The ProsenPeople

National Book Award Finalists Announced

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter


A fine day. Nicole Krauss has been listed as a 2010 National Book Award Finalist for Great House.

Click here for more on the National Book Award Finalists.

Read the Jewish Book World review below (by Hara Person):

Great House, Nicole Krauss’ new novel, is a triumph. Smartly executed and beautifully crafted, this multi-layered novel moves back and forth through the chaos of modern Jewish history. Krauss touches on the Holocaust, the Yom Kippur War, Chile under Pinochet, and travels from New York to Jerusalem to London to Budapest as she weaves a story focused on a desk. This seemingly mundane physical object becomes the mysterious center of the tale. This desk, whose provenance is murky, is a witness to history. Much writing goes on at this desk, as many of the main characters are writers, but all the characters, whether writers or not, are memory keepers in different ways, though not always willingly. Memory and history, especially Jewish history, are difficult burdens, often painful but sometimes also desired responsibilities. The title itself is an allusion to Jewish history, from a Biblical reference that was used as the name of Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s school, established as a way to transform and maintain Judaism in the wake of the destruction of the Temple. Krauss pays homage to the idea that it was the early rabbis like Ben Zakkai who creatively turned Jerusalem into an idea, a transportable memory. The writers in Great House are part of that centuries-old Jewish tradition of holding onto the memories and ideas of lost lives and civilizations, an endeavor that reaches back to those early rabbis. Krauss imagines a Messianic time in which every infinite fragment of Jewish memory is put back together, creating a complete, perfect memory. Until that time, however, the people in Great House strive to hold onto memories, find ways to preserve memories, and struggle to live with the weight of memories.

Hara E. Person was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is a writer and an editor.

Howard Jacobson Wins Booker Prize!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

A big congratulations from the JBC to Howard Jacobson (The Finkler Question) on winning this year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Read more about the win on Tablet, The New York Times, and in The Guardian.

More on The Finkler Question:

Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular and disappointed BBC worker, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they’ve never quite lost touch with each other – or with their former teacher, Libor Sevick, a Czechoslovakian always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results.

Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor’s grand, central London apartment.

It’s a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you had less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends’ losses.

And it’s that very evening, at exactly 11:30pm, as Treslove hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country as he walks home, that he is attacked. After this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.

Baxter and Me

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | Permalink

In his last post, Gregory Levey wrote about late-night Middle East radio commentary. He is the author of the recently published How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment and he has been blogging for the JBC/MJL Visiting Scribe.

For some reason I don’t really understand, if you go to the page for the book I’ve just published, How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment, Amazon often makes a strange recommendation. If you are interested in my book, Amazon believes, you might also be interested in a children’s book called Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.

Now, I’ve never read Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher, which is written by Laurel Snyder. I guess it could theoretically be related to my own book, which is about my attempt to make Middle East peace from the comfort of my own apartment, mostly so that I wouldn’t have to hear about the fatiguing Arab-Israeli conflict anymore – but, judging by its title, it doesn’t sound likely.

In any case, I am honored to be in the company of Baxter and his strange, masochistic wish. Even so, it makes me wonder what rationale Amazon has for connecting these two books. Do a lot of people buy both of them? Do we have a similar demographic of readers? Or is there something fundamentally similar about Baxter’s quest and my own?

Gregory Levey’s second book, How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment, has just been released.

The Middle East in the Middle of the Night

Monday, October 11, 2010 | Permalink

Gregory Levey‘s newest book, How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment, is now available. He will be blogging all week for the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

It was just after four in the morning, and I was on the phone discussing the Middle East conflict with a man I assumed was a truck driver. I was more than a little groggy, and so I wasn’t totally following our conversation, even when I was the one talking.

Oh, and one more detail. There were thousands of people listening to us, because we were on the radio.

This happened just a few days ago, and I’m still not fully sure what I said, because I was half-asleep. I may have mentioned something about the threat of violence along the Israel-Korea border, or expressed anxiety about not having studied for the ninth grade math test I imagined I was about to take.

This is sometimes the reality of book promotion when you’re a no-name author aboard the sinking ship of publishing. You’ll do anything to sell a few more books, even if it means waking up in the middle of the night to talk about the Middle East, fielding calls from the type of people who not only listen to the radio at that awful hour, but also feel the need to phone in.

My new book is called How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment, so I guess I sort of brought this on myself. And who knows? Maybe that trucker who was driving down that lonesome highway with my inane banter his only company came up with a workable solution to the Middle East conflict.

I don’t know, because I was barely conscious. But if you were listening and
we made any progress, please fill me in.

Gregory Levey’s Facebook group has over 750,000 fans. His second book, How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment, has just been released.

Daniel Gordis on “The Other Existential Threat”

Friday, October 08, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

2009 National Jewish Book Award winner Daniel Gordis (Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End) graces the cover of Commentary this month. His article, “The Other Existential Threat” deals with deals with Iran’s bomb, Israel’s soul and the future of the Jews. The piece is open for the public to read (thank Commentary!) and can be found here.

JLit Links

Friday, October 08, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Sorry we’ve been so quiet! The National Jewish Book Awards deadline slammed into us this week and we’re sending out some wonderful nominations to the judging panels. Stay tuned for the winners and finalists of this year’s awards in January.

In the meantime, some literary links to keep you going:

And, stay tuned for Gregory Levey’s (How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less: Without Leaving Your Apartment) posts on the JBC/MJL Author Blog series all next week!

Twitter Book Club: The Invisible Bridge

Wednesday, October 06, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

Join the Jewish Book Council and author Julie Orringer in a live discussion of the novel The Invisible Bridge on Tuesday, October 26th, 2010 12:30 pm- 1:10 pm EST! Follow us @JewishBook and keep an eye on #JBCBooks for updates.

Publisher’s description: Julie Orringer’s astonishing first novel, eagerly awaited since the publication of her heralded best-selling short-story collection, How to Breathe Underwater (“fiercely beautiful”—The New York Times; “unbelievably good”—Monica Ali), is a grand love story set against the backdrop of Budapest and Paris, an epic tale of three brothers whose lives are ravaged by war, and the chronicle of one family’s struggle against the forces that threaten to annihilate it.

Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he has promised to deliver to C. Morgenstern on the rue de Sévigné. As he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter’s recipient, he becomes privy to a secret history that will alter the course of his own life. Meanwhile, as his elder brother takes up medical studies in Modena and their younger brother leaves school for the stage, Europe’s unfolding tragedy sends each of their lives into terrifying uncertainty. At the end of Andras’s second summer in Paris, all of Europe erupts in a cataclysm of war.

From the small Hungarian town of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the lonely chill of Andras’s room on the rue des Écoles to the deep and enduring connection he discovers on the rue de Sévigné, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in forced labor camps and beyond, The Invisible Bridge tells the story of a love tested by disaster, of brothers whose bonds cannot be broken, of a family shattered and remade in history’s darkest hour, and of the dangerous power of art in a time of war.

Expertly crafted, magnificently written, emotionally haunting, and impossible to put down, The Invisible Bridge resoundingly confirms Julie Orringer’s place as one of today’s most vital and commanding young literary talents.

Visit Julie Orringer’s website for more.

Read reviews from The New York Times and NPR.

What is a Twitter Book Club?

A twitter book club provides the opportunity for twitter users to engage in real time conversation about a particular, predetermined book. The “Twunch and Talk” aims to provide the tweeple with an opportunity to discuss Jewish interest titles with other interested readers electronically.

To participate…

If you aren’t already a Twitter user, please join twitter here. (Confused about Twitter all together? Visit the twitter twitorial. Follow the Jewish Book Council (@jewishbook). During the designated time and date of the “Twunch and Talk” (def Twunch: A loosely organized open invitation lunch meeting among twitter friends) follow the book club conversation by searching for #JBCBooks. If you would like to actively participate, please include #JBCBooks at the end of any comments or questions you wish to contribute.

(Note: New twitter users may have to wait up to a week before their tweets get saved in hashtag searches. Open a twitter account at least a week and a half before this discussion in order to join us!)

Read transcripts from past book clubs.

So pick up a copy of this month’s book club title, read it, and join us for a conversation online! If you have something to say or a question to ask, feel free to jump in, and don’t forget to include #JBCBook at the end of any tweet so that other participants can engage with you.

The Best Part of Traveling

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Martin Fletcher wrote about stories he’s covered for NBC’s London bureau and about choosing a title for his book. His newest book,Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, is now available.

What I loved about writing Walking Israel was meeting the people I came across during my walk, people I would never normally have come across, and who directed me towards aspects of Israel that had never occurred to me in my 35 years of reporting from there: The tour guide who used the four faces of Akko’s clocktower to show Jews and Arabs the four faces of the truth: “it just depends where you stand”; the botanist whose main goal, when Israel was fighting for its existence in 1948, was to save the sea turtles; the Tunisian and Moroccan Jews sitting around in Roger’s café in Ashkelon who barely budged as rockets landed from Gaza, and said if it was up to them they’d make peace with the Arabs in five minutes but in the meantime “in war, it’s war!”

I loved everything about writing the book: the people I met, the subsequent year of research, and the year of writing and rewriting. But best of all was the reaction of my son after he read the finished work. “Dad,” he said, “next time you go for a long walk somewhere I want to come with you.”

Martin Fletcher spent the last thirty years as NBC News Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv. His second book, Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, is now available. He has been blogging all week for the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

Field Stories Without Names

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 | Permalink

Yesterday, Martin Fletcher wrote about stories he’s covered for NBC’s London bureau. His newest book, Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, is now available. He will be blogging all week for the JBC/MJL Visting Scribe.

I’m lousy at titles; I may spend more time thinking about what to call a book than planning its content. But what I’ve discovered is it doesn’t matter much what I think because the publisher decides anyway.

The title I decided on, after much anguish, for my first book about my reporting career was “The Exploding Cow and the River of Death,” which related to two of the stories in the book. That kind of black humor is a tradition for journalist memoirs. My favorite such title is Edward Behr’s 1985 book Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English? It refers to a journalist in the Congo who came across a group of Belgian nuns who had been raped and shouted the question.

If anyone thinks he made up the line, that nobody could be so crass as to ask such a question, trust me, it’s possible. I was there when journalists in Zimbabwe were sticking microphones into the face of a nun who had been raped and an American UPI journalist asked her, “Yes, but did he ejaculate inside you?” Apparently that related to a New York law concerning the statutory definition of rape.

My cow exploded when I was interviewing a Kosovar refugee who had been forced by Serbs to dig holes for landmines in a field. As we spoke to him on camera a cow trod on a mine and flew into the air above his head. The river of death was the Kagera river that flows into the Rusomo Falls in Rwanda; we watched the bodies of dozens of murdered Tutsis float downriver and over the Falls.

Hence my title. The publisher decided on the more mundane “Breaking News.”

The title I favored for my latest book, which is structured around a trek I made along the entire coast of Israel, from Lebanon to Gaza, came from my idea of doing the journey with my son. I would call the book The Father, the Son and the Holy Coast. But the publisher decided that title could antagonize Christians, and anyway my son wouldn’t come with me.

So it’s called Walking Israel. I did an Amazon search to find out how many books are named “Walking…something” and came up with 27,956.

Publishers have a lot more experience than I do of naming books, and it’s true that, being British, I tend towards the tabloidy, tongue-in-cheek, teaser which may not go down so well in America.

And anyway, all I really care about is the content.

But the title is the first attention-getter, followed closely by the cover design. And what I find strange, given that this is actually the author’s book, is that the two key marketing factors are outside the control of the author.

Still, I can only bow to the publisher’s experience, and my contractual obligation, and allow others to decide how my book will be presented. I hate that stuff anyway.

Martin Fletcher spent the last thirty years as NBC News Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv. His second book, Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, is now available.

From Serious News to the Tabloids

Monday, September 27, 2010 | Permalink

Martin Fletcher’s newest book, Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, will be available tomorrow. He will be blogging all week for the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

I left NBC News to write books. Which explains why I quickly found myself back on their doorstep, begging for work – paid work.

But I didn’t expect this. Here are a few of the stories I’ve reported on as a freelancer in NBC’s London bureau in the last few weeks: a shark attack in Australia, an internet blogger accused of rape in Sweden, a British woman who dumped a cat in the garbage bin, another British woman who urinated on a war memorial, a spy’s sexy photo shoot in Russia. The high point, literally, was going up in a hot air balloon with a glass floor which crashed on landing and came within three yards of being dragged into a river. All network stories.

It wasn’t the kind of writing I imagined when I resigned in December, but guess what? I love it: all the silliness, the bad puns, the tabloid humor. I found myself chuckling as I wrote about Bad British Babes and the cold war femme fatale who’s hot! And sighing at the mandatory lurid speculation when a British spy was found stuffed inside a sports bag in the bath.

The thing is, they’re good stories that people care about, and I began to think that maybe reporting on them wasn’t so different from writing books, or even from reporting serious news. After all, it’s all about telling stories about people in a way that other people will care about.

That’s really all I wanted to do with my new book Walking Israel. I wanted to get away from seeing Israel only through a single prism, that of the conflict with the Arabs, and see the country for what it really is: a fascinating place with fascinating people whose lives are so much more than just a people at war.

People were always phoning me and asking if it was safe to visit Israel. I would say yes, and then they’d call me after a week in Israel and say, wow, what a great place, I had no idea. And so I wanted to write a book about that great place about which so many people have no idea.

I walked along the coast, from Lebanon to Gaza, meeting Israelis of all kinds, Jews and Arabs, and followed up on their stories for a year. And although I’ve reported from Israel for close to thirty years, I’ve never enjoyed any research or writing as much as working on this book. And I hope that I have presented Israel in an entirely new light.

Martin Fletcher spent the last thirty years as NBC News Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv. His second book, Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, will be available tomorrow.