For the past few years, several colleagues have repeatedly asked me to schedule Shalom Auslander to speak at the Skirball, suggesting him for this program or that, and sending around his hilarious, irreverent Tablet Magazine articles and essays. So when his publicist called a few months ago to tell me about Auslander’s book tour in support of his debut novel, Hope: A Tragedy, I didn’t have to think twice. Yes, of course we would like to have him speak! Auslander is a prolific writer, known for his story collection, Beware of God; his memoir, Foreskin’s Lament; and his regular contributions to Tablet, This American Life, GQ, The Guardian, and The New York Times. But he had yet to publish a novel. The world has been waiting! So much so that I really couldn’t disagree with his publisher’s proclamation that the publication of Hope: A Tragedy is a “highly-anticipated literary event.” It is! For those who are familiar with Auslander’s work, the novel features his trademark edginess, dark humor, and outlandish characters and situations. There’s also a deep underlying insight. Janet Maslin does a great job of discussing the book’s themes in her New York Times review.
I admire Shalom Auslander. He’s a fearless, brutally honest writer. He doesn’t hold back. Raised as an Orthodox Jew, he now struggles to negotiate even a workable relationship with God. Throughout his work—and I can only assume in his real life as well—Auslander fervently questions God, Judaism, and identity, all in keeping with the great Jewish tradition of questioning everything. He’s not afraid of provoking controversy. In a recent Tablet article, he even demanded that God apologize on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. That’s right. Auslander wrote that he wouldn’t atone until God apologized for a number of sins visited upon mankind (cancer, AIDS, genocide, broken hearts, and loneliness) and other sins—at least in Auslander’s perception—such as celebrities and those who are famous-for-being-famous, YA vampire novels, Facebook, and MySpace. I’m sure he’s not alone in his desire for answers. Even if he pushes it a lot farther than most, don’t we all just want to know and understand?
Here’s a good interview between Shalom Auslander and Sara Ivry on Vox Tablet. And, best of all, see and hear Auslander in person at the Skirball in conversation with the brilliantly funny Peter Mehlman (Seinfeld writer/producer) on Tuesday, January 24, at 8:00 p.m.