The ProsenPeople

Book Cover of the Week: Wuthering Heights

Friday, December 19, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

Emily Brontë died today in 1848 at 30 years old, after falling ill from exposure to the elements during her brother’s funeral. (Some believed that the true cause of death was a broken heart over her sibling: Emily gave out not three months after Branwell’s death.) Deeply distrustful of doctors, she refused medical attention until her final hours.

Wuthering Heights, her only surviving novel, was first published just one year before her death.

In general, book designers assigned to Wuthering Heights don’t seem too enthused about the project: most covers for the novel feature strikingly similar variations on a bare tree—that or a lone woman looking very unhappy. Penguin’s 2009 edition—pictured above: cover on the left; back on the right—is a refreshing exception.

There are also a couple designers who took on Emily Brontë’s only novel as an artistic exercise. Although these book covers don’t appear to feature on any marketed edition of Wuthering Heights, it seems worth it to share a couple standouts:


Related content:

Eight Nights with Hevria: Ardor and The Age of Prophecy

Friday, December 19, 2014 | Permalink

One year ago, the Jewish Book Council launched the 8 Nights of Stories series on The ProsenPeople. For each of the eight nights of Chanukah, the Jewish Book Council set out to help our readers find more stories—to read to children, to share with young adults, and to read on your own after the kids are in bed. For Chanukah 5775, we’re delighted to partner with the writers of Hevria, a new collaborative of Jewish self-identified creators, as guest contributors over the next eight nights.

For the third installment, Hevria contributors Eric Kaplan and Chaya Lester write about the stories they think most worth sharing:

Eric Kaplan

In Ardor, Roberto Calasso writes about ancient texts as if they are postmodern texts, and by so doing lets us see the Vedas as the most intimate writing, like a remembered dream we are afraid to share because we don't know if it makes sense. He changes your sense of what makes sense and gives you the courage to express thoughts you were afraid to know you had.

Chaya Lester

Introducing the Jewish Harry Potter: The Age of Prophecy by Dave Mason! This Biblical thriller is set in the era not long after King David. The book is exotic and mystic, full of danger, wisdom and intrigue. But it's for kids. And it's more educational than any Hebrew School. It's as fact-based as a doctorate, but with a story-line from a block-buster screen-play. We all want our kids to veggies right...but want them to think its chocolate. That is what this book is. Jewish health-food that tastes like Godiva. And the kicker is that you'll want to scarf this masterpiece down, too!

View the full Eight Nights of Stories series, in partnership this year with Hevria!

Related content:

  • Aaron Roller: Samuel Thrope: International Historian of Mystery
  • King Matt the First by Janusz Korczak
  • Lauren Grodstein: Growing to Love Hebrew School
  • New Jewish Book Council Reviews

    Friday, December 19, 2014 | Permalink

    This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:

    Related Content:

    Ask Big Questions: Why Bother?

    Thursday, December 18, 2014 | Permalink

    The Jewish Book Council is delighted to publish a continuing blog series in partnership with Ask Big Questions, an initiative out of Hillel International aimed at getting people to talk about issues of heart, soul and community. Each month, Ask Big Questions will feature a JBC author on their blog, shared here on the JBC ProsenPeople blog page, and in campus programming reaching over 10,000 college and graduate students.

    Jessica Lamb-Shapiro is a fiction and non-fiction writer, currently touring through the 2014-2015 JBC Network with her memoir, Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Culture.

    “To bother” is an odd verb. I usually think of it as synonymous with Why make an effort? It has come to mean that, but it also has a more specific origin. The verb “bother” dates back to the 1700s, and means to trouble, worry, or pester. It can also mean “to trouble oneself with thinking.” To make a fuss, to be troublesome. It has a meddlesome quality.

    As children, we’re often told not to bother people. When children bother, they ask unending questions, or poke their sibling in the eye. “Stop bothering me!” says the child or adult who is fed up beyond politeness. How do adults bother? We both bother to dress and do work and fulfill responsibilities, but we can also protest and meddle and irritate. When we see injustice, we can still poke at it. Instead of fingers we use words, our thoughts, our physical presence.

    A quick survey of the last few weeks of news are enough to make even the most resilient of us run for the fainting couch. The repeated failure to indict police in the prevalent shootings of unarmed black men. The unravelling Rolling Stone UVA rape story, which threatens sexual assault victims’ future credibility in the future and shifts attention from the serious and real issue of campus rape. I saw a fake New York Times issue where the lead story was titled “Everything’s Fucking Awful”. Headlines included “Seriously You Get Punished More for Jaywalking Than This Asshole Did for Shooting an Unarmed Kid”; “Oh, and Don’t Even Bother Escaping to the Arts Section, That Loveable Comedian We Grew Up Watching Basically Raped Everyone For Fifty Years”; and “Pizza Causes Cancer”.

    Oh, and since I wrote the previous paragraph, 148 people have been murdered at a school in Pakistan, most of them schoolchildren.

    It’s hard to feel like anything one might do would matter. Multiple distresses and disappointments have a way of piling on, and making one feel overwhelmed. Being meddlesome takes time and effort, and as we grow we understand that our time and effort is limited.

    Every day, we make choices about which things to bother with, and which things to leave alone. Today I bothered to take a shower. I bothered to eat three meals and walk my dog. I read the paper. I did some work and I talked to a friend on the phone. The roof leaked; I put a bucket under it. Those things are normal and expected, but could we apply the same logic to larger issues? What is the bucket that we could put under this particular leak?

    For a second I actually believed I might answer that, but the truth is I have no idea. I do think it involves bothering. It involves, at the very least, troubling ourselves with thinking. It may involve being meddlesome and troublesome. That behavior may look different on different people. This is how I bother: I write things. It feels useless and futile sometimes, to be sure, but I do it anyway.

    Children understand that being bothersome is part of being alive, and that bothering is a kind of power. When they play the irritating “I’m Not Touching You” game, they are asserting themselves, and rejoicing in their ability to annoy without explicitly breaking rules. Bothering can be fun. What if we could bring the joyful irritant energy of “I’m Not Touching You” to bear on something powerful?

    Bothering is an act of defiance. It is an assault on futility and hopelessness. It is a recognition that we live in a society, that our actions affect others, and that our lack of action also has consequence. If you bother, someone benefits. If you don’t bother, someone also benefits. Opting out is a false concept. You have opted in simply by existing. Perhaps the right question is not why bother, but how bother?

    Jessica Lamb-Shapiro is the author of Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Culture and a former fellow at the MacDowell Colony and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Believer, and McSweeney’s.

    Related content:

    How Can We Explain Jewish Success in America?

    Thursday, December 18, 2014 | Permalink

    Earlier this week, Adam D. Mendelsohn wrote about the thrill of finding an interesting lead while conducting research. His most recent book, The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire, is now available. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

    I did not set out to write a book that seeks to explain the extraordinary economic success of Jews in America. Instead I sought to write a history of Jewish involvement in the shmatte business. So how did I land up writing a book about both?

    One hundred years ago, the vast majority of Jews in America were recent immigrants, part of a tidal wave of 2.4 million Jews who made their way to these shores from Eastern Europe between 1881 and 1924. Most were poor. They fled persecution, but also lives that promised only poverty. The majority of the newcomers initially found work in the garment industry, the shmatte business. They were the sewers of garments in a low-wage, high volume business that made the vast majority of clothing worn by Americans. Working conditions were unpleasant, with men and women crowded together in makeshift spaces heady with glue vapors, fabric particles, steam, and smoke, and overheated by the press of bodies and the hissing of irons. Together with the marginal wages paid to workers and the prevalence of strife between bosses and laborers, this was not an ideal introduction to America.

    Jump one hundred years forward, and the picture could not be more different. The descendants of these same immigrants are among the edgiest entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, the foremost bankers on Wall Street, and the leading lights in Hollywood. But those who hog the headlines (and cluster on the lists compiled by Forbes) are only a small part of a broader phenomenon. Jews are exceptionally well represented in the professions, and firmly part of the middle class. Their average earnings set them apart from almost every other ethnic group in the United States. Several leading economists, sociologists, and historians regard Jews as the single most economically successful immigrant group in American history.

    So even as I set out to study the garment industry, this broader mystery tugged at my thoughts.

    How within a generation or two, did they move upward so quickly from stitching in sweatshops to a position of prominence and preeminence within the American economy, and within American society more broadly.

    Was it because Jews possess an innate acumen for business? Did they carry a hard-won facility with commerce, borne of a history of surviving at the margins, to American shores? Did they share a flexibility and adaptability derived from a history of mobility, dispersion, and expulsion? Or a cultural affinity toward trade, risk-taking, and money-making? Had they acquired an ease with the market, money, and salesmanship that set them apart from other immigrant groups? Were they aided by a predisposition toward learning and literacy? Did they harbor the ambition, drive, and perspective of perpetual outsiders? Were they merely the beneficiaries of fortunate timing? Or was their success a product of clannishness and conspiracy, as some less favorably disposed to Jews have suggested?

    Perhaps, I decided, this wondrous story had something to do with the garment industry itself. It is uncontroversial to suggest that Jews made the modern garment industry in America. But what if, I wondered, the garment industry made the Jews?

    Adam D. Mendelsohn is Director of the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture and Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston.

    Related Content:

    Eight Nights with Hevria: The Little Prince and The Secret Life of God

    Wednesday, December 17, 2014 | Permalink

    One year ago, the Jewish Book Council launched the 8 Nights of Stories series on The ProsenPeople. For each of the eight nights of Chanukah, the Jewish Book Council set out to help our readers find more stories—to read to children, to share with young adults, and to read on your own after the kids are in bed. For Chanukah 5775, we’re delighted to partner with the writers of Hevria, a new collaborative of Jewish self-identified creators, as guest contributors over the next eight nights.

    For the second installment, Hevria contrubitors Rochel Spangenthal and Salvador Litvak write about the stories they think most worth sharing:

    Rochel Spangenthal

    There is a part of me that grew up. There is a part of me that didn't. Both of those parts treasure The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry a book whose cover is worn from the excited grasps of young and old readers alike.

    The story is simple. A young boy, who has never really found anyone who understands him, grows up and eventually becomes a pilot. When his plane crashes in a desert, he meets the Little Prince—a charming (but confusing) young explorer who is the prince of his own Astroid. In their brief encounter, the young prince reminds the pilot of how simple and beautiful life can be.

    The book is no thicker than your iPhone. It can be read in an hour—maybe two, if you take time to truly appreciate the simple and fresh illustrations. But the truths and magical realities of childhood are hidden in this short fairy tale.

    There is a reason that The Little Prince is one of the best-selling books ever published (140 million copies have been sold to date). Get the 140,000,001st copy and find out why.

    Salvador Litvak

    A book that changed my life was The Secret Life of G-d by David Aaron.

    It was my door into Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah. It broke down my deep seated fallacy about G-d as an Infinite Other whom I struggle to petition, praise, or placate.

    It laid out in clear terms that the perfection we ascribe to G-d is actually a limitation. G-d has to have the power to evolve and improve, or G-d would lack something.

    How can a "perfect" Being evolve? Through us. We can evolve. We are partners in the Creation with a job to do.

    And Rabbi Aaron has a good sense of humor.

    View the full Eight Nights of Stories series, in partnership this year with Hevria!

    Related content:

    Spring 2015 Jewish Book Preview

    Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Permalink
    2015 Jewish Book Preview

    Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

    We were overwhelmed with amazing Jewish books and authors in 2014, and, considering the pile of 2015 books already towering on our desks, it looks like 2015 will bring the same punch. With Saul Bellow's 100th birthday approaching in June, be on the lookout for three new Bellow-themed books coming out over the next few months, listed below. Additionally, two of our Unpacking the Book authors have debut novels coming out in March: Daniel Torday (The Last Flight of Poxl West) and Alexis Landau (The Empire of the Senses). 

    Looking for some great new cookbooks? Well, we already have six mouth-watering options on the horizon. And if you're looking to hear from some crowd favorites we have new books by Jonathan D. Sarna, Steve Stern, and Elisa Albert coming your way as well. 

    You'll also have the opportunity to hear from twelve of the below authors on our Visiting Scribe series—including Shulem Deen, author of the forthcoming memoir All Who Do Not Return—where they'll share more about their work, the backstory, reading lists, and more. Plus, there are some great book club reads that you'll be hearing more about over the coming months (The Nightingale and A Reunion of Ghosts, to name just two). 

    We're really excited about the year ahead and hope that you'll continue to check back here to learn more about these titles and their creators—and perhaps even win a book or two!







    Related Content:

    Eight Nights with Hevria: King Solomon and How to Write

    Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Permalink

    One year ago, the Jewish Book Council launched the 8 Nights of Stories series on The ProsenPeople. For each of the eight nights of Chanukah, the Jewish Book Council set out to help our readers find more stories—to read to children, to share with young adults, and to read on your own after the kids are in bed. For Chanukah 5775, we’re delighted to partner with the writers of Hevria, a new collaborative of Jewish self-identified creators, as guest contributors over the next eight nights.

    To kick the series off this year, Hevria co-founders Matthue Roth and Elad Nehorai share the stories they think most worth sharing:

    Matthue Roth

    When I was a kid, I had an old, heavy hardcover edition of the book Stories of King Solomon by Lillian S. Freehof. The illustrations were vintage '70s papercuts in psychedelic colors. Each story wasn't more than 2 or 3 pages, and I hadn't yet learned to call them midrashim. But the stories it was filled with were magical and miraculous: his magic carpet, the quest for the worm that could cut through mountains, the demon Asmodeus who was as clever as Solomon, but was evil, and once altered his image and replaced him. Disney princesses serve their own purpose, but I want my kids to grow up to think that THIS is royalty.

    Elad Nehorai

    If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland changed my life. I walked into Barnes and Noble, a young college kid who just realized he wanted to take up writing. Then I saw this book that seemed about right called, If You Want to Write. I wanted to write! So I picked it up, having no idea what was inside.

    It turns out that it was written by a cool beatnik lady in 1938 named Brenda Ueland. Ueland opened my eyes for the first time into what writing, and all art, was at its core: an expression of our soul.

    From the very beginning, she writes with enthusiasm and a clear love for her reader, showing that heart is so much more powerful than "mere memory" and that a writer must learn to rise over the traumatic rejection they've often had to face as sensitive people in a world that is often cynical and negative, crushing the potentially positive, alive people of the world.

    Ueland guides her readers as only she can into an exploration of the artist's essence and potential, showing them what they really can become when they stop listening to the people stuck in their minds and start embracing the part of themselves that just wants to cry when it sees a sunset.

    An absolute necessity for anyone who "wants to write".

    Check back tomorrow for the next installment of Eight Nights of Stories, in partnership this year with Hevria!

    Related content:

    Stumbling on Jewish Suppliers to the Confederacy

    Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Permalink

    Adam D. Mendelsohn is Director of the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture and Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston. His most recent book, The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire, is now available. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

    When historians describe their profession they often liken themselves to detectives. Although the comparison is flattering to historians – the mysteries we solve are rarely matters of life and death – our methods of evidence-gathering and deduction are closer to real life crime squads than the sleuthing done by most television gumshoes. We track down leads, corroborate and cross-reference, and sift endless quantities of evidence. We dream of the source that voluntarily confesses all of its secrets, but more often pry the truth loose by building a painstaking case.

    And yet there are rare moments amidst the many, many hours spent in archives when we too experience the thrill of the chase, that exhilarating sense of excitement when the mysterious and unexpected is suddenly within reach.

    For me, one such moment of serendipity came when investigating the roots of Jewish involvement in the modern garment industry. After months of focusing on the role of Jewish suppliers to the Union Army – many of the uniforms worn by soldiers in the first year of the Civil War were manufactured by Jewish firms – I switched my attention to the Confederacy. Some southern Jews featured among Confederate contractors, but these were mostly small bore. Since the Confederate States of America had little of the industrial capacity of the Union, it relied heavily on materiel imported from Europe. And cursory investigation revealed little evidence that any of the major European exporters had anything to do with Jews. I discounted one such firm, Isaac Campbell & Company, on the strength of its name. The firm, based in London, was one of the leading buyers of munitions for the Confederacy, and a major blockade runner to boot. It was much written-about by historians, in part because it almost certainly defrauded the CSA on a massive scale.

    But for a serendipitous lead, I would have pursued my investigation into Isaac Campbell & Company no further. That is, until I discovered that the name atop the firm was perhaps intentionally chosen to mislead. One of the services supplied Dugald Forbes Campbell, a Scottish attorney who represented the firm, was to supply a name for the masthead that may have obscured the fact that Samuel and Saul Isaac, two Jewish brothers who had started in the boot-making business, were its owners and prime movers.

    Suddenly the game was on! So many new leads to chase down. And a new quarry was in my sights. This is what historians live for.

    Check back on Thursday to read more from Adam D. Mendelsohn.

    Related Content:

    Woody Guthrie's Hanukkah Songs

    Monday, December 15, 2014 | Permalink

    Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut, PhD is the author of A Kosher Christmas: ’Tis the Season to Be Jewish (Rutgers University Press). Visit his web site and seasonal blog at He welcomes your own unique stories of being Jewish at Christmas for a new book of personal stories about this subject. You can email him at: He is blogging here today for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

    Here is a recent American tale of old wine in new vessels. Part of our national folklore reveals that Woody Guthrie, the iconic American folk troubadour and songwriter, composed Hanukkah songs. In a 2003 concert, the Klezmatics, a popular Grammy Award-winning Klezmer band, performed Hanukkah songs showcasing lyrics written from 1949 through the early 1950s by Woody Guthrie. The lyrics had laid fallow and long-forgotten in Guthrie’s archives until their discovery in 1998 by Woody’s daughter, Nora Guthrie. Nora asked the Klezmatics to write original music for the lyrics, which fuses strains of Klezmer music with American folk and bluegrass. The 2006 album, “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanuka,” comprises many different songs, including “Happy, Joyous Hanuka” and “Hanuka Tree.” Two of the eight songs, “The Many And The Few” and “Hanuka Dance,” had lyrics and melodies penned entirely by Guthrie. The songs were in part biographical. Woody was married to Marjorie Mazia, a Jewish dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company who was the daughter of Aliza Greenblatt, an activist and Yiddish poet. Nora remembers “For Hanukkah actually, we had a hat—we didn’t get presents—but we had a hat with different amounts of Hanukkah gelt, and every night we’d pick out five cents or twenty-five cents of gelt. My mother played piano, and we used to sing and dance every night.”*

    At the 2003 debut concert with the Klezmatics at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, folk legend Arlo Guthrie, Woody’s son and Nora’s brother, joked that as children they would dance “around the Hanukkah tree.” "Happy Joyous Hanuka" counts down each candle on the menorah (“Seven for the sons of Hannah that died/Six for kings and the tricks they tried/Five for the brothers Maccabee”), while “Hanuka Tree” has a lively simple melody (“Round and around my Hanukah tree/Round and around I go/Round and around my Hanukah tree/Because I love you so”). According to Nora, most of Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah songs seem to have been written in November or December within five days of each other “because he had bookings in December for children’s Hanukkah parties in assorted Brooklyn community centers.” As was his wont, Woody would “write songs only for the gig a few days before and then go on to other songs for other gigs.” For the Guthrie family, a family of improvisers not of traditions and for whom the approach to religion was “all or none,” the tree was a “Christmas tree, a Hanukkah tree, and a holiday tree. It was a fluid thing!”

    Indeed, the popularization of Woody Gutherie's Hanukkah songs by the Klezmatics demonstrates the vital role that music plays as an intrinsic cultural force contributing to the Americanization of this Jewish holiday, as it coexists with Christmas.

    Joshua Eli Plaut is Executive Director of American Friends of Rabin Medical and the Rabbi of Metropolitan Synagogue in Manhattan. He is an historian, photo-ethnographer, and cultural anthropologist, and is also the author of Greek Jewry in the Twentieth Century, 1913-1983: Patterns of Jewish Communal Survival in the Greek Provinces before and after the Holocaust (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press)

    *Telephone interview with Nora Guthrie, August 17, 2011.

    Related Content: