The New Conversational Anarchist
August 26, 2010
There Is No Other
by Jonathan Papernick. (Exile Editions, 179 pp. $17.95)
Jonathan Papernick had worked as a journalist in Israel, and those experiences, transformed into short stories, turned The Ascent of Eli (Arcade) into an impressive first collection. A novel, Who By Fire, Who By Blood (Exile Editions), followed in 2007, and Papernick soon joined the ranks of Dara Horn, Nathan Englander and Jonathan Safran Foer as a young Jewish writer worth watching.
The nine stories in Papernick’s latest collection are set in America and Israel, and they explore the fragile territory between dream and reality, life and death and, perhaps most of all, between faith and doubt. Papernick’s fiction takes no prisoners; it forces us to look at the most outlandish juxtapositions life can serve up. Papernick’s stories grab our attention and keep us glued to the page until it is too late—and the “unthinkable” has already happened. Sometimes, darkness falls, sometimes transcendence lifts, but in each case, tenderness always lurks just around the edges.
Take “The Engines of Sodom.” Its opening sentence seems predictable enough given the history of Jewish American family squabbles: “Hershlag’s mother hit him over the head with a loaf of rye bread when he told her he was going to catch a show at Ildiko’s rather than joining her at synagogue to mark his grandfather’s yahrzeit.” This is funny enough but nothing compared to the stark way in which this very short short story ends. Hershlag seems for all the world to be a slacker, a teenager who knows more about dope, punk rock and skinhead culture than Jewish history—all of which makes the story’s final tableau so disturbing: As he approaches a tattoo parlor, he remembers his grandfather’s concentration camp numbers and “was determined to become a living monument to Poppa Hershlag so that Hershlag himself would never forget.”
The image disturbs me on a number of levels, the most important being that it comes close to trivializing the Holocaust, and I would prefer that contemporary Jewish writers resist elbowing gratuitous Holocaust detail into their stories.
In “The Madonna of Temple Beth Elohim,” Papernick tests out the limits of well-meaning, liberal ecumenicalism. A shell-shocked Catholic war vet takes on a job at a Reform synagogue, helping to prepare the sanctuary for the High Holidays. While polishing the lectern, he uncovers (or thinks he has uncovered) an image of the Virgin Mary. Word spreads and soon the synagogue is inundated by Catholic worshipers eager to pray at the site of a shrine.
Papernick largely plays this story for laughs but that is not the case in “There Is No Other,” a chilling tale in which a biracial Jewish student arrives at his school’s Purim party dressed as the prophet Muhammad. Sporting a suicide belt stuffed with explosives, he demands to know who, in fact, the true God is. His hapless teacher tries to explain but his words fall on deaf, deeply tormented ears. More than 50 years ago, Philip Roth’s “The Conversion of the Jews” chronicled a similar Hebrew school showdown between a smart-aleck student and a befuddled rabbi, but Papernick raises the ante—with catastrophic results.
Papernick’s stories sometimes seem overly schematized or too insistent, but they remain unforgettable nonetheless—and that, after all, is how the best short stories are supposed to feel. —Sanford Pinsker
August 9, 2010
By Jen Judson/Daily News staff
GateHouse News Service
Posted Aug 09, 2010 @ 12:00 AM
In the age of electronic readers, local author Jonathan Papernick says he's "going old school," hitting the streets and selling his books from a green fluorescent pushcart.
He got the cart from Alex Green, the owner of Back Pages Books, 289 Moody St.
Standing in a sunny corner of the Waltham farmers market Saturday, wearing a black T-shirt depicting a side-profile of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern political Zionism, and a pair of sunglasses, Papernick greets each passersby with: "I'm Papernick the book peddler, and I wrote these books."
Embracing his European Jewish heritage, Papernick, 39, said has taken on the persona of a modern version of Mendele the Book Peddler, a great Yiddish writer, and wants to bring back the "age-old art of hand-selling books."
Lively notes from Dimitri Zisl Slepovitch's clarinet helped draw customers to Papernick's cart Saturday. Slepovitch, a friend of Papernick's, is the leader of the Klezmer band "Tamevate Kapelye," which means "foolish band."
Papernick, joined by Slepovitch, will parade from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Manhattan's Upper West Side in October to celebrate the end of his promotional tour for his latest book of short stories, "There Is No Other."
"In an age where new technologies and e-books have replaced human contact," Papernick said, he is "building face-to-face relationships" with his readers.
Along with his newest book, Papernick sold his two other books, "The Ascent of Eli Israel," and "Who By Fire Who By Blood," from his cart Saturday.
One man in wheelchair stopped by Papernick's flashy cart, leaving with two of his books and a "Papernick the Book Peddler" sticker attached to the side of his chair.
Papernick, formerly of Toronto, moved to the United States to attend graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, N.Y. He studied creative writing.
After meeting his wife, Eve, in graduate school and spending time in New York City, Papernick moved to Waltham six years ago to be closer to members of his wife's family. Papernick has two sons: Zev, 4, and Jesse, 2.
Papernick has been a writer-in-residence for the past four years at Emerson College and an artist-in-residence in the BIMA program at Brandeis University.
Papernick said he always wanted to be a writer growing up.
"I wrote terrible 'Lord of the Rings' rip-offs" as a kid, he said.
At 19, Papernick wrote a self-published book and attempted to sell the 200 copies he had ordered on the streets of Toronto.
Approaching a fellow book peddler, Crad Kilodney, who wrote and sold books with titles such as "Monkeys Ate My Guts," Papernick asked him to read his first book.
"He was a grumpy kind of guy," said Papernick, but Kilodney wrote him a letter a week later telling him the work was riddled with grammatical errors yet had "flashes of brilliance."
Kilodney told him that if he kept writing, in five to 10 years he would be a writer, Papernick said.
Ten years later, Papernick published his first book of seven short stories, "The Ascent of Eli Israel," inspired from his time spent in Jerusalem working as a reporter for United Press International and the Associated Press in the mid-1990s.
Papernick said he was in Jerusalem right after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minster and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Rabin was gunned down in 1995 by a radical Israeli who opposed his signing of the Oslo Accords, an agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Papernick's next book, a novel published in 2007 in Canada, "Who By Fire Who By Blood," is a literary thriller about Jewish extremism in Brooklyn.
The work is his most controversial, he said.
Although it is in the early stages, Papernick is working on a new novel about a synagogue softball league in Waltham.
Papernick said he has had his fair share of rejections in life, but as a writer it is important to "never give up."
With his persistence at the farmers market that morning, Papernick sold six books in two hours, which he said is far more than he could off the shelves in a bookstore.
Like his posters and stickers suggest, Papernick said he is "bringing market-fresh fiction directly to the people."
August 7, 2010
The second day of my book peddling mission was a success, once again. The sun was shining in Waltham and the sky was blue, and I was accompanied by klezmer master Zisl Slepovitch on the clarinet who played or old world tunes to a delighted market. Just like the previous week I sold 13 books in just a few hours in once again bartered a book, this time for something called an egg bag, made by a local artisan. The bag is also perfect for holding a bottle of wine, so I think I'll give it to my wife as a gift. A woman from the Waltham Daily Tribune interviewed me and Zisl, and took our pictures for Monday's edition of the paper. I will paste the article into this blog when it appears.
I met a lot of interesting people today and sold one of my books to an actual rocket scientist who used to work in the historic Waltham Watch Factory building. I also met a Jewish woman who has been living in Tokyo for the last 22 years and she bought two copies of my books to bring back to Japan. Her husband is writing a book about a Hasidic Jews in Japan, something I did not know existed. I'm looking forward to traveling to New York to sell my books in Union Square on Saturday the 21st and in the meantime I'm trying to set up more dates in the Boston area.
August 6, 2010
JEWISH BOOK COUNCIL BLOG--August 6, 2010
Jonathan Papernick is the author of the newly published collection of short stories There Is No Other. He recently wrote to us with the below piece on why short stories are more important now than ever.
When I tell people that I have just published my second collection of short stories the reaction more often than not is: when am I going to write a novel? I have nothing against novels; I enjoy reading them as much as anybody, and have in fact, already written and published one. What I find strange is not the fact that readers are encouraging me to write a novel — it is the fact that the accomplishment of writing a collection of short stories is almost entirely dismissed as somehow unworthy. More and more the publishing industry seems to be overcome with a blockbuster mentality in which only a few books can rise to the top of the review pages and the bestseller list, while so many other books are not deemed worthy of discussion.
Publishers and agents love to say that people don’t read short stories anymore; I don’t believe that. What they’re really saying is that short stories do not make enough economic sense for them. It’s true that a successful novel may sell 50,000 or 100,000 copies, and a successful collection of short stories may sell a few thousand. But, readers should not concern themselves with economics, just good, well wrought stories. With less and less time in our busy lives, short stories are the perfect antidote to the workaday world — an expansive, human experience compressed into a package that can be consumed in its entirety in a half an hour, and sometimes in as little as five minutes. Short stories allow us to walk in the shoes of a characters and understand her hopes and fears and dreams intimately without having to make a three or 400 page commitment that may never be met. What better way is there for a reader to understand a young Jewish girl’s sexual dilemma with her crucifix-wearing suitor than to spend four pages in her mind as she works through the complexities not only of her tradition but also of her expectations as a modern young woman, without the reader actually going through the experience herself? How else can we enter the mind of a religious extremist, or an Iraq war vet, or a girl struggling with her weight, or a drug addict or… the list goes on and on. The fact is, we are better people for reading stories, more understanding, humanistic people, able to empathize with those who are not us. This world needs greater understanding, and a well-written short story can pierce the heart like a bullet and stay with a reader for the rest of her life.
The Kindle and other e-book formats make it easier than ever to obtain short stories from online magazines like Narrative magazine and One Story. For the old fashioned reader, One Story also publishes one saddle-stitched pamphlet-sized short story every three weeks that fits perfectly in one’s back pocket or purse — most stories can be read during an average rush-hour subway commute. I’ve recently discovered a great new literary journal called The Drum: A Literary Magazine For Your Ears, which publishes audio versions of short stories that can be easily downloaded to an iPod or iPhone. In the past few years I have certainly come to appreciate micro fiction, stories of 500 words or less, but I’m still having trouble getting my head around Twitter Fiction which is advertised as “Great works of fiction in 140 characters or less.” But, I think I can find the time to let it grow on me.
Due in part to these new innovative ways to bring stories to the reader, I believe that the short story is poised for a renaissance, now it’s up to you, the reader to help make this happen.
August 2, 2010
By Alex Green--Huffington Post August 2, 2010
In the early part of the last century my great-grandfather would hitch up his horse when the fields froze each winter and head out across upstate New York hawking various goods and sundries, including books. That may explain some part of why my walk to the bookstore Saturday morning was so thrilling as I passed the Waltham Farmer's Market and saw a cart of books helmed by acclaimed author Jonathan Papernick.
I discovered Papernick's first short story collection five years. "The Ascent of Eli Israel," was a stunning debut of relentlessly evocative stories set in Jerusalem after the assasination of Yitzhak Rabin. This summer, Papernick has gone as old school as your great-aunt Gidl, getting out the cart and doing something booksellers wish all authors could do -- handselling copies of his fabulous new collection of short stories, "There is No Other," one copy at a time at local markets with the slogan, "Bringing Market-Fresh Fiction Directly to the People."
A self-styled "Book Peddler", Papernick has dared to do what few writers can, writing about people who we may not always love, on subjects we may not always find comfortable, with such passion and skill that we are reminded why great tales are grand adventures. He has brought that passion to the art of seeking out new readers, and used the oldest method of bookselling out there to do it. You can bring him to your town as he makes his way from New England to the Upper West Side on October 2, market by market. It can be said, there is no other writer out there like Jonathan Papernick.