Look, I’m not trying to be Internetty. But at the end of a year I’ve spent thinking a lot about friendship, I don’t want my last post to be another family tree. Instead, I want to write about books that are my friends. I want to write about the books that I’ve made into parts of me, the ones that showed me something new about myself and the ones that helped me understand, or at least be kind to, a part of myself that I already knew.
I suspect that most of us have bits of culture that we think of as armor. Not all of mine are coherent. A major non-literary one is what a former friend of mine used to call thunderous rap. The spectrum is pretty much DMX to Meek Mill, though these days my preference is either Nicki Minaj or just about any rapper who recorded club hits in the early 2000s. If I need to be brave—for a party, a meeting, a date, a walk home—then chances are I’m listening to Chingy.
I tell you this for context. There are times when I like loud and simple. There are times, though I’m not proud to admit it, when I’m willing to overlook glaring misogyny. There are times when I want what’s familiar. Bear all of this in mind as you’re reading my list of best friends.
- Goodbye, Columbus
Everyone’s got a problem with Philip Roth, and I’m not here to disagree. He’s sexist, he’s ranty, and he’s inconsistent. He’s also a genius. And before he was so sexist and ranty, before some of those books that just aren’t good, he wrote a collection of short stories that, half a century later, perfectly illustrate how confusing it is for me to be an American Jew. There’s no image that resonates more with me than Eli, the title character in “Eli, The Fanatic,” walking around his suburban town dressed in a Hasidic Holocaust survivor’s cast-off clothes. No matter what I believe or don’t believe, no matter how I behave, there are times when I feel that obligated to my history, and that conspicuous. I hope this isn’t true for most other Jews. But it was true for Philip Roth in 1958, and it’s true for me.