Monday, June 1, 2009

June's Featured Book: The Yiddish Policeman's Union

I've long believed that one of the most delightful questions in the English language is this:

"What should I read next?"

What I love about this question is its vast openness. A graduate school professor once explained it to me this way:

Giving all of your attention to one good book is like sitting on a bench at a crowded street corner and gazing at a beautiful woman who walks by. For a few seconds, you study her every move. Maybe you're struck by the unusual shape of her eyes or the delicate line of her cheekbones, and so for a brief moment, even though the world is big and crowded, only those eyes or cheekbones exist and you sit there with no desire in the world but to study what it is that makes this woman beautiful. And then, before you're quite ready, she's obscured by the crowd and disappears.

But real beauty is in what happens next. Because at this point, you have a choice. At this point, with the beautiful eyes and cheekbones gone, you can choose to dwell on her, to re-live in your mind the moments of her appearance and disappearance again and again, or you can blink your eyes a few times, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and look once more into the crowd.

Choosing a new book is like this beautiful moment. It's choosing to look into the crowd.

Now, I'm fully aware that this analogy is more than a little voyeuristic and creepy, but I do understand my former professor's point. He was saying (I hope) that while beauty is often fleeting and temporary, our quest for it shouldn't be. Our quest for beauty should be ongoing and permanent. When one beautiful thing passes from us, we should blink, sigh, and look forward, because beauty exists neither in the past nor in the future, but in the eternal present.

So the question, "What should I read next?" is a good question. It's a mark of those who have chosen to permanently seek beauty. It's a question that's full of hope and anticipation. It's an optimistic question. It believes that beauty really exists and implies that we can find it if we will only seek.

And I like that.

So here's what I'll read next:

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon. I'll forego telling you much about it since I've written about Chabon on this site before, but before you choose to read along with me, you should know this is a work of science fiction. Don't, however, let that put you off. I've read some of Chabon's other work, and I trust him entirely. Beyond that, The Yiddish Policemen's Union has won a slew of prestigious awards.

You can read a review of The Yiddish Policemen's Union here, and if you'd like to get a copy and read along with me, I'll start posting about this book on Friday.

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