In the spirit of Jonathan Rosen's The Talmud and the Internet, the Jewish Encounters Series marries subjects that readers might not expect to see between the covers of one book.
"The series knits together different impulses," Rosen, its creator and editor, comments.
A joint imprint of Nextbook and Schocken, Jewish Encounters began eight years ago as an initiative to bring classic works of Jewish literature to American libraries. The enterprise quickly morphed, however, into a dynamic project that offers history, biography and culture "filtered through a contemporary sensibility," Rosen says.
"We're engineering encounters between Jewish writers and subjects," he explains. "They're personal encounters - and the writer's journey is part of the reader's journey."
Some of the world's most prominent Jewish authors have contributed to the series, which stands at 14 volumes today. National Book Award winner Dr. Sherwin Nuland presents a dazzling portrait of Maimonides, the physician, rabbi and sage known to many as Rambam. Former US poet laureate Robert Pinsky tells the story of King David, turning legend into a lively narrative. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel offers a colorful account of the medieval talmudic scholar Rashi, which Publisher's Weekly recently named as one of the best books of 2009.
This acclaim points, perhaps, to the broad appeal of the series. "It's the intersection of multiple world - each book contains elements of American culture, Jewish culture and world culture," Rosen remarks.
"I want every book to do a lot," he continues, pointing to Barney Ross: The Life of a Jewish Fighter - the story of a famous American boxer, who also ran guns to Palestine, as told by Douglas Century.
"I wanted it to be about him, but at the same time I wanted it to capture the emblematic notion of what it meant for a Jew to become a fighter," says Rosen. "It's a satisfying boxing book but it has another function."
The series also aims to show Jewish culture in a new light. Rosen offers David Lehman's A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs as a prime example. "There's a long list of American songs produced by Jews, everything from 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' to 'There's No Business Like Show Business' to 'Summertime.' It's an extraordinary phenomenon."
Rosen hopes that readers will also be entertained by the series. "One of our upcoming books is by Ben Katchor, a graphic novelist he's telling the story of the dairy restaurant beginning with the Garden of Eden."