The ProsenPeople

A Cartoon Education

Monday, December 19, 2011 | Permalink
Richard Codor's most recent book, Too Many Latkes! (Behrman House), is now available. He will be blogging here all week for JBC and MJL.

The memory of my cousin handing me my first copy of MAD Magazine when I was 12 is still fresh in my mind. I can feel my hands tremble as I looked down at the cover painting of Alfred E. Neuman as a scarecrow. My cousin said this magazine was going to change my life and he was right. From that moment on I was hooked. I was a cartoonist. As I turned the pages I knew all I wanted to do was to make drawings that everybody would laugh at, just like that group of talented idiots.

This was also the time when I was obsessed with the Marx Brothers movies. There was no Netflix, Internet, VCRs, or 24/7 TV. There were just three channels on our black and white set and they usually went off the air before midnight. I’d scour the TV listings for weeks looking for one of their films. If one did appear it was usually scheduled beyond my bedtime. That night, when everyone was asleep, I’d sneak downstairs, turn on the TV with the volume just above a whisper and watch, my eyes as big as saucers, the incredible comic anarchy of the Marxes. The next morning, I’d trudge to school where I’d spend the better part of homeroom, Latin, and Geometry classes filling the margins of my notebooks with super heroes, goofy weirdoes and slimy monsters, inspired by my real mentors.

My first brush with notoriety came about from one of those doodles in Hebrew school. Sitting in the back of class, as the teacher pounded away at the blackboard on the pronunciation of Hebrew verbs, I drew a small little sketch of her dancing a hora, naked. Under it, I wrote “Mrs. K…. Blows!” I passed it to the kid next to me. He stifled a delighted guffaw. I thought he would pass it back but instead I saw it make its way around the class with the sound of suppressed giggles.  The teacher, sensing something was up, grabbed the offending scrap. She went on a tirade, which consisted of what an offensive drawing it was and wanting to know what she had to “blow” about since she felt she was a very modest person. The poor lady didn’t get it.

My popularity went way up. From being just a face in the crowd, I was established as The Cartoonist for the rest of my school career. However, the teacher got her revenge when years later I lived and worked in Israel and sorely missed not having a better grasp of the pronunciation of those Hebrew verbs.     

My obsession with cartoon drawing has enabled me to make a living from illustrations, editorial cartooning, storyboarding for commercials, TV animation and feature films. Now, with the publication of my own books, like Too Many Latkes!, I’ve returned to the seat at the back of the class.  I still want to make people laugh when I draw.  

Check back on Wednesday for Richard Codor's next post for the Visiting Scribe.


Jews in Narnia

Friday, December 16, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Lavie Tidhar wrote about his fixation on historical figures and being compared to Philip K. Dick. He has been blogging here all week for JBC and MJL.

Michael Weingrad made something of a splash last year in writing “Why There is no Jewish Narnia” at the Jewish Review of Books. Of course, Weingrad misunderstands Narnia. To explain the seven novels succinctly, let us refer to the following equation:

Jesus was Jewish (therefore) Aslan was Jewish (therefore) Narnia = Jewish Autonomous Oblast (and) The White Witch = Christianity/Rome. QED.

But before you give me the combined Nobel Prize for Physics and Literature, let’s think about that seeming paradox. The fields of both science fiction and fantasy are filled with Jewish writers, from Isaac Asimov (can you get more Jewish than that?) to, erm, William Shatner. (Yes, he wrote TekWar! No, the Federation is not proud). Why, then, do so few genre works deal with Jewish universes? Where are the vampires who laugh at a crucifix, the Space Navy with Stars of David proudly painted on the hull of the ships? Imagine the ending for 2001: A Space Odyssey: “My God! It’s full of Jews!”

Or the Jewish immigrants passing en masse through the wardrobe to get to the safe-haven of Narnia, kicking some holy lion butt in the process. No?

Well…

Yes and no.

Joel Rosenberg’s novel Not For Glory (1988) features a galactic corps of Israeli mercenaries from the planet of Metzada (no, really, it does!). And one of the most obscure of science fiction’s Jewish masterpieces (its only one?) is the unjustly neglected The Tsaddik of the Seven Wonders, by Isidore Haiblum, concerning the comic adventures of two galactic operators trapped in Jewish history, and turning to the eponymous Tsaddik (and his travel maven Greenberg) for help. If Rosenberg’s novel is, how shall we say, not so great, Tsaddik is a true classic, one I return to with joy every time (appropriately enough, I have both the English and Hebrew editions, both long out of print).

Israel is enjoying something of an awakening in terms of Jewish fantasy and science fiction. Recently it has produced the first true masterpiece of Israeli SF – the novel Kfor by Shimon Adaf. It is an astonishing novel, following the lives of several characters in the Jewish city/country of Tel Aviv in five hundred years’ time, and combining science fiction, detective fiction, poetry and absolutely wonderful, heart-breakingly beautiful writing. It is unlikely to ever be translated.

Another novel by Adaf, however – the massive Sunburnt Faces – will be published in English next year by PS Publishing in the UK, the same small publisher that had taken such a chance on my own Osama. Small publishers can afford to take risks larger ones can’t, and to me this is nothing less than an event, an opportunity for a new audience to appreciate, for the first time, Adaf’s unique talent.

Do we need Narnia? This is what we ask ourselves after a couple of pints at the pub. What’s the real estate value on Cair Paravel? And just which law firm represents the White Witch’s interest? We picture Maurice Levy from The Wire as he defends yet another faun or centaur caught in the deadly world of illicit Turkish Delight wholesaling.

Let them have their Narnia, I say. We have the Tsaddik of the Seven Wonders, and we now have Shimon Adaf.

And we’ll always have Shatner.

Lavie Tidhar’s most recent novel is Osama (PS Publishing). It has been compared to Philip K. Dick’s seminal work,The Man in the High Castle by both the Guardian and the Financial Times. His other works include steampunk trilogy The BookmanCamera Obscura and the forthcoming The Great Game, all three from Angry Robot Books, the novella Jesus & The Eightfold Path (Immersion Press), and the ground-breaking Jewish fantasy collection HebrewPunk. He grew up on a kibbutz in Israel and has since lived in South Africa, the UK, Vanuatu and Laos. He currently lives in London, and tweets too much.

Kafka Alert

Thursday, December 15, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

It's been a while since we've received Kafka-themed books, but in the past month we've received FOUR. What gives? Not that I'm complaining...

      

     

And, bonus! A trailer for Franzlations:


Double Bonus! Stay tuned for guest blog posts from the editors of Kafkaesque in January

January Twitter Book Club: Alicia Oltuski

Thursday, December 15, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Sharon Bruce

In the middle of New York City lies a neighborhood where all secrets are valuable, all assets are liquid, and all deals are sealed with a blessing rather than a contract. Welcome to the Diamond District. Ninety percent of all diamonds that enter America pass through these few blocks, but the inner workings of this mysterious world are known only to the people who inhabit it.

In her first book, Precious Objects, twenty-six-year-old journalist Alicia Oltuski, the daughter and granddaughter of diamond dealers, seamlessly blends family narrative with literary reportage to reveal the fascinating secrets of the diamond industry and its madcap characters: an Elvis-impersonating dealer, a duo of diamond detective brothers, and her own eccentric and sometimes suspicious father.


With insight and drama, Oltuski limns her family’s diamond paved move from Communist Siberia to a Displaced Persons Camp in post World War II Germany, to New York’s diamond district, exploring the connection between Jews and the industry, the gem and its lore, and the exotic citizens of this secluded world.

Entertaining and illuminating, Precious Objects offers an insider’s look at the history, business, and society behind one of the world’s most coveted natural resources, providing an unforgettable backstage pass to an extraordinary and timeless show.

We are excited to announce Alicia Oltuski as January's featured Twitter Book Club author!

Join the Jewish Book Council and author Alicia Oltuski to discuss Precious Objects on Wednesday, January 18th 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.

JLit Links

Thursday, December 15, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

  • Today is the Jewish Book Carnival over at The Whole Megillah
  • 10,000 NY families unite through books because of PJ Library
  • Moment published a book! Read more about Nine Lives: Favorite Profiles of Famous People From the Annals of Moment Magazine here.

JBC Bookshelf: Yiddish, Mitzvahs, and Cooking

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Did you know that we're less than a month away from revealing the 2011 National Jewish Book Award winners and finalists? The winners have been rolling in over the past two weeks and we're excited to share the news with you at the beginning of 2012! Be sure to check back in January for the announcement. And remember...books make the perfect Chanukah gift. Browse our site for ideas and check out these new ones from the shelf:

The Association of Jewish Libraries Guide to Yiddish Short Stories, Bennett Muraskin (October 2011, Ben Yehuda Press)
You may already know about Sholem Aleichem, but have you heard of Moyshe Kulbak? No? Read up then! This collection provides an annotated summary of more than 130 stories and includes biographical sketches of each of the 43 authors whose works are listed in this volume.

Diasporic Modernisms: Hebrew and Yiddish Literature in the Twentieth Century, Allison Schachter (November 2011, Oxord University Press)
Schachter's discussion includes S. Y. Abramovitsh, Yosef Chaim Brenner, Dovid Bergelson, Leah Goldberg, Gabreil Preil, and Kadia Molodowsky.

Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning, Goldie Milgram and Ellen Frankel, eds. (November 2011, Reclaiming Judaism Press)
As a companion to Mitzvah Stories, Reclaiming Judaism Press has produced Mitzvah Cards. The deck includes 52 cards and one is supposed to draw one weekly for reflection, study, and practice.

Fresh & Easy Kosher Cooking: Ordinary Ingredients -Extraordinary Meals, Leah Schapira (November 2011, Mesorah Publications)
View sample pages from this beautiful new cookbook here.

Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa, David Ellenson and David Gordis (January 2012, Stanford University Press)
What do you get when two National Jewish Book Award Winners get together to write a book...

Hope: A Tragedy: A Novel , Shalom Auslander (January 2012, Riverhead)
We can never get enough Shalom...read a review of his memoir, Foreskin's Lament, here.

Being Compared to Philip K. Dick

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Lavie Tidhar wrote about his fixation on historical figures. He will be blogging all week for JBC and MJL.

Being compared to Philip K. Dick is great, especially when they secretly mean “will die a penniless paperback writer at the age of fifty-three.” In other words, such a comparison doesn’t exactly invite trust.

My new novel, Osama, recently came out. It’s available on the Kindle, and in a fancy hardcover edition from its small, UK-based publisher. It got rejected more times than Andie Macdowell’s character in Four Weddings and a Funeral had sex (“less than Madonna, more than Princess Di... I hope”). One can see why. For one thing, it’s called Osama.

The comparison I mention is, specifically, to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, made recently by reviewers for both the UK’s Guardian newspaper and The Financial Times. Yes, I’m tooting my own horn here. Someone has to! But of course Osama owes a huge debt to Dick’s brilliant alternative history, where the United States has lost World War Two and is divided between the victorious Germans and Japanese.

But I was thinking about Philip K. Dick a lot recently. He’s a constant reminder of Gustave Flaubert’s maxim, “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living.” Forget riches: for that matter, forget holidays, new clothes or a square meal more than once a week. Forget fame, either. Even notoriety is hard to come by these days. And forget respect: you’ll get reviews comparing your work, variously, to processed cheese or toilet paper, and you’ll be glad someone even noticed.

And yet and still. I can’t imagine doing anything better. Maybe I’m a romantic, fondly believing in the image of the artist starving for his art. I often talk about moving to that mythic attic in Paris where I could sit drinking bourbon and punching keys on my typewriter. You know. In the sixties.

I’ll move as soon as someone invented a time machine.

Maybe I’m just putting it on. I’m hardly starving. In fact I could do with losing a few. It’s the sedentary life, you know. You get more exercise from shifting books than writing them.

I commute from the bedroom to the lounge. Writing these days seems to consist mostly of checking your e-mail, Spider Solitaire and Twitter, followed by checking your e-mail again.

Nope. Nothing from Steven Spielberg today either. Red nine on black ten, red five on black six... is it four o’clock in the afternoon already? Where did the time go?

I’d better take another break.

Lavie Tidhar’s most recent novel is Osama (PS Publishing). It has been compared to Philip K. Dick’s seminal work,The Man in the High Castle by both the Guardian and the Financial Times. His other works include steampunk trilogy The BookmanCamera Obscura and the forthcoming The Great Game, all three from Angry Robot Books, the novella Jesus & The Eightfold Path (Immersion Press), and the ground-breaking Jewish fantasy collection HebrewPunk. He grew up on a kibbutz in Israel and has since lived in South Africa, the UK, Vanuatu and Laos. He currently lives in London, and tweets too much.

Book Cover of the Week: Trotsky

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Now in paperback, Robert Service's Trotsky: A Biography

Hip Hop Graphic Novel meets Chanukah

Monday, December 12, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter


Available to buy on iTunes: http://tinyurl.com/drchanukah
All raps, poems, songs etc available at: http://tinyurl.com/dannyraphael
Lyrics available at: http://tinyurl.com/drchanukah1

Notes from the JBC Writing Seminar

Monday, December 12, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

While many of you lounged at home yesterday, JBC and a group of writers and publishing industry gurus spent the day engaging in conversations around publishing Jewish interest books and the process of publication. The day opened with conversations around obtaining an agent and what to do (and not do) when writing a query (David Forrer). Next, Altie Karper (Schocken Books) and Kristine Puopolo (Doubleday Books) talked about the acquisitions and editorial processes, as well as the relationship between the editor and the author. Following a little networking, the group learned the ins and outs of book publicity from Marian Brown and Michael McKenzie and the importance of self-promotion (virtual book tours, twitter, facebook, guest blogging!). From there, we heard from Austin Ratner and Michael Levy about their steps to publication and their experiences with promotion. And, finally, the day closed with a few words from Jaclyn Myers on selling foreign rights and what that means for an author (and an author's pocket). 

While we were thrilled to have so many industry representatives spend the day with us, we were equally excited to hear from the group of authors at yesterday's round table, each of whom have an interesting story to share with the world. A few highlights:

Barbara Krasner's The Whole Megillah features resources for writers of Jewish-themed children's books. Plus, check out her other website here.

Jeri Fink just published her 19th book! Check out her work here.

Phyllis Agins Grode shares some of her short stories online.

Eliot Sefrin's latest novel, Blood in the Promised Land, is now available.

Esther Amini Krawitz recently wrote for The Jewish Week about a Persian-American Thanksgiving.

Darren Pinsker writes for Midstream: "President Obama’s Cairo Speech and the Reset Button" and The Jerusalem Post.

The book trailer for Jeff Oliver's novel, Failure to Thrive, due out in April from DC Books: