From Jewish Book Council
It's time to compile our reading lists for the year ahead. There are so many amazing Jewish-interest books coming out in 2018...We have a lot of reading to do! Here's just a small selection of forthcoming releases that we're particularly excited about.
By Joanne Sydney Lessner for Hadassah Magazine
The Gustav Sonata, winner of Hadassah Magazine’s Harold U. Ribalow Award as well as a National Jewish Book Award, is the first of Rose Tremain’s 14 novels to address a Jewish theme. Tremain, 74, who lives in Norfolk, England, often writes about social groups slightly out of the prevailing mainstream. Her Orange Prize-winner The Road Home concerns an Eastern European immigrant trying to make a life in England. The Gustav Sonata, set in Switzerland before, during and after World War II, traces the lifelong friendship between exuberant, ambitious (and Jewish) Anton and reserved, empathetic Gustav (who is not). While exploring the evolution of their relationship and the family circumstances that shape them, Tremain turns her delicately penetrating prose to themes of unspoken love, loyalty, music and the sacrifices made in pursuit of neutrality.
What was your inspiration for The Gustav Sonata?
Erica S. Perl for Jewish Book Council
As good Jewish parents, my mom and dad introduced me and my brother to the finer things in life. Namely: potato knishes, bialys, kasha varnishkes...and comedy.
Today, thanks to the miracles of YouTube and other online video archives, it’s even easier to find a smorgasbord of Jewish comedy, which helped me a LOT while I was working on my new novel All Three Stooges. It's a middle grade novel (for ages ten and up) about Noah and Dash, two Jewish boys who are best friends and comedy junkies, and the family tragedy that threatens to end their laughter as well as their friendship. I watched as many comedy clips as I could, and put many of them in the book. This experience led me to create this slightly subjective and far-from-complete list.
For more great reads, check out Jvillage Network's Books for Adults Pinterest page.
by Amy Klein for Hadassah Magazine
Sitting in the comfort of my liberal enclave in New York City and reading Dorit Rabinyan’s book about an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who meet in Greenwich Village and fall in love, I try to comprehend that this best seller was censored in Israel.
A few months after All the Rivers was published there in May 2014, the country’s Ministry of Education removed it from its high school reading list. Education Minister Naftali Bennett explained that the book presents Israel’s soldiers as “criminal sadists,” compares them to terrorists and describes a romance between a “Palestinian security prisoner” and an Israeli woman.
For more great reads, check out Jvillage Network's Pinterest page.
By Kathy Bloomfield. This article has been reprinted with permission from InterfaithFamily
When I was a girl, I spent many weekends at my grandmother’s house. She had a HUGE walnut tree in the center of her backyard. The neighborhood kids and my siblings and I, like most children, used sheets, blankets, benches and the like to create tents, tunnels and fortresses under the branches of that tree. From there we would enter the fantastic worlds of our imagination, gathering food for our children (i.e. walnuts for the dolls), walking through the desert (i.e. my grandmother’s cactus garden) or searching for magic globes (i.e. fruit from her avocado tree). The walnut tree was the starting point of every journey and the center of most of our larger family gatherings.
Find some great ideas on JvillageNetwork's Pinterest page.
Spy games, catch-67s, lionesses, smugglers, patriots, setting suns, and more.
To mark the close of 2017, we asked a handful of our writers to name the best two or three books they read this year, and briefly to explain their choices. Their answers are below. (All books were published in 2017 unless otherwise noted.)
Misagh Parsa, Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed and How It Might Succeed (Harvard, 416pp., $45). This history of the Islamic Republic is a reminder that the ayatollahs have been at war with the people of Iran since 1979. It is therefore also a reminder of whose side America must be on in that conflict.
Jewish Book Council
Aside from the book and your friends, asking questions about what you’ve read is, obviously, a key to any good book club. The right questions can keep your book club lively and engaged (and avoid any awkward silences). And since no one wants to sit through a book club discussion that is halting and uninspiring, we have discussion questions available for all of the titles below, plus some general questions that you can use to start a conversation on any book. CLICK BELOW for the complete selection of discussion questions.
Rachel Lynn Solomon for Jewish Book Council
Growing up, I only saw Jewish protagonists in Holocaust literature. The kind of books I loved—realistic YA—occasionally had a main character with a Jewish friend, but that was it.
While I don’t believe we should ever stop writing about the Holocaust, for a long time, that was the only narrative I thought we had as Jewish people. People like me didn’t get to be protagonists. For a while, this stuck in my mind: the first four manuscripts I wrote before my debut, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, had no Jewish characters.
But there is so much richness to explore in a modern setting that hasn’t been explored nearly enough. The following novels feature my favorite representations of Judaism in contemporary realistic YA.
By Alexander Aciman for Tablet Magazine
Bookworm: Jacob M. Appel’s life-affirming elderly suicide novel ‘Millard Salter’s Last Day’ is a highwire act balancing tragedy and comedy
Hidden beneath a perplexingly nondescript book jacket is one of the best novels of 2017, Millard Salter’s Last Day by Jacob M. Appel. Millard Salter is a wry old New Yorker who after 75 mostly satisfying years wakes up on his birthday determined to leave the party fashionably early. With the exception of a single dodo son, Millard’s children are successful, his practice as a shrink is in good shape, and the state of his love life means he has likely contributed to the growing STI epidemic among senior citizens. What better moment to commit suicide?
Jewish Book Council
Today, Brenda Janowitz, author of The Dinner Party, tells us about the book that she couldn't put down.
When asked about my favorite books of all time, books that have moved me, books that I come back to over and over again, it’s a long list. After all, I love reading, and I’ve been an avid reader my entire life. In the second grade, I was dubbed “The Bookworm” by my teacher, Mrs. Pepper, and I can’t say that much has changed for me. I’m now the author of five novels, and I can still always be found with a book in my hand. Or on my desk. Or in my car. In addition to writing, I’m the PopSugar Books Consultant, so now, reading and recommending books is my job.
When someone asks me about my favorite books, there’s one book I always recommend. It’s a book that my best friend gave to me when I was in law school. At the time, I had my head firmly planted inside law books all day long and had very little time for pleasure reading. She asked me if I’d ever read Elinor Lipman before, and when I shook my head no, pressed a copy of The Inn at Lake Devine into my hands.
Neil Rogachevsky Neil Rogachevsky
A new biography brings to life a leader of few words who accomplished much with the ones she had, and reminds us how much of her Zionist perseverance remains intact today.
One of God’s less charitable epithets for the children of Israel in the desert is am k’shey oref: a “stiff-necked” people. Yet some biblical scholars have seen the phrase as a kind of backhanded compliment. Rigidity, myopia, lack of imagination are hardly admirable traits; but when expressed as fastidiousness, perseverance, single-minded devotion to a worthy goal, mightn’t there be something to say for them?
This, at any rate, is the label that repeatedly comes to mind for the subject of Francine Klagsbrun’s Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel, a mammoth, meticulously researched, and engaging biography of Israel’s fourth prime minister. Golda, as she was universally known, was a famously stiff-necked individual if ever there was one.
By RENEE GHERT-ZAND for The Times of Israel
In 'It's All Relative,' A.J. Jacobs takes an amusing deep dive into genealogy, genetics, and family history
A.J. Jacobs said he was going to do it. And he did.
True to his promise, Jacobs pulled off the first-ever Global Family Reunion on June 6, 2015. It took months of planning, and wrangling celebrity cousins to help publicize the event. Ultimately some 3,800 people showed up at the main site in Queens, New York, with another approximately 6,500 taking part via 44 simultaneous reunions around the world, for a grand total of more than 10,000 attendees.
Jewish Book Council
Congratulations to the awardees of the 2017 Natan Book Award at the Jewish Book Council! We're excited for the conversations their books will spark around issues of Jewish life, Jewish community, and Jewish identity.
By Nat Bernstein, Jewish Book Council
Back when we first started the Eight Nights of Stories series here on The ProsenPeople, I mentioned a childhood friend’s family tradition of gathering to hear stories read aloud by the light of the shamash after lighting the other candles each night of Chanukah. (You should read it, really, it is a lovely post. There’s a Harry Potter reference in there for the true fans and everything.)
That same childhood friend is about to be a published author. His debut novel, Anna and the Swallow Man, comes out January 2016 from A. A. Knopf, and friends, it is a very, very good book. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either: Jewish Book Council’s entire staff has been coveting our shared advance copies since they arrived from the editor, and laudatory reviews are beginning to roll in across the publishing playground.
Want more great Hanukkah ideas? Find articles, crafts, and recipes in our Hanukkah Guide.
By Phyllis Chesler for Tablet Magazine
But the theft and erasure of Sabina Spielrein’s intellectual legacy by the psychoanalytic establishment may be an even more troubling crime
In August 2012, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, a protest took place critiquing a plaque that memorialized the 27,000 “citizens” who were systematically shot in a two-day massacre by the Nazis during World War II. Russian officials had removed the original plaque, which had honored the mostly Jewish victims, and replaced it with a revisionist plaque honoring only “citizens.” The precious Jewish souls, the doctors, lawyers, poets, scientists, librarians; all the parents, children, and grandparents, murdered specifically on account of their ancestry—were gone, literally overnight. Among them was Dr. Sabina Spielrein, the pioneer psychoanalyst, a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, the first child psychoanalyst in the world, (yes, even before Anna Freud), and the founder of Moscow’s Psychoanalytic Clinic.
Jeremy Dauber for Jewish Book Council
Writing a history of Jewish comedy, trying to cover everything—or at least a representative sample of everything—from the Bible to Twitter, was a daunting, though admittedly fun, task. One of the questions I got asked most frequently when I told people what I was working on was, “What is Jewish humor, anyway?” Or, put another way, “What makes comedy Jewish comedy?”
Luckily, now I have a pretty easy answer to that question—“I wrote a book giving my best answer; feel free to purchase on Amazon or at local stores”—but over this week, as a Visiting Scribe™ for the Prosen People, I wanted to try to give three different perspectives on that question. And I wanted to do it through looking at three Jewish jokes: jokes that I find deeply, almost ineffably, Jewish, even though their origins may come from elsewhere, or they could be easily told in other contexts.
So here goes, with joke number one. It’s set in medieval times.
By Yoel Finkelman and Ofir Haim for Jewish Review of Books
A Collection of Long-Lost Manuscripts Sheds Light on Medieval Afghan Jewry
A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah sometime in the 11th century, a distraught, young Jewish Afghan young man named Yair sent a painful letter to his brother-in-law, Abu-al-Hasan Siman Tov. Life had dealt Yair a tough hand, or maybe it was just his own bad choices. Having failed in business in his hometown of Bamiyan, rumors were now spreading that he had “broken promises . . . regarding property” and that he did not truly “observe the Sabbath.” Leaving these problems behind him, he had left his young wife to move some 150 miles to Ghazni and begin anew.
But even there he struggled to make a living. More importantly, he missed his family. “Anyone who marries a woman brings peace to his own mind, as it is for all people, not so that I will be sitting in Ghazni and she in Bamiyan.” But, with business doing so poorly, Yair could barely make ends meet on a day-to-day basis, let alone afford the costs of travel.