Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Rabbi's Cat 2 and the Renewal of Reading

The Rabbi's Cat 2
Story and drawings by Joann Sfar
Translated by Alexis Siegel
Pantheon Books
Hardcover, 130 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-42507-3

In the first volume of The Rabbi's Cat, Joann Sfar introduced us to the rabbi, his delightful daughter Zlabya, and a talking cat who loves her. In this second book in the series, we re-encounter the original players (although we see less of Zlabya) and meet exotic new ones. The rabbi's storytelling cousin yearns for everlasting fame. A Russian painter searches for a prejudice-free utopia. The painter falls in love with a voluptuous waitress who accompanies him on the dangerous quest.

The stories, tales within tales, are always interesting; the colorful and expertly-drawn art is enchanting. Yet that could be said of many of the fine graphic novels published in this blossoming genre. What distinguishes this book, and the first volume of The Rabbi's Cat, is the characters — who are many-dimensional — and the dialogue, which is rich with insights and memorable lines.

I was surprised to see this extraordinary book for sale on the bargain websites; and astounded that (unlike the first volume) a paperback edition never came to print.

Because here we have "literature", a modern classic, written for everyone and for all ages, earthy and entertaining and instructive, like the classic novels we so admire, by Dickens and Burnett and Twain. This book, and works like it, could help to renew the art of reading.

What good is all our fancy ebook reading devices, and our advanced technologies, and Frankln's ingenious gift — the public libraries — what good is all this opportunity if we ignore it? ... All the world's radiant wisdom instantaneously at our fingertips, is available to us, free or almost free, as long as we renew our love of reading, and cultivate the ability to discern the genuine novels from the ordinary ones.

— Michael Pastore