. The good motive comes into being while doing the good.”
Adele Diamond says this is a wonderful lesson for children, to say “’Just do it. Just do it fully and do it and you’ll get something out of the doing. The act, the doing, is absolutely critical and will transform you.’” Heschel’s name has surfaced of late, both in this week’s program, and in our program “Curiosity Over Assumptions,” and you’ll have a chance to hear our program on the great rabbi again in the coming weeks.
And, rounding out Diamond’s compilations were gems from Rachel Naomi Remen’s writing on the meaning of science in My Grandfather’s Blessings. Here are a few:
“It is possible to study life for many years without knowing life at all. Often things happen that science cannot explain… Science defines life in its own way, but perhaps life is larger than science”
And, she also included this passage:
“Sometimes knowing life requires us to suspend disbelief, to recognize that all our hard-won knowledge may only be provisional and the world may be quite different than we believe it to be.”
And this one too:
“Things happen that science can’t explain, important things that cannot be measured but can be observed, witnessed, known. These things are not replicable. They are impervious to even the best-designed research. All life has in it the dimension of the Unknown; it is a thing forever unfolding. It seems important to consider the possibility that science may have defined life too small.”
“Looking Out for Hope”
Trent Gilliss, online editor
It’s been some time since I’ve posted a Friday video snack. I don’t know about you, but these last few months have been a blur — hectic and almost harrowing at times. And there is good, a lot of good, that’s come of meeting new people and sharing our work and talking to long-lost friends back home.
Looking for a contemplative moment, an adult time-out, a centering event, I was lucky enough to happen upon this short film that puts into play Bryan Mallessa’s fictional letter to Raymond Carver with music by the band Low. The film’s remarkably meditative in its quietude for the medium. It allows one ten minutes to reflect, to peer into blizzard and cold, to think about hard times, and the joy of the road ahead.
(h/t things are happening*)