Thursday, March 18, 2010

Outwitting History

Outwitting History was a neat and inspiring book. The author, Aaron Lansky, set out in 1980 to rescue books written in Yiddish. He found that people were getting rid of them and was concerned that an important part of Jewish culture was being lost. What started as a small project grew into the Yiddish Book Center which has now rescued over a million and a half Yiddish books and distributed many of them to libraries around the world.

Naturally, with my love of books, this book appealed to me. It was very inspiring and heartwarming to read about someone with a passion for books and culture and the lengths Lansky went to preserve both. The story covers almost a quarter century of growth. There are a lot of book rescue stories and some about the intricacies of expanding the organization and the problems (especially financial) that arose. Definitely an interesting book irregardless of religious beliefs.

The downside to the book was the repetitiveness of it (like Used and Rare, the tales of acquisition begin to blur) and the sizable amount of Yiddish used in the book. All the words are translated which begs the question, why bother? If I want to read or learn Yiddish, I'll pick up a Yiddish book. As it was, I didn't pick up any of the language (and why anyone would try to do it in a book primarily in English is beyond me) because I skipped over the Yiddish words and went right to the translation.

So that's what knocks this down to a one star book for me. Tad too monotonous at times and a tad too Yiddish. That being said, it prompted me to read another book involving Yiddish which will be my next review.


Mark's Ephemera said...

Pick up a copy of Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish for a delightful look at the language, written mostly in English.

There's another book on the history of the Yiddish language that looked interesting enough to buy, but it has been collecting dust on my bookshelf for the last year or so.

Mark's Ephemera said...

Found it... Dovid Katz's Words on Fire.