The ProsenPeople

Book Cover of the Week: Apples from Shinar

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Wesleyan University Press re-issued the classic collection of poetry Apples from Shinar this past April:


Read on!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Now a book...

JBC Bookshelf: 2012 Preview

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 | Permalink
Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

 

As you may have noticed, we've been rather busy over the last few months. We're excited that our first four-color, and newly redesigned, Jewish Book World is out to subscribers (you can check it out digitally here) and that we've revealed our new online look to the world. With our new website, readers can now browse hundreds of reviews online, share them with friends, and tweet them to the world.  Plus, new reviews will be added daily, as well as new book club questions, interviews, and book trailers. Another great feature of the new site is our calendar listings. If you have a Jewish literary event you want our readers to know about, be sure to send them to us under the "submit an event" tab. The final big change is the name our blog and its new home on the main JBC website: The ProsenPeople (hehe, get it?). And, with that, a new name for our blogging series with MyJewishLearning: The Visiting Scribe. Now on to the latest books on the JBC Bookshelf:

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories, Nathan Englander (February 2012, Alfred A. Knopf)

While you wait for this one to be published, check out Englander's first collection of stories

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, A.J. Jacobs (April 2012, Simon & Schuster)

The latest from Jacobs, the author of The Guinea Pig Diaries, The Know It All, and The Year of Living Biblically 

Hot Pink, Adam Levin (March 2012, McSweeney's)

Just slightly shorter than Levin's debut novel The Instructions...

Broadway Baby, Alan Shapiro (January 2012, Algonquin Books)

The debut novel from the poet Alan Shapiro

When Telling the Truth Is Wrong

Monday, November 28, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Everybody thinks it's wrong to tell lies, but are there times when it's wrong to tell the truth? Renowned theologian Joseph Telushkin has a surprising answer.


 

Why I Wrote "The Inquisitor's Apprentice"

Monday, November 28, 2011 | Permalink
Chris Moriarty's The Inquisitor's Apprentice is now available. She will be blogging for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning all week.

When I try to explain why I wrote The Inquisitor’s Apprentice – and why it’s emphatically not a Jewish Narnia a la Michael Weingrad — I always end up telling people that this is the book I wrote for my children.

Basically, I wrote it because I was a frustrated mother who wanted my son to be able to read a boy wizard book where the Jewish kid got to be the hero. That was the first kernel of the idea that has become the NYPD Inquisitor books: me rereading the books I remembered from my childhood, and then reading the new books that had been written since then, and realizing that the book I wanted my son to be able to read still wasn’t out there.

I wanted a children’s fantasy about a Jewish kid. And I wanted a book with all the magic, adventure, and humor of my childhood favorites, but whose mythology, worldview and characters would celebrate our family’s roots, beliefs and values.

I might as well be honest about it and admit that those values were hot pink. I grew up in left-wing New York political circles, in a predominantly Jewish but significantly multiethnic community that had its own distinctive hagiography (the Lincoln Brigade and Freedom Riders), family stories (the Rosenbergs, the McCarthy blacklist, the Peekskill riots), music (can you say Hootenanny?) and even summer camps (my Mom went to Camp Redwing. Get it, wink, wink, Redwing?)

My husband grew up only a few miles away from me. Until the most recent Manhattan construction boom you could actually see my parents’ apartment building from his parents’ apartment building if you knew where to look. But he grew up in a New York that embodied a completely different version of the Jewish-American experience. His grandfather emigrated from Russia, went to work in the garment district, saved up his money, went into wholesale, and had two sons who both grew up to be cardiologists. My grandparents were atheists, his were Orthodox. My grandparents marched on Washington, his retired to Florida. And — this last sentence says it all, really — I grew up on the Upper West Side, he grew up on the Upper East Side.

I wanted to share both sides of that New York heritage with my children. I wanted to tell them about the Vaudeville musicians and sweatshop workers, the rabbis and the wobblies, the grandfather who grew up on Avenue J, and the grandmother who grew up in Greenwich Village. I wanted to take my kids back to the Lower East Side a hundred years ago, and let them see first-hand the lives, the struggles, and the values of their great-grandparents. I wanted to celebrate the special magic of New York — and the equally special magic of the loud, zany, eccentric and argumentative New Yorkers I grew up around. I wanted to get my son excited about being Jewish, excited about the Lower East Side, and curious about the vibrant intersection of Judaism and left-wing politics that contributed shaped not only our own family’s history but much of American history throughout the 20th century.

And … well … if he developed a taste for klezmer, too, I wasn’t exactly going to cry about it.

In one sense, of course, this was a deeply Narnia-esque project. Because, let’s be honest, it was all about proselytizing. But the proselytizing wasn’t aimed at other people’s kid’s, only at my own. And it was about telling my children where they came from, not telling them where I thought they should go in life. I wanted to write a sort of family origin myth, one that went to the heart of what I hope my children will value in their own complex, multiethnic, but emphatically Jewish heritage. And if there was any preaching going on, then it had a lot less in common with C. S. Lewis’s Christian apologetics than with William Goldman’s The Princess Bride – a book that uses humor, romance and magic to drive home the underlying moral of “Hey, would it kill you to turn off the TV and listen to your grandfather’s stories once in a while?”

Those stories are what it’s really about for me. Stories of grandparents and great-aunts and uncles that were passed on around kitchen tables over three generations, that made me and my husband who we are, and that will continue to shape our children long after we ourselves are gone. Building fantasy out of those stories is not about resurrecting a mythical lost medieval world in which my children can escape from the complexity and moral ambiguity of real life, but about shedding the transformational light of fantasy on this world: the one my children will build their future in. And recasting our family’s story as fantasy is the best way I’ve found to share my own questions about faith, politics, ethnicity, and what it means to be Jewish in America with my children.

I say questions instead of answers because, as every parent knows, we cannot force our children to accept our answers in life. We can only share our questions with them. We do this in the hope that they will find better and wiser answers than we can yet imagine. And one of the ways we do it is by telling them the story of where they come from. 


The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is my attempt to do that. And if it’s wrapped up in a New York fairy tale, with a little romance, and a big dose of slapstick humor? Well … love, laughter, and fantasy are some of the best ways humans have of making sense of our world.

Chris Moriarty's children's fantasy debut, The Inquisitor's Apprentice, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. The New York Times praised its successful blend of magic, Judaism, and New York history, and Bookpage called it "a book for anyone who has ever thought that maybe there is more to this world than what we can see." Chris science fiction novels have won the Philip K. Dick Award and been nominated for numerous other awards.

When I Went to Synagogue

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Anna Solomon wrote for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning about Jews in the West and a grandmother’s secrets. Her novel, The Little Bride, is now available.

We don't belong to a synagogue. My husband and I have defended this in various ways over the years. We wouldn’t go enough. It costs a lot. We’ll join when our daughter is old enough to go to Hebrew School. But beneath all these justifications – at least for me – there’s a less practical, more spiritual concern: the synagogues we visit don’t feel like home.

I grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, part of a small, tightly-knit community of Jews, all of whom went to the only synagogue in town. The synagogue had originally been a church, but to me, as a child, it was perfect. I knew the smell of the wooden pews, the sound of the rabbi singing (there was no cantor), the feel of my tights on the basement rec hall tiles. My mother had been taking me since I was six months old and more than anything else, I felt known and loved there, especially by the older people who ruffled my hair and kissed my cheeks.

There was one man I loved more than all the rest: Maurice, a Sephardic Jew from Egypt who sat with me at services every Saturday morning in the two years leading up to my bat mitzvah. I loved Maurice’s soft voice, his accent, his kind eyes winking at me as we turned the pages of the prayer book together, and the beautiful Sephardic tunes he sang.

A few years ago, the Gloucester synagogue burned to the ground. I felt devastated yet distant – we were living in Brooklyn at the time – and didn’t dare go visit the spot until the rebuilding of a new temple had begun. Finally, this past summer, the new synagogue was completed. It’s about as different as it could be from the old one: modern lines, a soaring roof line, sand-colored bricks that evoke Israel.

In September, I entered the new building for the first time: I was there with my musician friend Clare Burson to perform a literary-musical collaboration based on my first novel, The Little Bride.

The room in which we performed – with high ceilings and white walls – felt somewhat sterile at first. There was a different feel to the place, a different smell, a different quality of light without the old stained glass windows. And then, as people began to arrive, there were different faces. Many of them I knew, but many I didn’t, and more importantly, many people whose faces I longed to see were gone, including Maurice.

These absences hit me hard as I got up to introduce our performance. I tried to say something – “I’m thinking of the people who aren’t here tonight, too” – but I choked up. In the audience, people nodded – many eyes filled with tears. It seemed nothing more needed saying. Clare and I began to play and the room filled with a kind of electricity, coming not only from us but from the audience, too. People held hands, and swayed, and listened with such an intensity they seemed to make their own music.

By the end of the night, I felt comfortable in this new place. But it wasn’t mine anymore. It wasn’t home. And somehow knowing this made me feel free. A couple weeks ago, I took my daughter to a synagogue near where we live now, in Providence, Rhode Island, and the unfamiliar faces, the strangeness, didn’t make me want to run away. I liked the service. I liked the people. I could see how, with a little time, it might become a place where we belong.

Visit Anna Solomon's official website here.

December Twitter Book Club: The Book of Life

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 | Permalink
Posted by Sharon Bruce


While trying to save his marriage, a father struggles to reconnect with his newly devout son. A pure-hearted artist finds his devotion cruelly tested, while his true love tries to repent for the biggest mistake of her life... 

Forced together on a trip from Manhattan to Rhode Island, a father and son attempt to reconnect over lobster, cigarettes, and a buried secret. And in the collection’s daring first story, an arrogant businessman begins a forbidden affair during the High Holidays...

The Book of Life is an unforgettable collection of stories about faith, family, grief, love, temptation, and redemption. Written in clear, crystalline prose, these stories signal the arrival of an exciting and bold new writer. We are excited to announce Stuart Nadler as December's featured Twitter Book Club author!

Join the Jewish Book Council and author Stuart Nadler to discuss The Book of Life on Tuesday, December 13th from 12:30 pm- 1:10 pm EST, and keep an eye out on Twitter for our next giveaway– a signed copy of the novel!

The How-To, In Case You’re New:

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 readers 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!)

We hope you’ll join and enjoy the conversation! If you have something to say or a question to ask, feel free to jump in, and don’t forget to include #JBCBooks at the end of any tweet so that other participants can engage with you.

Michael Lavigne's New Book

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Congrats are in order for 2007 Sami Rohr Prize Choice Award recipient Michael Lavigne (Not Me), who has a new book coming out! The book was acquired by Deborah Garrison and will be published by Schocken Books. A short description (with the book's working title, Korban--we'll update you when we have the final title and publication date!) can be found below. It's nice having things like this to look forward to...

Set against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, KORBAN is the story of a father and daughter torn apart by ideology and sectarian violence as well as the terrible secrets of family history. The father, a Soviet immigrant in Israel, is injured in a suicide bombing — this event shatters not only his body, but his soul, and he is compelled to relive and come to terms with his past in Moscow, as well as try to heal his daughter who has been damaged by that secret past -- and, at the same time it is his desperate search to find some shred of common ground with, and empathy for, the young man who blew himself up. 

Told in three voices, one of which is an irrepressible thirteen year old and another a disembodied shahid, it’s a tale replete with talking animals, fairy tales, roaming spirits, visionary revelation and a meditation on the yearning for home and the power of love to destroy — and to heal.


Jews in America's West

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 | Permalink

Yesterday, Anna Solomon wrote for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning about a grandmother's secrets. Her novel, The Little Bride, is now available.

I still don’t know how the subject of Israel came up. I was at a party, in line at the bar, when the man in front of me turned and said, “You know, I have a solution to that whole problem in the Middle East.”

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly, nor did I know which problem he was referring to, until he gave me a wary look and said, “Are you Jewish?”

“I am,” I said. Clearly this man doesn’t know Jews, I thought.

“I am, too,” said the bartender, “so be careful what you say.”

The man appeared a little abashed, a little excited. Two Jews!

“Well,” he said, “I’ve been listening to all the news about the violence and bombings and everything, and I was hearing something on the radio about how in the Great Plains they’re losing population every day, all the young people are leaving, and I thought: why don’t they just move Israel to the Dakotas?”

The bartender smiled. I smiled. I was in shock. Not just because the proposal was so offensive, or because this man had the gall to share it with us, but because something similar to it had been proposed 130 years ago, by Jews in Odessa. As pogroms intensified, many Eastern European Jews were heading east, to Palestine. But this Odessa group – Am Olam, they called themselves, meaning Eternal People – decided that Jews should head to America’s West, and become farmers. From 1880 to 1920, Jewish agricultural colonies were founded across this country, in Oregon, Louisiana, Colorado and New Jersey – and, yes, in North and South Dakota.

And, I’d written a novel about it.

I mentioned this last part nonchalantly. I didn’t get into politics or history or point out to him his obvious ignorance about “the situation” in Israel. I just took my beer and walked away. But I have to admit: this man got me thinking. What if the Am Olam farmers in America had succeeded? (Most wound up back in cities and towns.) What if there was a veritable Jewish state smack in the middle of our country and Jews there played every role, as we do in Israel? Farmer, mechanic, electrician, plumber, cook, rancher. Imagine. I was reminded of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon – a similarly wild vision, of Jews taking refuge in Alaska. What if such a thing had come to pass in the lower 48? It’s not a proposal, but a re-envisioning, an expansion of my sometimes narrow assumptions about what Jews can be and do and mean in America today. This expansion has led me to question, and search. And guess what I found? There are Jewish kids learning to farm right now, in 2011, at the Jewish Farm School in upstate New York.


Check back tomorrow for Anna Solomon's final post for the Visiting Scribe.

JLit Links

Monday, November 21, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter