A number of years ago I remember reading a review in my local newspaper of an essay collection by Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent. For whatever season, after reading that short review I felt compelled to someday read her collection of essays. I’ve also heard from a million people over the years that The Red Tent is a fantastic novel and definitely worth my time. Well, last Saturday while I was visiting my public library I spotted Diamant’s 2003 essay collection Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship and Other Leaps of Faith. Since I was in the mood for few essays and I’m always in the mood to read yet another book for my World Religion Reading Challenge I decided to take a chance on her collection. After finishing her book last Tuesday I’m glad I did. Diamant is a very good writer.
Before her mega-hit The Red Tent Diamant was a newspaper and magazine columnist. Most if not all of the essays in Pitching My Tent are from that earlier body of work. Because of my interests in comparative religion, I naturally enjoyed her essays dealing with Judaism. But I also enjoyed her essays addressing such everyday subjects like marriage, motherhood, aging, careers and friendship. I think my favorite from her collection was “Columbine”, written in response to the tragic high school shooting. While describing a recent funeral for one of the shooting’s many victims, she contrasted how Jews and Christians view the afterlife. With poignancy and insight, Diamant might have summed up more in those few pages than what’s covered in an entire academic term of most graduate level divinity courses.
I realized after reading Diamant’s book that it’s been a long time since I’ve read any essay collections. I find this a bit odd. It seems like not too long ago a significant chunk of my reading selection did come from essayists. Among others, a few of my favorite collections came from Joan Didion, Andrei Codrescu, Dorothy Allison, Slavenka Drakulic, Anne Lamott and Barbara Ehrenreich. Funny how one’s reading tastes change. Maybe I need to re-discover that kind of writing and experience what I’ve been missing out on over the last half decade.
But to bring it back to Diamant, as I look back at her collection of essays perhaps the one theme that runs through all of them is the importance and vitality found in the experiences of everyday life. And if Judaism is a religion that puts an emphasis on the sacredness of this earthly existence, then Diamant’s writing truly represents the spirit of modern Judaism.