After two years and 100 weekly “On the Bookshelf” columns about new books, assessing the impressive breadth of Jewish letters today
By Josh Lambert
Books aren’t dying. They don’t even have a case of the sniffles. Between June 10, 2009, and Aug. 11, 2011, I wrote a hundred weekly “On the Bookshelf” columns for Tablet Magazine. Each covered eight to ten books, virtually all of them published within a month of the column date. Over the course of two years, these columns dealt with a total of 874 new books—yes, I went back and counted—each one printed, bound, and available for sale.
That’s a lot of books but still a tiny fraction of the world’s overall literary output. (In the United States alone, 302,410 new books were published in 2009, according to one industrysource, and that’s not including public domain reprints and other “non-traditional” titles.) Even if I covered more than most magazines or newspapers did during those two years—and as narrow as my focus was on titles with some connection, however tenuous, to Jews or to Judaism—“On the Bookshelf” was hardly exhaustive. Every month I had notes on another two dozen titles that would have been relevant to a column with more time and space, and there were always plenty of worthwhile books, like Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask and Nadia Kalman’s The Cosmopolitans, that I would realize I’d missed only when they turned up inarticles by other Tablet contributors.