I could write a book...

...or read one. I'm really not too picky.

Andrew Silow-Carroll 88 (photo credit: )
Andrew Silow-Carroll 88
(photo credit: )
It was the talmudic sage Hanina ben Hama who said, "I have learned much from my teachers, from my colleagues even more, but from my students I have learned the most." To which I can only add: "And as for former students who have surpassed me and gone on to better things, I have feelings of pride combined with pathological envy and self-loathing." There's a growing list of my former "junior" colleagues who have since written books to some acclaim. There's Alana Newhouse, the recently named editor-in-chief of Nextbook.org, who as arts and culture editor of the Forward curated A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the "Forward". There's Sam Apple, who turned a piece he submitted to the Forward into the moving, oddball epic Schlepping Through the Alps, the true story of a wandering Austrian shepherd who sings Yiddish songs. And last month saw the publication of From Schlub to Stud: How to Embrace Your Inner Mensch and Conquer the Big City, by Max Gross, another Forward alum. That's three right there - and four if you count Rob Kutner, author of the parody how-to book Apocalypse How: Turn the End-Times into the Best of Times. Technically, Rob and I hadn't met before last week, but because I probably changed a comma or two in articles he submitted to the Forward - and because, as a writer for The Daily Show, he has the coolest job in the world - I will go ahead and call him a friend. In fact, my best friend, if that gets me tickets to a taping. WHENEVER FORMER mentees write a book, two questions arise. One, am I in the index? And two, when will I write a book? The answer to the second is complicated. On the one hand, I write and edit for a living, and it seems natural that eventually I would want to expand my ideas and bind them between hard covers. On the other hand, I have the attention span of a Chihuahua. Which is not terrible if you work for a newspaper, since even a Chihuahua can bear down to the task at hand, whether it's gnawing a rubber bone or interviewing an Israeli diplomat. Or vice versa. But the sustained effort that would go into writing a book? Walter Isaacson, who managed to run Time magazine and later CNN while churning out massive biographies of Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger and Benjamin Franklin, was once asked to describe the secret of his prolificacy. He said something like, "I never procrastinate." I'm cooked. I am also swayed by what columnist and magazine editor Michael Kinsley once said about book writing. Why spend years writing a book that might be read by, at best, a few thousand people, when you can spend a few days writing a newspaper or magazine article that will be read by tens of thousands? Besides, wrote Kinsley, "there is too much nonfiction going on in the world already without writers adding to it." THE LAST thing that holds me back is temperament. There are two kinds of writers: those who want to write a book, and those who want to have written a book. Those of us in the latter camp want to fast forward past all that preliminary stuff - you know, the idea, the research, the writing - and get right to the Terry Gross interview. "Well, certainly, Terry, the front page treatment in The New York Times Book Review was flattering, but to me the book will have succeeded if it helps..." And here I usually wake up, because even in my dreams I can't figure out exactly what kind of book I would write. If it helps end world hunger? Helps bring about peace in the Middle East? Helps explain why they cancelled Arrested Development? I think it was also Michael Kinsley who said it was more efficient to review books than to write them. In that spirit, I think it's more efficient to review the book I would have written rather than actually write it. So here goes: "In So It Shouldn't Be a Total Loss: A Spiritual Journey, Silow-Carroll combines the vision of de Tocqueville with the height of Julia Child in exploring contemporary American-Jewish life as seen through the eyes of its least annoying practitioners. In trenchant yet perspicacious prose, he challenges us to ask what it means to be American and Jewish, and whether a grown man should even think about wearing a yarmulke decorated with a smiley face. The thrill-a-minute prose makes it no surprise that Spielberg has bought the rights to the book and explains why a distraught Michael Chabon keeps leaving unanswered messages on the author's machine." That's the short version, anyway. Joan Didion's review essay in Harper's is more detailed. In truth, I won't consider writing a book until I have an idea that it is big enough and bold enough to justify my investment and the readers' time. Until then, I'm plenty busy, focused on the task at hand - and hey, is that a ball in your hand? Throw it and I'll catch it! Again! Again! The writer is editor-in-chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.