Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: Jacob the Baker, by Noah benShea

The Jacob in the title is a Jewish man (we know little else about him) and his title, "the baker," is apparently a sign of his low station in life. You are sad already, I can see, but don't be. Jacob is the kind with a body down low but a head up high, way in the clouds with his hopes for what's to come. He is the kind of man who revels in his low station, the sort of baker who doesn't wipe the flour off his clothes after a long day of work.

In other words, Jacob is wise. Accordingly he often has wise thoughts and writes them down on little sheets of paper, snippets of wisdom, proverbs mostly -- things like "It is the silence between the notes that makes the music" and "Each of us is the source of the other's river." The subtitle was right... "Gentle Wisdom For a Complicated World." . Yes, he labors along well in peaceful anonymity until one day... One of his slips of paper finds its way into a loaf of bread, and the woman who buys the loaf finds the note and comes back to the shop, asking for more. So Jacob, accidentally and reluctantly of course, becomes a kind of tzadik for his town, a wise and holy man who is sought after by those who have questions.

And, by God, does he have answers! He speaks almost exclusively in proverbs and has an answer for everything, even as he professes that he does not. He has an answer, I say, but of course it's not the one anyone wants to hear. It is something much more tangled and obscure. I wonder if any of his "wisdom" ever did any of the characters any good... I can't tell, of course, since every one of the dozens of little stories in this slim volume goes the same way: a person comes to Jacob with a problem or a question, and then Jacob answers it in his way, always putting in the last words, often ending with the apparent moral of the story. I hope they got their answer, but I have my doubts and my doubts say they may well have been better off with a fortune cookie.

benShea's website
proclaims, "Noah benShea is one of North America’s most respected and popular poet-philosophers, and International Best-Selling author." A Wikipedia search returned only, "Did you mean Noah Bennet?" On his website you can buy "Noah Bears," teddy bears with a twist -- bears that wear t-shirts which say things like “Handmade by God.”(©) and "Prayer is a path where there is none." (©) And they have another little surprise: squeeze the button on their hand and then sit back to listen to about twenty seconds of wisdom, rendered in benShea's own low, gravelly voice. There are ten designs, $30.95 each. And please, "Remember, you make a difference and sometimes a bear does too!"

On benShea's Facebook "wall" a person calling himself Young Lee wrote...
I read Jacob the baker after i woke up from nightmare that I got sentenced from gods angel that I will be goin to hell And randomly pickd up the Jacob the baker in den which Was belong to my mother. Your book made me look my life again thanks.
Ps. I have question to Jacob the baker "will god listen to our every prayer we give?"
I wonder if there's special place for wisdom peddlers in Heaven -- a large room, I imagine, where thousands of smooth-talkers in snappy outfits speak only in proverbs, where they could talk about the "meaning of life" till eternity... maybe there is such a place, and maybe its name is Hell.

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