When I started at Moment more than six years ago, I quickly gravitated toward the magazine's books section. It wasn't long before every review copy of a new book that arrived at the office landed on my desk. The Jewish book industry was--and still is--booming, and every day I would receive everything from obscure academic monographs (a personal favorite: Transnational Contested Food Practices of Russian-Speaking Jewish Migrants in Israel and Germany) to novels in which the protagonist eats a corned beef sandwich. Along with this more eclectic selection would come memoirs, often self-published, from Holocaust survivors recounting their experiences. In many cases, this was the first time they had publicly discussed their time in a concentration camp, or hiding from the Nazis, or managing to escape Europe while their family stayed behind. As I relegated other books to the "donate" bin, these offerings piled up on my desk. I was frozen, knowing we were unlikely to review most of these publications but loath to get rid of them.
To me, these writings were somehow holy. And just as Jewish tradition forbids the discarding of sacred texts--calling instead for them to be buried or stored in a geniza--I was unable to dispense with these testimonies. I couldn't help feeling that I had an obligation to read each one, as if the very act of reading could provide an affirmation of a survivor's experience.
In Judaism, reading often goes hand in hand with acceptance or recognition. We are instructed to read the Torah publicly three days a week as a sign of acceptance of the covenant. The story of the Exodus must be read aloud on Passover--even if you're celebrating alone--in order to internalize the experience of slavery in Egypt and the redemption that followed. Even if you know Megillat Esther by heart, you are still called to read it twice on Purim.
The rabbis who established these traditional obligations seem to have understood that reading shapes us profoundly--the way we think, the way we live, the way we act. (Recent studies even suggest that reading can make us more empathetic.) To explore that theory further in our special books issue, we ask 20 authors--including literary luminaries such as Cynthia Ozick, Walter Mosley and Joyce Carol Oates--to name the book that most influenced them. The answers range from War and Peace to Winnie-the-Pooh, proving that inspiration can truly come from anywhere. How would you answer this question? Email us at...