hen I was in graduate school, the late Joseph Brodsky taught a
class in which he required his students to memorize each poem
that he assigned. There was something both old-fashioned and
scary about that. Looking back, that's probably why I didn't take
Nevertheless, I saw its disorienting effects. People wandered the
halls in a daze, moving their lips. Some huddled together and re-
cited to each other. Others formed a kind of improvisational class to
act out lines or dance to the meter. But as the semester wore on,
Brodsky's students became absolutely giddy over their unrestrict-
ed access to the poets they studied.
Those poems will always belong to my fellow students, who achieved
a permanent state of reading, experiencing the thrill of what the lit-
erary critic Sven Birkerts calls a "shadow life." This shadow life res-
onates most after a book is returned to the shelf. One of the purest
examples of someone who lives the shadow life of a reader is my 2-year-old daugh-
ter. For her the act of reading is still pure resonance. She recognizes the cover of her
favorite book and retreats to the shady zone of word sounds and story sequence. "I
read," she declares proudly. And she does, by dipping into a metaphoric well where
image and memory and passion come together in an intoxicating brew.
Before there were books there was the designated reader who either entertained or
educated the illiterate majority. (I like to think of book reviewing as a direct descen-
dant of that medieval practice.) Gutenberg's press changed all of that by facilitating
the wide distribution of books. Gutenberg could not possibly have imagined the ways
his invention would change the world. The notable decline in illiteracy led to a num-
ber of historical phenomena, including democratization and secularization. All of that
happened because people learned how to read.
Now we're surfing the World Wide Web. Are we on the brink of another seismic shift
in our reading lives? Many social and literary critics already see bound books strewn
along the side of the information superhighway, tire tracks streaked across their
covers. In this atmosphere, assembling a summer reading issue may be an act of faith.
But in my experience a faithful act can never become obsolete like a computer pro-
gram. It is as timeless as reading itself.
I predict that the printed page will always be with us. An English professor of mine
once attempted to enliven a literature survey course by comparing the excitement of
reading to looking at a partially clad body. His point was that human beings have an
intrinsic need to visualize by imagining. So I've stopped worrying about CD-ROMS
and books on tape. To update the metaphor: Virtual reading is like virtual sex. Nei-
ther is as challenging or as passionate as the real thing.
Book reviews, positive or negative, create midrashic spaces. Assembling this sum-
mer reading issue is also as purposeful. The following pages are intended to create a
shadow life for readers to retreat to when the temperature rises.
JUDITH BOLTON FASMAN SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
Dori., the administra-
tor's middle-aged wife.
Back in Israel and ob-
sessed with Dori, Ben-
jy decides to marry in
order to continue the
affair without attract-
ing suspicion. He
hastily weds free-spir-
ited Michaela, who
has traveled widely in
India, is deeply
steeped in Eastern
philosophy and ap-
parently is unboth-
ered by Benjy's lack of
love for her.
Benjy's search for
inner happiness is elu-
sive. Following the ad-
after bypass surgery,
both women in his life
reject and abandon
him; Dori goes off to Europe
and Michaela takes his infant
By A.B. Yehoshua
daughter to India. The new hos-
Doubleday, 498 pgs., $24.95.
pital administrator relieves him
apturing the long-held of his part-time staff position.
Israeli fascination with
Mr. Yehoshua's foray into
treks to exotic places, in- the world of Eastern religion
ternationally acclaimed symbolizes Israeli society's
Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua turning outward after years of
transports readers to India in isolation and insularity. His
his fifth novel, Open Heart.
character's unsuccessful search
With its emphasis on East- for fulfillment in the mysteries
ern religion and philosophy, of the East, rather than in his
this richly detailed novel breaks own rich Jewish heritage, is dis-
with Mr. Yehoshua's earlier turbing and poses one of the
works, which feature Israeli fundamental challenges of the
Jews confronting personal is- peace process: Must Israel's
sues against the backdrop of freedom from conflict with its
Jewish history and the Arab- neighbors translate into a
wholesale rejection of Jewish
Rejected from a coveted sur- history and tradition?
gical residency at a Tel Aviv
— Bluma Zuckerbrot-
hospital, protagonist Dr. Ben-
jamin Rubin is suddenly cho-
sen by the hospital's chief
administrator to help him bring
home his hepatitis-stricken
daughter from a remote village By Zev Chafets
in India. Readers journey Warner Books, 305 pgs., $21.95.
alongside Dr. Rubin as he ex-
lurring the lines between
periences the exotic sights,
fact and fiction and unit-
sounds and smells of India and
ing the disparate worlds
are drawn into the doctor's
of NBA basketball and
philosophical inquiry about Middle Eastern terrorism, Zev
birth, death and the transmi- Chafets weaves an engaging,
gration of souls.
fast-paced thriller in Hang
During the trip, the doctor, Time.
Benjy, falls in love both with
As a former head of Israel's
the rivers of India and with