The New Center for Arts and Culture looks forward to presenting British novelist and recent Booker Prize winner, Howard Jacobson at the Arsenal Center for the Arts on Monday April 4th.
He will be in conversation with Ben Birnbaum, an author and essayist who contributes to the Jewish online magazine Tablet while also serving as an editor and marketing executive at Boston College.
Ben last appeared on the New Center stage in 2009 in conversation with writer Adam Gopnick.
Here are his thoughts in anticipation of interviewing Howard Jacobson.
By Guest Blogger: Ben Birnbaum
“I was just sick of being called ‘the overlooked underrated Howard Jacobson.’ I could be called ‘overrated’ now, but I can live with that.”
So said, the never-at-a-loss-for-irony Howard Jacobson, in an interview, after his novel The Finkler Question was awarded the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
Jacobson, 68, began life among the working-class Jewish strivers of Manchester—England’s second largest Jewish community, after London—from whose schools he was launched downriver to Cambridge University, where he became a student of F.R. Leavis, Britain’s most eminent 20th century scholar of the novel, before setting off to make his own academic career.
At age 39, finding himself an instructor in a shared office in a backwater “polytechnic” from which there seemed no escape, Jacobson, who’d once harbored dreams of authoring novels about goyish lives in English country houses (a subject, he cheerfully confesses, about which he knew nothing at first hand), wrote Coming From Behind, a comic, biting, novel about a thirty-something, Jewish academic stuck in a backwater polytechnic from which there seemed no escape.
Since then, he has made himself three careers: one as an amiable host and writer of bookish BBC-TV documentaries; the second as an appealingly astringent newspaper columnist and argument joiner (“Whatever it is, I don’t like it,” he has said); and third as the author of mordant, take-no-prisoner novels that centrally concern British Jews who live under conditions of hilarious extremis. In all three cases, his aim is entertainment. “I am a pleasure giver. I give fun,” he’s said.
Among matters I hope to raise for his pleasure-making is Jacobson’s (quite serious) claim to be the Jewish Jane Austen (as opposed to the British Philip Roth); his near-religious adoration of the novel as art form, and his despair over its present condition; why he believes “England’s not the kind of safe haven [that] America is for Jews”; his brilliant career as the eighth-ranked teen-aged ping-pong player in 1950s Britain; his affection—personal and artistic—for sadness and failure; and why he still feels “a bit of a gentile, looking with my nose pressed in against the window of Jewishness, thinking ‘How fantastic!’” And, oh yes, does he ever imagine that his once calling the Booker Prize “an absolute abomination” had anything to do with the fact that he didn’t win the award until he was near 70?
For tickets to this great event, visit www.NewCenterBoston.org!