Jewish-American Stories, edited by Irving Howe, 1977 (35 cents)

Perhaps it was an unlikely book to take with me on my recent California trip, but I thought it would give me an opportunity to remind myself who some of these well known authors are, and how they write. At any rate, the almost 500 pages of small print was just right for a one week trip, with two six plus hour flights.

The stories range from the wonderful “On Account of a Hat” by Sholom Aleichem (you know, the poor Jew falls asleep on the bench in the station waiting room next to the sleeping Russian official; both drop their hats on the ground; the Jew wakes up as his train pulls into the station, picks up the wrong hat, and gets aboard; everyone treats him with surprising respect, and when he looks in the mirror, he sees he is wearing the official’s hat. Panicking, he realizes that the wrong person woke up and got on the train, and that he is still sleeping on the bench, so he leaves the train and goes back to the bench to wake himself up, as the train pulls out of the station) to the absolutely awful “No Kaddish for Weinstein” by Woody Allen.

There are surprisingly good stories from authors I don’t recall ever hearing of (especially “King Solomon” by Isaac Rosenfeld), boring stories by Isaac Babel (I keep trying to enjoy his writing but keep failing) and Norman Mailer’s “The Man Who Studies Yoga” (sorry, I couldn’t make it through), and wonderful stories like Herbert Gold’s “The Heart of the Artichoke”, Cynthia Ozick’s “Envy, or Yiddish in America”, and Philip Roth’s “Defender of the Faith”. And then there were two terrific short stories by Delmore Schwartz, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” and “America, America”.

Of course, the problem (my problem) with short stories is that I often forget the plot of one when I am only half way through the next one. So, you have to review what you have read.

Turns out that that is not so hard. And even fun.

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