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Twitter Book Club: The Marriage Artist

Monday, January 31, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

Join the Jewish Book Council and author Andrew Winer in a live discussion of the novel The Marriage Artist on Wednesday, March 2nd, 12:30 pm- 1:10 pm EST! Follow us @JewishBook and keep an eye on #JBCBooks for updates.

Publisher’s description: 

Two mysterious deaths unlock one man’s past and another’s future in this moving tale of art, love, and history

When the wife of renowned art critic Daniel Lichtmann plunges to her death, she is not alone. Lying next to her is her suspected lover, Benjamin Wind, the very artist Daniel most championed. Tormented by questions about the circumstances of their deaths, Daniel dedicates himself to uncovering the secrets of their relationship and the inspiration behind Wind’s dazzling final exhibition.

What Daniel discovers is a web of mysteries leading back to pre-World War II Vienna and the magnificent life of Josef Pick, a forgotten artist who may have been the twentieth century’s greatest painter of love. But the most astonishing discoveryis what connects these two artists acrosshalf a century: a remarkable woman whose response to the tragedy of her generation offers Daniel answers to the questions he never knew to ask.

Ambitious, haunting, and stunningly written, The Marriage Artist tells a universal tale of a family dramatically reshaped by the quest for personal freedom in the face of inherited beliefs, public prejudices, and the unfathomable turns of history. It is at once a provocative snapshot of contemporary marriage, the recovery of a passion that history never recorded, and a fierce reminder of the way we enlist love in our perpetual search for meaning and permanence.

Visit Andrew Winer’s website for more.

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. JBC’s book club 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 book club follow the 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.

Messing Around on Tour

Monday, January 31, 2011 | Permalink

Saul Austerlitz is the author of Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy. He will be blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe.

Being on tour for a book is simultaneously an exhilarating and a terrifying experience. Exhilarating because, after toiling so lengthily in the mines of authorial solitude, it is a pleasure of no small import to emerge to the surface, book in hand, and talk about it with friends, family, and total strangers. Terrifying because, as all authors who have ever done a book tour can attest to, the midnight panic that occasionally bubbles up, convinced you’ll give a reading and no one—literally not a single person—will show up.

Thankfully, that did not happen to me during my tour for my new book Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I occasionally broke out into a cold sweat at the prospect of.

Some writers are also good talkers, but many writers — myself included — would prefer to gather their thoughts in front of a computer, with unlimited time to gather my ideas and refine them before releasing them to the world at large. Speaking in public offers no such assurances. Like an actor, you must deliver on the spot. Acting is actually a fairly good comparison to giving a reading; there were times where I felt like an actor of whom a performance was required, and like an actor, there were times when I felt like I was playing a role, playing “the author.” But I ended up surprising myself at times with my capacity to perform. Shakespeare, here I come!

The thing about a book tour is that each stop is completely different from the previous one, even if the talk you give is the same every time. Some of my readings, like those in my hometown, Los Angeles, and New York, where I live, were filled with friends and family, while others were composed entirely of people I didn’t know. (Weirdly, I felt more confident in front of the strangers.)

The best part of the tour, hands down, was the people I met along the way. In San Diego, I got to hang out before the reading with the shop’s owner and some of his friends, who were devotees of 1940s comedy, and had some terrific recommendations for films I hadn’t even heard of. In Philadelphia, I had a long talk after the reading with a guy planning a blog devoted to the television shows his wife watched. In Raleigh, I got quizzed thoroughly by the wonderful students at North Carolina State University, who wanted to talk about Tyler Perry and whether I thought The Hangover was any good (I loved it, in case you’re wondering). Best of all, in New Haven, I got to share the stage with one of my favorite teachers from college, whose class on comedy had helped to inspireAnother Fine Mess.

Touring for Another Fine Mess was a wonderful opportunity for me to engage with comedy fans of all stripes — everyone from college professors teaching courses on Charlie Chaplin to casual fans of Will Ferrell, and all points in between. I surprised myself by especially enjoyed the question-and-answer sessions after my readings, when I faced a virtual firing squad of rapid-fire questions on everything from the importance of Preston Sturges to the comedic canon to the charms of Bill Murray.

I had expected to find the barrage intimidating, and tongue-tying, and was pleasantly surprised to find the air of nervous expectation (what will they ask next?) deeply enjoyable. Even the guy in North Carolina who asked me, apropos of nothing, about my feelings about Schindler’s List (and later revealed himself to be a Jew for Jesus), managed not to throw me entirely off my game. Bring on the questions!

Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy is now in stores.

JLit Links

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

  • The National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for the 2010 Awards. The list includes: To the End of the Land (David Grossman), Comedy in a Minor Key (Hans Keilson), Crossing Mandelbaum Gate (Kair Bird), Simon Wiesenthal (Tom Segev), Hitch-22 (Christopher Hitchens), and Half a Life (Darin Strauss). Read the full list here.
  • Altie Karper, editorial director at Schocken Books, has a conversation with brand channel: “…Altie Karper paves the way for Jewish publishing. Although there are other American Jewish publishers, none is under the auspices of a global publishing powerhouse like Random House…” Continue reading here.
  • Judges have been announced for the 2011 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize: Lisa Appignanesi, Michael Prodger, Emily Kasriel, and Dr. Daniel Glaser. Read more here.
  • Jewlicious 7 has been announced: February 24-27.
  • Erika Dreifus & Malamud’s “German Refugee” on Beatrice.com

Mark Twain, “Mishpocha,” and Me

Thursday, January 20, 2011 | Permalink

In her previous posts, Erika Dreifus blogged on her upcoming panel at AWP, “Beyond Bagels and Lox”, and the inspiration for Quiet Americans. She has been be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.


The online literary world has been atwitter (please pardon the pun!) about the changes—some are calling it censorship—that appear in a new edition that presents “updated” versions of Mark Twain’s classic novels, Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The change that has attracted the most discussion is the new book’s replacement of the word “nigger” with “slave”; a second modification is the substitution of “Indian” for “injun.” (For general summaries, I’ll point you to news items from The New York Times and Publishers Weekly; for a sample of some of the commentaries, I recommend an AOL News column by Tayari Jones, a blog post by The Christian Science Monitor‘s Marjorie Kehe, and the multiple contributions featured within the NYT Room for Debate forum.)


I’ve followed the flurry of articles and commentaries with interest for many reasons. But here, I want to focus on one. It is both personal and professional, and it involves “Mishpocha,” the concluding story in my new collection of short fiction, Quiet Americans.

In “Mishpocha,” protagonist David Kaufmann, a son of Holocaust survivors, recalls an incident:

It had happened a few years earlier, when [he and his wife] had been visiting [their daughter] at school and spent an extra day and night in Boston on their own, and as they’d walked down a relatively quiet yet decidedly urban street after dinner, a group of teenagers—teenagers whom he’d instantly imagined must cause nightmares for their parents, tattooed teenagers with heads shaven and clothing ripped—strode up alongside them, their ringleader chanting, “KILL THE KIKES, KILL THE NIGGERS, KILL THE FAGS.” And David had seen his wife’s head turn toward them in outrage; he knew that in about one second she would open her mouth with the confidence of a woman with bloodlines rooted in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and so he’d yanked her arm—hard, harder maybe than he’d really had to—because what you learned from immigrant-survivor parents like his was that it was better to be quiet, better not to give crazy people any reason to get any crazier.

Many opponents to the changes to Twain’s work have argued that the word substitutions distort the historical record. As a nervous debut author in an era when using certain words can destroy a career, I draw encouragement from that stance. Because, despite the fact that fiction writers are often instructed not to counter criticisms of their work with the protest that “it really happened that way!”, I will say this about the fictional incident in “Mishpocha“: It really happened that way.

Photo credit: Lisa Hancock

Not to David Kaufmann, of course. To me. And not in the 1880s. During the 21st century. And it happened in one of the most politically progressive communities in the United States: Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Recall, from yesterday’s post, that I am a granddaughter of German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. There’s little doubt that just as this family background has permeated my writing, it has influenced my personality and worldview. Which helps explain why, when those teenagers strode up beside me, and their ringleader recited that awful litany, I, an educated grown-up in her thirties, said nothing. Not one word.

Shortly thereafter (but still about two years before I began writing “Mishpocha“), I received a scholarship and traveled to Prague for a writing workshop. At some point—I no longer recall what prompted the discussion—I mentioned this deeply disturbing incident in class. My classmates, whose backgrounds reflected at least two and quite possibly all three of the groups targeted in the list of epithets, were outraged. But some of them seemed almost as upset with me—for having remained silent—as they were with the person who had uttered the words in the first place.

Absolution came from our remarkable workshop leader: Arnošt Lustig. He listened to me, and he listened to my classmates. And then, this man—who survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald—said that yes, one must fight back. But, he said, one must also live. (I cannot mention Arnošt Lustig without recommending his extraordinary novel, translated as Lovely Green Eyes, which I read in Prague that summer. I treasure my autographed copy.)

Six of my collection’s seven stories have been published previously. Only “Mishpocha” is appearing for the first time, which means that no magazine or journal editors (or paying readers) have yet bothered to take issue with my choice to repeat the same terrible words on the page that I heard on the street. My publisher raised no objections, so to some extent, I had stopped worrying about how this element of the story might be received, and how I might respond to any criticisms it might evoke.

Until now. I harbor no illusions: I’m no Mark Twain, protected partially by virtue of my historical reputation. I’m just a debut author with a book of short stories published by a brand-new press hardly anyone has heard of. But I hope that the support that Twain is receiving now from those who, for a variety or reasons, don’t want to see his writing expurgated will extend to my work, and to me.

Erika Dreifus‘ first book, Quiet Americans, is now available.

Book Cover of the Week: The Mighty Walzer

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Howard Jacobson’s The Mighty Walzer will be available from Bloomsbury USA in April:


A Birthday and An Anniversary: A Book and Its Inspiration

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 | Permalink

On Monday, Erika Dreifus discussed her upcoming panel at AWP, “Beyond Bagels and Lox.” She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Today is a special day: It’s the official “pub date” for my debut short-story collection, Quiet Americans, which is being released by Last Light Studio, a new, Boston-based micropress.

It is also a special day on an even more personal level: It is the 70th anniversary of the date on which my paternal grandparents, Ruth and Sam Dreifus, German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s and met here in Manhattan, were married.


In this wedding photograph, my grandparents are pictured front and center, cutting their cake. Although I can’t help being struck, as I always am when I look at this photo, by the many absences—of parents and siblings, aunts and uncles—and by the evidence that my grandmother had no money to spare for a traditional wedding dress (the fancy cake might have been a benefit of my grandfather’s job as a baker), I’m equally moved by the presence of family and friends celebrating with the bridal couple. For my grandparents were, indeed, surrounded by family and friends, including Rabbi Herbert Parzen, who officiated that January day in 1941 and performed my parents’ wedding ceremony 25 years later as well.

Rabbi Parzen (second from the left, standing next to the bride) was family andfriend: His wife, Sylvia (front row, second from the right, beside the groom), was a cousin of my grandmother’s. As an American, Aunt Sylvia, as my sister and I called her, helped facilitate my grandmother’s immigration to the United States in 1938, just months before the Kristallnacht. It was in New York that my grandmother found her groom, who had emigrated from Germany the previous year.


In fact, my grandparents met through another émigré present in this photograph: my great-uncle Berthold (“Bob,” seen in profile on the far left). My grandmother had become friends with Bob, and when she went to his boarding-house to pay him a get-well visit while he was recovering from pneumonia, my grandfather—Bob’s older brother—was there, too.

Without the people you see in this photograph, then, many lives would have been dramatically altered, and some (mine included) would not have come to be. Without them, there would be no book, either, because Quiet Americans is inspired so profoundly by the stories that have come to me from my father’s family, and by my preoccupations with the historical legacy I have inherited as a granddaughter of two Jews who were lucky enough to escape Europe in time, and marry in New York City seventy years ago today.

Erika Dreifus‘ first book, Quiet Americans, is now available.

JBC Bookshelf: MLK Day Edition

Monday, January 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

We’ve been hard at work here on the spring issue of Jewish Book World, which will feature the winners of the National Jewish Book Awards, as well as an article on I. J. Singer by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, an article on Cynthia Ozick by Evan Fallenberg, a look at the new Haggadahs for 2011, an interview with Jessica Jiji, and more. Be sure to subscribe by the February 14th in order to receive your copy!

And, in other news…last week was a big one for Jewish book awards and this one is a big one for unpacking all of the boxes on my desk! Sorting through the new additions to the shelf, I came across a few goodies…

“A”, Louis Zukofsky (January 2011, New Directions)
This edition contains a new introduction by Barry Ahearn, a professor of English at Tulane University.

A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835-1868, America’s Original Superstar, Barbara Foster and Michael Foster (February 2011, The Lyons Press)
A protege of Rabbi Wise (founder of Reform Judaism), a disciple of Walt Whitman, America’s first pin-up, and a mysterious death…need I say more?

The Last Jew of Treblinka: A Memoir, Chil Rajchman (February 2011, Pegasus)
Elie Wiesel: “In its poignant simplicity, Rajchman’s account opens new horizons in our perception of evil. An important, heart-rending contribution to our search for truth.”

Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe , Shachar M. Pinsker (December 2010, Stanford University Press)
Read an excerpt from the introduction here.

Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams, Charles King (February 2011, W.W. Norton)
Using archives in Odessa, London, Jerusalem, and Washington, King weaves together history and anecdote in order to re-create the lives of the individuals who have contributed to the highs and lows of the city.

      

  

Jewish-American Literature as Multicultural Literature

Monday, January 17, 2011 | Permalink

Erika Dreifus‘s first book, Quiet Americans, will be published on January 19th. Check back all week for her posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe.

Early next month, four other writers—Andrew FurmanKevin HaworthMargot Singer, and Anna Solomonand I will gather in a conference room for a panel titled “Beyond Bagels & Lox: Jewish-American Fiction in the 21st Century.” (Hopefully, some semblance of a critical mass of an audience will be there as well.)

This session is just one among a dizzying array of offerings organized by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) for its annual conference. If you aren’t familiar with AWP, you may find this description from Executive Director David Fenza to be helpful:

The mission of The Association of Writers & Writing Programs is to foster literary talent and achievement, to advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and to serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing.

More than any other literary organization, AWP has helped North America to develop a literature as diverse as the continent’s peoples. This, of course, is also a boast for the democratic virtues of higher education in North America and the many public universities that comprise AWP. AWP’s members have provided literary education to students and aspiring writers from all backgrounds, economic classes, races, and ethnic origins.

True to this mission, the conference travels around North America. We’ll gather in D.C. this winter; next year, the conference returns to Chicago. After that, Boston, Seattle, and Minneapolis will play conference host.

I hesitate to speak for my co-panelists, but it’s probably safe to say that we’re all very pleased to be part of this year’s conference program. Since we’re hoping to run our panel on something akin to a roundtable model, we won’t be reading individual papers serially (as is often the case at academic/scholarly conferences). Rather, we are aiming to offer a lively discussion—among ourselves and with the audience—in line with what our official description in the conference program promises:

Jewish-American fiction has long been seen as a literature of emigration from the shtetl, assimilationist angst, and overprotective parents. But what’s nu? How do Americans born decades after the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel deal with those complex subjects in fiction? Who are the “new” Jewish immigrant characters? How does American Jewry’s more than 350-year history inspire plot/setting? And how are writers today influenced by Judaism’s rich multilingual and spiritual legacy?

When we submitted our panel proposal last spring, we were also required to share a brief “statement of merit” for the conference organizers to consider. Here is what we wrote:

Although many Jewish-American writers participated in the 2010 AWP conference, not one panel session was devoted specifically to Jewish-American writing—in any genre. Our panel not only enriches the conference’s already distinctive multicultural character, but also surveys the variety within contemporary Jewish-American fiction, offering support, inspiration, and resources for attending writers whose work addresses material similar to that reflected in the panelists’ publications.

If you peruse this year’s schedule, you’ll see that the AWP conference indeed possesses a wonderfully multicultural character. You may even notice that “Beyond Bagels & Lox” is not the only panel featuring Jewish-American writers or writing. And I suspect that those other sessions, like ours, will demonstrate diversity within themselves, too. For, as our literature teaches us, there are innumerable facets to “Jewish-American experience.”

The important point is this: Jewish-American writing belongs at the multicultural literary table, as was noted at a different conference one year ago. Next month, when AWP meets in our nation’s capital, it will be.

Check back all week for more posts from Erika Dreifus.

Book Design Case Studies

Thursday, January 13, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Thanks to google alerts, I came across this great website on book design, which is currently featuring next week’s JBC/MJL guest blogger Erika Dreifus’s Quiet Americans. Joel Friedlander discusses the process of book design from cover to interior, focusing on image and typography and the influence of tone and theme within the stories. It’s an interesting little piece and the site is worth exploring. Visit here. And, check back next week for Erika’s posts on the JBC blog!


2011 Sydney Taylor Book Awards Announced

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Miri Pomerantz Dauber

It’s Jewish book award season! To add to this week’s list of prestigious Jewish book awards, Association of Jewish Libraries just announced the winners of the 2011 Sydney Taylor Book Award and the American Library Association announced the winner of the Sophie Brody Award.

Congrats to Jewish Book NETWORK author Judith Shulevitz for winning the Brody Award for her book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. It’s part memoir and part a sociological, theological, historical and anthropological exploration of the Sabbath.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award recognizes outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience, and is named for the author of the All-of-a-Kind Family series. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger ReadersOlder Readers, and Teen Readers. Honor Books are awarded silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category. This year’s winners and Honor Books include a number of this year’s Jewish Book NETWORK authors, including Dana Reinhardt
 (The Things a Brother Knows), Sarah Darer Littman (Life, After), Sarah Gershman (Modeh Ani: A Good Morning Book), and Susan Lynn Meyer (Black Radishes). To see a complete list of the Sydney Taylor Book Award winners, go to the AJL blog or watch this short videoMazal tov to all the winners and honorees!