How I escaped by the skin of my teeth
Normally, I lash out at authors I know personally for the chutzpa of not showing me their books for constructive criticism before publishing. Mr. Halper, as I always call him, my favorite Tel Aviv second-hand-book dealer (87 Allenby), now has suddenly written a book. I would have taken revenge in this review, but there was no need because it is as good as perfect.
The book is The Bibliomaniacs by J.C. Halper. I read it from cover to cover in no time. I think that it was Bertrand Russell who said that if you want to write well, you need to read a lot. I guess that the slow hours in the store have been paying off. Its English is superb. I don’t recall ever having read anything in English that was so well-put, and I have an excellent memory. This text is not edited—it is perfected. And its humor is just what the doctor ordered.
Throughout the book, I wondered what was factual and what fictional. Only when I finished it did I realize that the book’s title had misled me, implying, as it does, that the book is about crazies from Mr. Halper’s bookstore. But the subtitle should have alerted me to a truer truth: Tales from a Tel Aviv Bookseller… These are not biographies. These people are mere supporting actors in his autobiography.
Initially, I overlooked a disclaimer on page 8, too. “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, events, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.” Paradoxically, the very need to write this disclaimer proves that all his characters are true to life. Disney doesn’t have such disclaimers about Donald Duck. Apparently, Mr. Halper hates to be sued for defamation.
I can further prove how real these stories are. What Mr. Halper writes about himself is absolutely faithful to the Mr. Halper I know. And, he doesn’t mention his wife or kids. He is very careful not to tell us anything about them. I mean, if it’s all fiction anyway, he could have portrayed them any way he wanted. We also read nothing about the busy store, with its broad scope of books in well-sorted sections and reasonable prices. And there is also the fact that I just don’t read fiction.
All this adds up to the suspicion that the only fiction in The Bibliomaniacs is the disclaimer.
After he had shown me photos of his protagonists, I put the direct question to Mr. Halper: “What part of the book is real?” “I made up some part of some people’s characters.” Well, would you believe him?
As for me, I escaped by the skin of my teeth. Mr. Halper is a lovely man. He listens, has patience, and is friendly. But somehow, my intuition always told me to not tell him too much about myself. Now I could just see myself ending up in a chapter named Natan Nachshon, the Legendary Blogger.
In fact, my signed copy has a handwritten warning above the signature: “For the legendary, one of a kind, Moshe Mordechai, a book person and possible bibliomaniac!” A threat that may border on the criminal; you just sense his regret at not having included me already. Another juicy aspect of the warning lies in its final words, in perfect Hebrew lettering: “A grosche mentsch!” Yiddish for a great person, but also a not so oblique reference to my 6″5′, which somehow always fascinates the relatively dwarfed non-Dutch.
A sequel is inevitable. But given that it has to live up to the quality of the original, it will be another decade before volume two can hit the market. Ten years to watch my mouth to avoid being caricatured by this mild-mannered man’s sharp-penned alter ego, transforming me into yet another former customer.
The next printing of this first-born book needs to include a glossary of jargon. There’s not much Israeli slang in it but just enough to warrant one page of brief translations. With that proviso, I would recommend that the Jewish Agency buy up a whole printing and give a copy to any English speaker considering making aliyah. It will tell them where to get their books and give them frank portraits of life in Israel, with all its absurdities, impossibilities, and humor. This may seriously reduce a newcomer’s shock. Finally, and importantly, it will help non-Israeli readers figure out if they are really ready to face the trials that living here will give them.
My one complaint is that I found the book a bit too expensive. But that’s possibly because it’s new, and I’m used to Mr. Halper’s second-hand prices. (See my analyses of how Amazon plays with prices to hurt proper bookstores.) You’ll never find Halper’s book second-hand, though—no one will part with it. It’ll be handed down over the generations as long as climate change hasn’t killed us all.
This review is a work of fiction. The authors, books, and bookstores mentioned are the products of the reviewer’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual quotes, booksellers, living or dead, or actual books is purely coincidental.