Backing Into Forward: A Memoir
By Jules Feiffer
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday: 450 pp., $30
Whether newspapers live or die, the prognosis for the comic strip doesn’t look promising. The extinction of the form not much more than a century after its birth would represent only a very minor tragedy too, given the rise of the graphic novel — who would shed a tear for “Hägar the Horrible” in the age of “Fun Home” and “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”? — except it would also mean we no longer live in a world with a berth reserved for the likes of Jules Feiffer. (more…)
Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon
Essays on Literature and Culture in Honor of Ruth R. Wisse
Edited by Justin Daniel Cammy, Dara Horn, Alyssa Quint and Rachel Rubinstein
Harvard University Press, 750 pages, $75.
In September 1976, Commentary printed the letters of three novelists who had taken umbrage at appraisals of their work, in a previous issue, by a relatively unknown Yiddish professor named Ruth Wisse. Cynthia Ozick, the most fervent of the respondents, judged Wisse guilty of a “fundamental (and, for a good reader, unforgivable) critical error”: confusing literature with sociology.
This old contretemps bears recalling less for its substance — authors and critics have bickered about the relationship between fiction and life for centuries — than for what it reveals about Wisse’s personality. (more…)
On June 1, 1955, Sam Astrachan graduated from Columbia. On June 2, he moved into a room at Yaddo, the famed artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs. He was 21, one of the youngest writers ever to be so honored, and he had been invited thanks to his professor, Lionel Trilling, at that time the country’s foremost literary scholar. (more…)
A Dangerous Woman
The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman
By Sharon Rudahl
The New Press. 112 pages. $17.95.
Emma Goldman’s life is a writer’s dream—long and sordid, inspiring and debased, full of sex, political courage, and international intrigue. She was, after all, a nice Jewish girl who conspired to break her lover out of prison, inspired a presidential assassin, and penned detailed accounts of her sexual affairs with younger men. Red Emma, as she was known, is widely remembered as the most famous anarchist in turn-of-the-20th-century America, a rebel against conventional morality who crusaded for free speech and birth control, and against exploitation. She’s been an inspiration to radicals for over a century.
Already adapted in novels (like E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime) as well as in movies and plays, treated in Goldman’s thousand-page autobiography and myriad scholarly, commercial, and politically oriented biographies, Goldman’s life has now been translated into the graphic novel medium. The project, Sharon Rudahl’s A Dangerous Woman, has tremendous potential—not only because it promises to present a stylized version of Goldman’s life in vivid pictures, but also because it has been undertaken by a dedicated leftist and feminist fiercely loyal to Goldman’s legacy. Unfortunately, though, A Dangerous Woman doesn’t deliver on its promise. (more…)
I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life
By Al Goldstein and Josh Alan Friedman
271 pages. Thunder’s Mouth Press. $26.95.
In America, Jews have had what might delicately be called a special relationship with pornography since the dawn of the 20th century. The infamously prudish New York Society for the Suppression of Vice kept tabs on obscenity arrests in New York City, and the numbers—dredged up by Jay Gertzman in his brilliant history of the erotica trade, Bookleggers and Smuthounds—tell quite a story. (more…)
Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods
By Michael Wex
St. Martin’s. 304 pages. $24.95.
It’s been called folksy and quaint. It’s been labeled a dialect and dismissed as “jargon.” Even its defenders tend to admit that it died 50 years ago. Yiddish, nebekh, has suffered so much defamation of character that it could probably win a libel suit.
If Yiddish ever does sue, its first expert witness will be Michael Wex. (more…)
Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth
By Steven G. Kellman
Norton. 372 pages. $25.95.
Henry Roth’s literary career is a testament to the power of a book review. His first novel, “Call It Sleep,” sold modestly when it was published in 1934, and didn’t approach national prominence. Three decades later, the critic Irving Howe penned an unusually positive and prominent review, and despite having been out of print for years, the book began to leap off the shelves. (more…)