A Momentary Break from the Movies

I'm midway through my Tribeca journey (pace Dante) but I wanted to pull your coat to an extraordinary event that is about to begin in New York City, the annual PEN World Voices festival. As regular readers know, I frequently use this space to call your attention to events and publications that help disseminate world literature in this most-powerful media nation where only three percent of published books are translations. The PEN event is one of the most exciting of such events. Among the speakers and readers on this year's calendar of events are Salman Rushdie, Herta Muller, Marjane Satrapi, Tony Kushner and the Kronos Quartet. (Huh? What have they written? Just kidding). Events start on April 30.  For more information, check out the website for the festival.


I was reading the latest issue of the Times Literary Supplement, one of my favorite periodicals -- right up there with Downbeat, The Ring, The Cricketer and American Poetry Review -- and in the course of the lead essay by Bharat Tendon, reviewing new books by Patricia Meyer Spacks and Jonathan Yardley, there was a wonderful passage from Spacks's new book, On Rereading, that seemed to capture for me the pleasure of what I do as a film critic. Spacks, of course, is talking about literature, but if you make a few alterations to her words, it encapsulates perfectly the joy of this job.

 When I write about my own experience of books, though, I write necessarily as a reader of a certain kind. I am one who “takes a book apart” – a phrase often used by those who think of this activity as the antithesis of “just enjoying.” I think – I feel – I know that taking a book apart, making myself conscious of how the elements of its construction work with one another to generate emotional, moral, and intellectual effects, is itself a powerful mode of pleasure. The more I understand, the more I enjoy. The more questions I ask of myself and of the book, the more I can see; the more I see, the more I feel.

One film-related item: my review of two new documentaries about aspects of Israeli society is up at Jewish Week. They're both quite interesting and worth a trip to the Village.