It started in Seattle in 1998, when all the sleepless people reached for a bedside book and started a city-wide reading group. The idea spread across the United States and even abroad. Now, under names like "One City, One Book," "Same Time, Same Book," and (in one case, in Alabama) the somewhat intimidating "Get Caught Reading," communities are turning en masse to classics like Mark Twain’s "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," more modern classics like Harper Lee’s "To Kill a Mockingbird," and contemporary contenders like Jhumpa Lahiri’s "The Namesake." (Nonfiction gets its literary due as well, as groups across the country have been reading a wide range of it, from Henry David Thoreau’s "The Maine Woods" to Bill Bryson’s "A Walk in the Woods.")
Now Temple Beth Sholom of Teaneck has launched "One People, One Book," a two-month immersion in and around "The World to Come" (W.W. Norton), a notable new book by Dara Horn, a young Jewish writer whose first book, "In the Image," was greeted with rave reviews.
"We just thought it’s a chance to get the entire congregation literally on the same page," said Andrew Silow-Carroll, a member of Beth Sholom’s adult education committee, "and build excitement about a new book. It was really special that the author, Dara Horn, will come [to talk to the congregation about her book] March 8. She’s a New Jersey author," noted Silow-Carroll in an interview on Monday. "She’s written books that take place in our backyard."
Besides the landsman aspect, Silow-Carroll said, "older people will remember the period" — the book is partly set in the 1950s — "and younger people will relate to it as a young person’s love story. We just imagine Shabbat table conversations and casual meetings in hallways where people say, ‘have you read the book?’"
"A big part of this project," he added, was "trying to highlight a lot of the talent that we have."
One of those "talents," Sam Norich, a Yiddishist who is the publisher of the Forward, helped launch the reading group last weekend at the shul’s annual Shabbaton. Norich spoke of the background of the book, which is alternately set in contemporary New York and New Jersey (with side trips into the past and to Vietnam during the war) and in the Soviet Union of the 1950s, when many leading Yiddish writers and intellectuals who had been members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, created in 194′ to gain Western Jewish support against the Nazis, were put to death on trumped-up charges. (It is also set in the eponymous world to come, which is outside human time.)
Silow-Carroll, the editor of the Whippany-based New Jersey Jewish News, introduced the gathering to Horn’s work and that of her contemporaries.
In the interview on Monday, he noted that Horn "was raised in Short Hills, like Philip Roth’s Brenda Patinkin; she’s like a literary granddaughter of Roth’s generation." By this he did not mean the excesses of the Patinkin family but what’s called "Hansen’s law," attributed to historian Marcus Lee Hansen in the 1930s: "What the son wishes to forget the grandson wishes to remember." There’s much more appreciation for religious Judaism in the younger generation of American Jewish writers, Silow-Carroll said, than in Roth’s cohort.
At a gathering March ‘, another of the shul’s "talents," Dr. Reuben Baron, professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut and a private curator of art installations, will speak about Marc Chagall, the famous Russian-Jewish painter of surreal, poetic, and often pastoral scenes, a character in Horn’s book. The theft of a Chagall study at a Jewish singles event at a museum — based on an actual theft at a singles event at the Jewish Museum in New York — sets the plot in motion. And on March 8, Horn herself will join the group for a reading from and discussion of the book. Other events have yet to be announced.
An interview with Horn can be downloaded from www.wwnorton.com/rgguides/worldtocomergg.htm.