“Lost Books” is a weekly series highlighting forgotten books through the prism of Tablet Magazine’s and Nextbook.org’s archives. So blow the dust off the cover, and begin!
In 1975, Leonard Michaels’ collection of short stories, I Would Have Saved Them If I Could, was published. Michaels, who was born Jan. 2, 1933 to Polish immigrants and grew up speaking Yiddish on the Lower East Side, had written stories that, exactly as the book’s title indicated, focused on the people on the outskirts of tragedy.
In 2005, Shalom Auslander reflected on his first two readings of the book—at ages 15 and 22—as he finished it for the third time:
He writes of people condemned, from Jesus Christ to the characters in Kafka and Dostoevsky to the three men Byron watched being beheaded. But Michaels’ real interest is not in the victims; it is in the witnesses, the survivors (if they can be called that). Misery doesn’t just love company, it demands it, and Michaels seems to want to know how to keep your head while all about you people are—quite literally, in the case of Byron—losing theirs.
Read Third Look, by Shalom Auslander
Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.