Why Books Matter
ne of my earliest remembrances of Phyllis Friedman, the editorial benefactor of this literary supplement, was a conversation
with her outside of the local grocery store many years ago. She mentioned that her father, Dan Koshland, was celebrating
a birthday. "What present are you giving him?" I asked. She replied, "He always wanted me to read Ibsen's Hedda Gabler,
so I'm reading it." That very personal and literary gift made a singular impression on me. It spoke volumes about the char-
acter of both father and daughter. But it also revealed how the sharing of a book is among the most intimate and rewarding of experiences.
Now, thirty-five years later, I am visiting Phyllis, recently turned eighty, in her woodsy Bay Area living room. We are talking about liter-
ature and book groups.
"In the early years of marriage; I was too busy with three kids to read much. But as the children grew up, I'd meet friends and we would
eventually talk about what we were reading. Finally, a group of us decided to organize a book group. We wanted to engage a leader. I called
an acquaintance, Sister Samuel, president of Dominican College in San Rafael, California, for a facilitator referral. Sister Samuel is a
Shakespearean scholar. She responded, `I'll do, it!' So there we were," continues Phyllis, "all Jewish dilettantes and one nun."
"The book group has made me read better and more closely," explains Phyllis. "It illuminates issues, enlarges my understanding of peo-
ple, situations, relationships, and the world. We've read classics and contemporary literature and occasionally memoir and poetry.
"Sometimes, through the book group, I'll meet an author I haven't read like Nadine Gordimer and I'll continue reading her oeuvre on
my own. When we read Eva Hoffman's Lost in Translation, we had a long discussion about translation itself, including how communication
sometimes fails, even as we talk to each other.
"When it comes to Jewish writers, I prefer the sensitive authors like Paley, Malamud, Singer, Weisel and Englander. I find Bellow cocky
and Roth has too much testosterone for-me—although I did like Patrimony.
"When my husband Howard was alive, we would sometimes read to each other," says Phyllis. "Since he passed
away, books and the book group have taken on a new importance. At night, I read until I fall asleep.
If I happen to wake up at night, I'll read for awhile. I always make sure I have enough books for
We thank Phyllis- for her support and for her perpetual intellectual curiosity and wisdom.
Marilyn Waldman, Literary Arts Chair
National FoundatiOtr-l'or Jewish Culture