The New Conversational Anarchist

Waltham Book Peddler has street smarts

August 9, 2010

Tags: Papernick the Book Peddler

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."

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