Since 2005, Nextbook magazine, which focuses on Jewish literature, culture, and ideas, has published a regular feature on “Lost Books”, in which writers such as Meg Wolitzer and David Rakoff discuss the lives and works of neglected writers.
Among the fascinating pieces to be found in the “Lost Books” archive are:
- · Earl Ganz’s account of Myron Brinig
- Brinig was once mentioned alongside Thomas Wolfe as a rising American literary star, but he suffered a triple whammy sales curse of writing Western novels from the perspective of a gay Jewish man. But who can resist Ganz’s teaser for Brinig’s novels Singermann and This Man is My Brother (which not even AddAll lists a copy of): “Prostitutes, Christian Scientists, cross-dressing teachersâ€”just a few of the temptations faced by the Singermanns in Myron Brinig’s frontier saga”?
- · Neal Pollack on Ben Hecht
- Pollack celebrates A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, a collection of Hecht’s impressionistic newspaper pieces about one of the great American cities at its liviest times: “The book still holds a kind of magical sway over me, because it showed a kind of American life that seems to have disappeared, a time when public eccentricity didn’t merely feed the appetite of cable TV and when cities could be slightly unsavory without feeling overwhelmingly dangerous.”
- · Jennifer Weisberg on Stefan Zweig
- Zweig, one of my favorite neglected writers, embodies one of the great tragedies of the 20th century: the destruction of enlightened European Jewish culture at the hands of fascism and violence. Weisberg writes that Zweig’s 1938 novel, Beware of Pity , which was reissued by New York Review Classics in 2006, “is in many ways a micro-portrait of life in the late Hapsburg Empire, capturing the overweening attention paid to ritual, detail, and order, and the occasions it afforded for self-transformation.” She also quotes a New York Herald Tribune obituary, which wrote tellingly that Zweig took his own life because he was “overwhelmed by the past, and by the realization that all he had held most dear had been wantonly destroyed.”
- · Chloe Veltman on Israel Zangwill
- Zangwill’s The Melting Pot was celebrated by President Theodore Roosevelt as a “great play” when it debuted in 1908, but Veltman admits that now it seems a “ham-fisted” melodrama “made worse by Zangwill’s didactic tone.”
- · Lawrence Levi on Melvin Shavelson’s “How to Make a Jewish Movie”
- In How to Make a Jewish Movie, director Shavelson recounts his diligent and ridiculous efforts to make “Cast a Giant Shadow”, the story of Mickey Marcus, a Jewish American Army colonel who helped jump-start the Israeli Army in 1948. Levi concludes that Shavelson “seems to have learned, as an entertainer, that the story of a nice Jewish filmmaker who finds himself while shooting a $5 million flop has more potential in the hands of a comedy writer than the story of a Jewish general who gets killed.”
I look forward to further installments in this excellent series and encourage neglected book fans to check out all the articles.