Reader Reactions To Shalit

A few people wrote in to comment on Wendy Shalit’s NY Times piece, which I mentioned here a couple of days ago.

Blogger Annie Reid emailed to ask “Is the insider perspective really necessary to apprehending the material?” Later that day, Richard Silverstein sent a note saying that “there is much positive that can be said” as well as “much negative that must be said.”

Nextbook editor Blake Estrin pointed us to Sara Ivry’s thoughtful answer. Here’s a snippet:

Wagging a finger-naughty, naughty!-at Nathan Englander, Tova Mirvis, and Jonathan Rosen, Wendy Shalit rebukes writers who portray “deeply observant Jews in an unflattering or ridiculous light.” The young scold went to Israel, found God, and now opines that fiction’s purpose is not art or even mere entertainment, but P.R. It should depict a community-in this case one Shalit claims to know from her stay in a Jerusalem yeshiva-in an ideal form.

But how ridiculous the light appears depends on how hard you squint, and Shalit blinds herself to the purpose of fiction. It is invention, after all, not a sociological inquiry or an educational primer. Readers turn to it to gain entry into other worlds, real and unreal. That’s the fun of it, and Shalit’s not having it. She seeks affirmation of her life choices and, like any good zealot, does not countenance deviation.

Update: Reader Michalle Gould takes exception to Ivry’s comments, noting:

Sara Ivry says that “Readers turn to fiction to gain entry into other worlds, real and unreal.” But if the world which you are presented with is an unreal one which is presented to you as real, isn’t that a problem? If a culture is being misrepresented through cliche and a lack of multi-dimensionality, isn’t that a problem?

Michalle also points out that the article was an essay, not a review, and that “readers themselves [should] remember that what they are seeing is only the product of one human mind wrestling with the portrayal of human dilemnas.”

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