The ProsenPeople

JBC Bookshelf: Journeys

Thursday, March 01, 2012 | Permalink
Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Each of the following books focus on a journey. They represent both physical and spiritual journeys and geographically span the globe. These books take us from the haunting images of concentration camps, to a family's bicycle adventure across the country, to Rabbi Nachman's gravesite in Uman, to Debra Spark's stories that blur the line between reality and fiction, the real and the surreal. As we approach Passover next month, and retell the biblical journey of the Jewish people from slavery, it's fitting that these contemporary works remind us to continue the journey to understand our own Jewishness, where we come from and where we're going, the importance of retelling the stories of the past, and to never stop asking questions.

Fragments: Architecture of the Holocaust: An Artist's Journey Through the Camps, Karl Koenig and Kathleen V. Jameson (January 2012, Fresco Fine Art Publications) 
Through a series of photographs of concentration camps, Karl explores narrative and visual dissonances in order to highlight the inexplicability of the Holocaust itself.

The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast: One Family's Cross-Country Ride of Passage by Bike, Matt Bier-Ariel (April 2012, The Mountaineers Books)
How many gallons of Gatorade does it take to make it cross-country? Apparently 99.

The Pretty Girl: Novella and Stories, Debra Spark (April 2012, Four Way Books)

Check back here the week of April 23rd for Debra's guest blog posts for the Visiting Scribe

A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful, Gideon Lewis-Kraus (May 2012, Riverhead Books)
Find out what happens when Gideon travels with 40,000 Orthodox Jews to visit the gravesite of a Hasidic mystic in the Ukraine.


Discover Nathan Englander on Twitter

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our next Twitter Book Club is only 28 days away, so if you haven't already picked up a copy of Nathan Englander's What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, now is a good time to do so! To participate in the conversation, follow #JBCBooks and jump in at any time with your own questions or comments (but don't forget to include #JBCBooks on your tweet!). In the meantime, a few of Nathan's most memorable tweets of the last several weeks:

The Unlikely In-Laws

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Michelle Haimoff discussed having immigrant parents, baby boomers, and parental expectations. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

The hardest thing about breaking up with the Jewish guy I dated six years ago was breaking up with his parents. I loved his parents. His parents loved me. I knew that the guy and I would never be happy together, but I also knew that I would never find another set of parents who I connected with as much as his.

That fact hit me even harder the first time I met my future in-laws. Self-proclaimed “dyed in the wool Catholics,” they told me that they had never met a single Jew until their son (my now husband) went to college in the Northeast. They’re from Nebraska. A tiny little town called Broken Bow. It’s smack in the middle of the country, about three hours from the closest synagogue.

When I first realized that Ben was the man I was going to marry, I found myself mourning the loss of the in-laws I had always wanted. His parents didn’t effortlessly understand me. They didn’t appreciate that I could speak Hebrew and a few words of Yiddish. That I had gone to a yeshiva for elementary school and to Israel on my semester abroad. They had always fantasized about a Midwestern Catholic daughter-in-law. And I got it. I wanted my in-laws to be kvetching Upper West Siders.

But now, on the other side of the wedding, I find myself on the phone with Ben’s mom, lying on the quilt she handmade for us, happy to hear her laugh. Sometimes we make small talk (what we did that week, the joke she forwarded me, the weather), but just as often we’ll confide in each other about our bad days or trade family gossip. Like my connection to Ben, what we have in common goes beyond background.

It’s funny how people influence you in ways you don’t even realize. When we go shopping, Ben’s mom looks at the label of any item of clothing she likes to make sure it’s made out of natural fiber. This means no polyester, rayon or acrylic. I do this now, compulsively. Ben’s dad often starts sentences with the word “yes.” Like, “Yes, I told him I’d be happy to help him out.” And yes, it seems I picked that one up too.

I’d like to think I’ve also rubbed off on them. Ben’s mom often ends emails with “xo,” which Ben says she picked up from me, and during meals they order “for the table,” which is something my family always does but never thought was funny until Ben’s parents laughed at the expression and started using it themselves.

Falling in love is the easiest way to make the world smaller. Nebraska used to be a meaningless square on the map, as foreign to me as a village in Africa. But I’ve been there a number of times now and think of myself as someone with Nebraskan roots. I’ve also learned about the quilting process, how to make an alcoholic beverage called Gilligan’s Island, and how to be trusting without being naive. These weren’t the in-laws I had visualized, but I can’t imagine a more wonderful pair of machatanim.

Michelle Haimoff's debut novel, These Days Are Ours, is now available. She is is a writer and blogger whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, PsychologyToday.com and The Huffington Post. She is a founding member of NOW New York State’s Young Feminist Task Force and blogs about feminist issues at genfem.com.

Book Cover of the Week: Hazan Family Favorites

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Coming in May from Stewart, Tabori & Chang: Hazan Family Favorites: Beloved Italian Recipes

Our favorite meals, often set in stone in our youth, have a special resonance both nostalgic and gustatory. For the young Giuliano, those meals were made by master home cooks: his mother Marcella, and grandmothers, Nonna Giulia and Nonna Mary. Hazan Family Favorites celebrates delicious recipes from the entire Hazan family, prepared just as Giuliano prepares them for his own family today.

Rescued from a fifty-six-year-old notebook and taste memories, this book contains the culinary legacy of America’s foremost authority on Italian cooking. Here are 85 recipes for every course in the Italian meal, including Appetizers, Soups, Pastas and Rice, Meats and Seafood, and Sides and Desserts. With recipes from Swiss Chard Tortelloni to Strawberry Gelato to everything in between, Hazan Family Favorites offers an intimate look at this iconic family and their most beloved recipes.

JLit Links

Monday, February 27, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

What the Kids are Doing With Their Lives

Monday, February 27, 2012 | Permalink

Michelle Haimoff's debut novel, These Days Are Ours, is now available. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I realized late in life that my parents weren’t your typical Baby Boomers. My dad wasn’t anti-establishment. My mother wasn’t a feminist. Ask them about Woodstock and my dad will tell you that he left early because the crowds made him nervous. My mom will tell you that her attendance was required on a family road trip that summer.

One of the things that they had in common was immigrant parents. Eastern European Holocaust survivors on my mom’s side. Israelis who lived on the land before it was a state on my dad’s side. You didn’t tell your Holocaust survivor parents that you wanted to go to a rock concert instead of sitting in the back of a sweltering car sandwiched between your two younger siblings the summer of Woodstock. And if you’re Israeli, it makes total sense to avoid any and all situations that might invite terrorism.

Jewish immigrant parents meant that you ordered your food - meat, fish, eggs - well done. You sent it back if it bore any resemblance to a living creature because at some point in the past there wasn’t high quality meat around. Jewish immigrant parents meant that you didn’t pursue a career in the arts, even if you could play virtually any instrument brilliantly and immediately by ear, like my dad could. You were to become a doctor, a lawyer or a businessperson. And girls weren’t supposed to major in math in college, like my mom did. They were supposed to major in Home Economics, or get their Mrs. degrees.

The way in which my parents do resemble Baby Boomers is the way in which they bridged respect for tradition with excitement about the future. My mother both understands Yiddish and loves Aerosmith. My dad’s wardrobe includes solemn high holiday suits and hip New Balances. And yet my issues with them - everyone has issues with their parents - are based somewhat on their residual ties to the old world. I’ve often felt I was deprived of the former hippies who are disappointed in how conservative I am. These guys seem to find my social activism impractical. They are clearly grossed out by how rare I like my steak cooked. And they’ve said very little about my so-called writing career, which was clearly little more than a hobby in their eyes.

But that all changed when I told them that my novel was being published.

My mother lit up when I told her. I will always remember that lunch. How we ordered another round of food to celebrate. She asked me about every detail of the publishing process with wide-eyed wonder. My father didn’t sleep the night I told him, as he was excitedly brainstorming titles. It reminded me of that scene in Man on Wire where the most skeptical member of Philippe Petite’s crew, the one who most doubted his ability to tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, was the most affected when he did.

Intellectually you can know that your parents want you to succeed. Of course they want you to succeed, they’re your parents. But they want it on their terms because they don’t know any others. And emotionally that can come across as a lack of faith. But as much as they want you to do things their way, it’s even more thrilling when you go your own, and against all odds, it actually kind of works. Of course, if and when I have kids of my own, I really hope they become doctors. But I guess if they wanted to be lawyers, that would be ok too.

Michelle Haimoff is a writer and blogger whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, PsychologyToday.com and The Huffington Post. She is a founding member of NOW New York State’s Young Feminist Task Force and blogs about feminist issues at genfem.com.

Did Jew Know?

Thursday, February 23, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Follow along with the Jewish Book Council's Tweet Series #DidJewKnow by following the hashtag or following @jewishbook. We'll provide educational bites concerning Jewish life, history, and identity from the books we review. If you have any bites to add, include #DidJewKnow at the end of your tweet so we can follow along. Visit this page to view some of our recent #DidJewKnow tweets.

We've Joined Pinterest!

Thursday, February 23, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The JBC team has been super-hearting Pinterest these last several months and finally decided that it's time for good old JBC to take the plunge. It's not only a great way for us to share our lists, new reviews, recommendations, and guest bloggers, but it's also beautiful. Take a look at a few of the boards we've created and, if you're a member, follow us here: http://pinterest.com/jewishbook/ 

Autumn in His Heart

Thursday, February 23, 2012 | Permalink
Earlier this week, Adam Wilson wrote about Seinfeld, Moses, and hubris. He will be blogging here all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I’ve thought a lot about Isaac Babel’s lovely characterization of the Jew as a man with “[s]pectacles on his nose and autumn in his heart.” The first part is easy: the man is an intellectual, a scholar, a thinker. He is frail, fallible; his eyes are weak and his touch, perhaps, is tender.

The second part is sexier, and more open to interpretation. What does it mean to have autumn in your heart? Is this just an aesthetic flourish, a fancy way of saying that Jews have the souls of poets, that our insides glow amber like sunlit leaves? Would the effect be different if Babel had said, instead, that the Jew has spring in his heart?

Perhaps I’m staring too closely, ignoring the forest for the view of a single tree. But ours is a culture of close reads and commentary–think of the Talmud, think of the overflowing comments section on almost any Jewish blog. This is why we wear spectacles on our noses–we study, we struggle to comprehend the incomprehensible. Think of the sages up all night in Bnei Brak, arguing over the haggadah. Think of what Hillel said — “the rest is commentary, now go and study” — who understood both the simplicity of morality (Do unto others…) as well as the infinite tessellations of its applications.

There is something about autumn. In autumn, we celebrate the new year. In autumn, the book of death is unshelved, left open for a week; the prospect of unwritten death hangs above us. As the leaves fall and the plants die, we face mortality. We savor the sweetness of life and humble ourselves before nature.

My favorite holiday growing up was Sukkot. Beginning five days after Yom Kippur. The harvest festival, Sukkot, reminds us of our history as itinerant agrarians. Our ancestors would sleep out in their sukkahs during the final weeks of the harvest, before the winter frost. They would sleep under the stars and celebrate the bounty of the harvest. We are meant to do the same.

My family wasn’t particularly religious — we occasionally, but rarely, attended a gaudy synagogue I found spiritually void. But we did have a sukkah every year. My mother, an artist, built one out of wood and painted it blue with white polka dots, and inscribed it with lines from Amichai poems. We would decorate the structure in hay, corn, gourds, and flowers. Friends and family would come over to feast and drink wine. When the crowd had dispersed and the sun disappeared I would make one last trip to the sukkah. I would lie on the grass floor and stare at the stars. I would feel the wind on my face. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but I remember feeling small, dwarfed by the universe. Perhaps what I felt was autumn in my heart.

Adam Wilson is the author of the novel Flatscreen. He is the editor of the international online newspaper The Faster Times, and a professor of writing at NYU. His journalism, criticism, and fiction have appeared in many publications including Bookforum, The New York Times, The Paris Review Daily, The New York Observer, Meridian, Washington Square Review, The New York Tyrant, Gigantic, Time Out New York, The Forward, andPaste.

Book Cover of the Week: The Fish That Ate the Whale

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

In June, Farrar, Straus and Giroux will publish Rich Cohen's latest book: The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King

When Samuel Zemurray arrived in America in 1891, he was tall, gangly and penniless. When he died in the grandest house in New Orleans sixty-nine years later, he was among the richest, most powerful men in the world. In between, he worked as a fruit peddler, a banana hauler, a dockside hustler, and a plantation owner. He battled and conquered the United Fruit Company, becoming a symbol of the best and worst of the United States: proof that America is the land of opportunity, but also a classic example of the corporate pirate who treats foreign nations as the backdrop for his adventures. In Latin America, when people shouted “Yankee, Go Home!” it was men like Zemurray they had in mind.

Rich Cohen’s brilliant historical profile, The Fish That Ate the Whale, unveils Zemurray as a hidden kingmaker and capitalist revolutionary, driven by an indomitable will to succeed. Known as El Amigo, the Gringo, or simply Z, the Bananaman lived one of the great untold stories of the last hundred years. Starting with nothing but a cart of freckled bananas and built a sprawling empire of banana cowboys, Mestizo Indians, soldiers of fortune, Mafia loan-sharks, Honduran peasants and American Presidents. From hustling on the docks to bankrolling private wars, Zemurray emerges as an unforgettable figure, connected to the birth of modern American diplomacy, public relations, business and war.