As literature elevates, it is occasionally important to elevate literature, which is, perhaps, why the 2017 National Jewish Book Awards took place in a Manhattan penthouse with a view so stunning as to distract a journalist from her notes.
And as literature delights with piquant details, it was appropriate that Michael Chabon, attending to receive the Jewish Book Council’s Modern Jewish Literary Achievement Award, wore a tie patterned with jugglers for the occasion.
It was a vintage Hermès, he explained to the journalist – as well as a couple stray admirers, who lingered by his elbows, waiting for an introduction – and his favorite amongst his ties of that description, of which there are, apparently, a not-insignificant number. “It is a world filled with golems and rocket ships, humdrum heroes and perfectly ordinary villains, Yiddish and Motown,” the evening’s program gushed, over Chabon’s literary creations. It is also, now we know, a world with a soft spot for petite silken acrobats.
The world of the Awards showcased a similar affection for charming illustrations of the past, from Chabon’s “Moonglow,” introduced by its author with a discussion of his unabashed embrace of nostalgia – “the ache that arises from the consciousness of lost connections” – to Young Adult Literature winner Rachel Mann’s “On Blackberry Hill,” which harks back to the seemingly-ubiquitous Jewish American experience of summer camp.
The evening itself, obligatory grumbles over The State Of Things aside, was something of a charming illustration of the present. At Table 16, two members of the actual Jewish media discussed their favorite midrashim, Mann’s parents proclaimed their great pride in her accomplishment, to her profuse blushes, and the journalist, now distracted from her notes by an extremely colorful salad, spoke with her neighbor about the trouble that accompanies having an apartment in New York.
At the next table over, as Daniel Gordis accepted the Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year award for his “Israel: The Concise History of a Nation Reborn,” two young women sat side by side. The one on the left cast an intimate look at the man to her left, as he ran one of his hands, over and over, through her hair. The one on the right watched in amusement, until the older woman next to her decided to copy the man’s gesture. So Gordis spoke of the dream at the heart of Zionism and waiters circled with coffee, and the young women sat at the center of an affectionate duet.
They exchanged a knowing glance. Watching them, the journalist remembered the tug of loved hands through her own hair, too short, now, to invite that specific caress. It was almost like something in a book, she thought. Maybe one of the authors in the room was also watching, and briefly indulging a similar tender remembering. So maybe, someday, it would be.