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This article is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

on Adam Kirsch
'How English I Was'
Adam Kirsch, Jews and the Global Novel
David Herman
Adam Kirsch, The Global Novel: Writing the World in the 21st Century (New York: Columbia Global Reports), 2016, 105pp
Adam Kirsch, The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature (W.W. Norton), 2016, 432pp

OVER THE LAST THIRTY or forty years there has been an interesting revolution in reading habits in this country. Curiously, it has passed almost unnoticed.

In the 1970s I was studying English A Level. The course was made up the usual suspects: two Shakespeare plays, a Chaucer tale, Pope and Coleridge, Jane Austen and Jane Eyre. It couldn’t have been more English. Then we came to the last set text, Herzog by Saul Bellow. One of our two English teachers refused to teach it. ‘It’s not English’, he said and that was that. The other teacher, some years younger, grew a moustache, changed his glasses to something from Easy Rider and taught it on his own.

For me it was love at first sight. I had never read any contemporary American fiction or any modern Jewish writing. From the first sentence I was enthralled and have loved Jewish-American literature ever since.

I stayed in touch with most of my teachers. Two things struck me about them. First, how well-read they all were. Second, what they read was English literature not Jewish, not American, not European. I was talking with a former History teacher a few years ago. He told me he had read the whole of Kipling and had devoured much of the English canon. I felt ...


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