Keeping Yiddish Alive One Book at a Time

This is literally the dust jacket photo on Amazon

Many of you may have enjoyed Shane Bertram Baker’s Vaudephones here a few days ago (see here and here). Yesterday his publicist sent me a press release that was so self-deprecatingly  funny that I’ll print here near verbatim:

 
CONGRESS FOR JEWISH CULTURE REPORTS BETTER-THAN-EXPECTED SALES FOR “BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF YIDDISH WRITERS
IN THE SOVIET UNION”
BREAKING OF SALES RECORDS FOR FEWEST BOOKS SOLD NOW IN DOUBT
 
PUBLISHER WILL INCREASE PRICE
 The new “Biographical Dictionary of Yiddish Writers in the Soviet Union” is doing a lot better than expected, according to Shane Baker, executive director of the Congress for Jewish Culture, the book’s publisher.  Since its November 1 publication date, the Dictionary, perhaps the most obscure and esoteric publishing project of the 21st century, has sold almost ten copies.
Because of this sales spurt, the book — a 464-page lexicon containing biographical and bibliographical information on 487 Yiddish writers who published in the Soviet Union — has shot up the Amazon Best Seller ranking from its initial 1,737,771 ranking all the way to 1,488,683.  In the Yiddish reference category it has leapt to 51 from a dead-last 56.
“We might run out of books at this rate,” reports Baker, who raised the price to $65 (from $49.95) on January 1 in an effort to control the demand.
Over 50 years, and three editors in-the-making, the lexicon was begun by Chaim Beider (1920-2003), an award-winning poet, who launched the project when he received a smuggled copy of a previous eight-volume reference work which listed him as “fate unknown,” due to an information blackout caused by the Iron Curtain. After Beider’s death, his dictionary was shepherded by its current editors — Boris Sandler and Gennady Estraikh, Soviet-born Yiddish writers who both work in New York —  Sandler as editor of the Yiddish Forward and Estraikh as Rauch Professor of Yiddish Studies at NYU.
“I think we still have a shot at breaking the record for fewest books sold,” says Baker, who is preparing to abandon his alternative distribution model of offering the book for free in the streets.  See YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Djo67Zwbvak&feature=youtu.be
“I don’t think I can do that any more.  In addition to the almost 10 books sold, I gave 25 to Mr. Beider’s widow, and 28 more have been offered in the street or misplaced.  At this rate, we need to be careful.  Hopefully the price increase will help slow things down.”
The “Biographical Dictionary of Yiddish Writers in the Soviet Union” is in Yiddish, with an English introduction and handy tri-lingual (English, Russian, Yiddish) glossary of Soviet Yiddish terms. (464 pages, $49.95, $65 as of January 1.)
If you would like to buy the 11th copy, go here.

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