Friday, March 16, 2012


Shop Indie Bookstores

The Magic Barrel, Bernard Malamud, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1959, 214 pp

I am not particularly a fan of short stories. I like novels because they go on long enough for me to sink into the story, the characters, the ideas. When I read a whole book of short stories, I feel I am getting interrupted too often and become annoyed. But Bernard Malamud, whose first two novels have been impressive and made me a fan, won the National Book Award for this collection in 1959, making it "required reading" on my list for that year. Sometimes My Big Fat Reading Project feels like a college syllabus; in fact it is a self-created one, making it a reading college with one student where the professors are all authors so I don't mind.

As it turned out, the stories in The Magic Barrel were amazing. I was fully engaged from the first page and finished the collection feeling satisfied by each story. Because they were not related except for their variations on the theme of Jewish life in America, instead of a buffet I felt I was having a series of complete meals created by a versatile chef.

I was raised in a Lutheran family though I gravitated to Jewish kids as I was growing up. While I can't say having those friends make me any kind of expert on what it means to be Jewish, I suppose I developed an affinity for Jews and escaped the peril of seeing a Jewish person as part of a generality or stereotype.

I say this because great writing about an aspect of life, such as religious or national or racial origins, also dispels stereotypes and enriches the understanding of a reader who is not a member of that religion, nation or race. I think what Malamud does that is so powerful is give the reader the experience of being Jewish through the individual consciousnesses of his characters and thereby overcomes the sense of otherness which prejudice and oppression drape over such individuals. He performs his own magic.

(The Magic Barrel is available in paperback and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it at your nearest indie bookstore, click on the cover image above,)

No comments:

Post a Comment