Monday, April 20, 2009

Steven Zipperstein

Steven J. Zipperstein’s most recent book is Rosenfeld’s Lives: Fame, Oblivion, and the Furies of Writing (Yale University Press). He is the Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and History at Stanford, and has just spent two years at Harvard. He has written widely on Russian and East European Jewish history, and among his books are histories of the Jews of Odessa, and a biography of the leading intellectual of Zionism who was also its prime internal critic in the movement’s formative years, the essayist Ahad Ha’am. Zipperstein is now at work on a cultural history of Russian Jewry for Houghton Mifflin and Company.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Nighttime reading, mostly at half-hour clips at day’s end, I spend with plump, solidly written biographies (Brent Bailey’s Cheever just filled that bill), but never with those that might disturb sleep. Anything written by, or for that matter, about Kafka I keep far from my side of the bed; Henry James, too, feels like someone likely to cause insomnia, but no one threatens the night like Kafka. I tend to return to the same books time and again: nearly anything written by Cynthia Ozick remains alive, just as fresh and smart as when you first picked it up. I feel much the same way about Joan Acocella whose splendid collection, Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints, drawn mostly from essays written for the New Yorker, are astute portraits of what it feels like, on the inside, to create. Penelope Fizergerald’s droll masterpiece from the 1970s, still in-print I think – The Bookshop – is a bracing reminder, all the more crucial now, of the disruptive, essential power of books. I reread it often. Several new fiction writers spawned by the former Soviet Union much intrigue me, but none more than the minimalist David Bezmozgis whose collection Natasha feels as close to a resurrection of the incomparable Isaac Babel as anything I’ve ever seen. “Goldfinch was flapping clotheslines, a tenement delirious with striving: 6030 Bathurst: insomniac scheming Odessa,” is how its opening story begins.
Read an excerpt from Rosenfeld’s Lives, and discover more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Learn more about Steven Zipperstein's scholarship at his Stanford webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue