The Los Angeles Times book blog Jacket Copy called The Novelist’s Lexicon: Writers on the Words That Define Their Work “a fascinating and strangely disciplined set of responses” to the question posed to writers to find one word that creates a window into their work.
The book includes pieces from Annie Proulx, Jonathan Lethem, Tariq Ali, Adam Thirlwell, Rick Moody, Dennis Cooper, James Meek, Daniel Mendelsohn and National Book Award winner Colum McCann. Jacket Copy also excerpted the contribution from Israeli humorist and filmmaker Etgar Keret, who chose the word “balagan.”
Balagan, a word that migrated to the Hebrew language from Yiddish, means “total chaos.” But this word is unique because, contrary to the implied negative value the concept has in other languages, the subtext of balagan is positive. True, that positiveness is not overt — a bit like a proud parent trying to hide a smile from a mischief-making son — but it is completely there. Yet chaos for a society that is itself full of balagan is nothing less than proof of vitality itself.
For more on the book, you can also read Jonathan Lethem’s piece on furniture.