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Narrative Nonfiction Book Club Reads Another Great Book!

Belonging to a book club is a great way to discover an interesting book that you wouldn’t ordinarily choose for yourself.  Several members of the library’s Narrative Nonfiction Book Club had that wonderful eureka feeling this month when we read Outwitting History:  the Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky.  Nearly everyone in the group admitted that if they saw this on the shelf they would have passed right over it.  However, they quickly got caught up in the narrative excitement and enjoyed learning about Yiddish language and literature.

The author tells us how he came to realize the future of Yiddish literature was endangered and about his remarkable odyssey to save it.  Children of elderly Yiddish speaking immigrants, not interested in their parents’ treasures, were regularly throwing Yiddish books in dumpsters when dissolving their parents’ households.  “With little more than his own chutzpah, 23 year old Aaron Lansky issued a worldwide appeal for unwanted Yiddish books, and the response was overwhelming,” states the publisher’s summary.  Readers follow Lansky and his friends to home after home where they pick up innumerable truck loads of Yiddish books to bring back to the Yiddish Book Center Lansky founded in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Books are then dispersed to schools, libraries and organizations that need them. 

Lansky is a tireless, caring and engaging person who writes as if he is chatting with you in the front seat of his delivery truck.  He describes in wonderful detail how one visit to pick up books can last hours while the elderly Jews tell him about the sacrifices they made to buy or keep the books with them through difficult times.  At every visit he is plied with copious amounts of food and drink, hugs and kisses – so much so that he keeps an emergency kit in the truck that contains Pepto-Bismol.  Lansky views these visits as periods of cultural transmission, important rites where knowledge of the past is handed down to the current young generation.  In fact, the elderly Jews often called Lansky, jungerman, meaning “young man” instead of his name.  Between stories about collecting and dispersing books to points around the globe, Lansky explains the history of Yiddish language and literature.  He compares Yiddish to Hebrew and draws clear distinctions between the use and reputation of each language and literature, which was enlightening to those of us who were unfamiliar with them. 

If you enjoy a well-written, true story about something of significance, then read this book.  No prior knowledge of the subject matter is required, only a desire to learn about a people and their passion for books. Outwitting History can be found on the Staff Picks cart located across the way from the Service Desk.

Next month, the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club will be discussing The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.  “The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of work of mouth or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life, “ writes, Malcolm Gladwell, “is to think of them a epidemics.  Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.” If you want to join the discussion, pick up a copy of the book at the reference desk and come to the meeting on Friday, May 3, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. prepared to discuss it.  The meeting will be held in the Hermann Room at the library.  All are welcome.

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