The ProsenPeople

JLit Links

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

J Lit Links from around town…

The Job of Being Jewish

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 | Permalink

On Monday, Laurel Snyder blogged on writing a book about inclusion and diversity. She is the author of the picture book Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher. She will be blogging all this week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

For a long time I’ve wanted to write about Baxter’s dedication, which reads: “This book is dedicated to Jerry Sorokin, who offered me a place at the table. But also, this book is dedicated to anyone who ever felt excluded in any way. Which is to say, this book is dedicated to everyone.”

Now—the second part of the dedication is obvious in its meaning. But a lot of people out there have no idea who Jerry Sorokin is, or why Baxter is his book. So I’d like a chance to explain.

Jerry isn’t my husband or my father or my esteemed ex-writing-professor. Jerry Sorokin is the director of Hillel at the University of Iowa. For one short year of my life he was my boss, at the job I only took because I was tired of waiting tables, and because I needed healthcare. It was a year that changed my life in many ways.

I didn’t just grow up in an intermarried home. I also grew up “in the city,” far-removed from most of the suburban Baltimore Jewish community. I didn’t really have any Jewish friends, certainly none in my neighborhood. Then I moved to Chattanooga, where I was one of twelve Jews at my college. With the exception of a semester in Haifa, Jewish practice had nothing to do with community.

By the time I got to Iowa for grad school, my Judaism was something almost entirely inside myself—largely academic. I read Jewish books and watched Jewish movies. I fasted alone on Yom Kippur.

But then Jerry offered me a job, and this huge new world opened up for me—this world of community and support. I was intimidated by all that I didn’t know—the prayers I couldn’t say and the mistakes I made, by the fact that the students knew more than I did. But Jerry made that all seem just fine. He said things like, “You know things they don’t know.” He reassured me in a way that felt like the truth.

So I learned to keep a kosher kitchen. I studied with Orthodox rabbis. I built a sukkah and lit candles every Friday night. I couldn’t believe it! Me–Laurel Snyder! Instead of fasting alone that year, I gave a D’var Torah at Yom Kippur services, and I did it my way. Over a year I learned something I didn’t know it was possible to learn. I learned comfort.

And when I left at the end of the year, to move to Atlanta for personal reasons, I felt terrible. I apologized to Jerry, and he said, “Never apologize for doing what is right for your family.” I remember this clearly.

And that was when I knew he was part of my family too. He taught me that everyone has something to contribute. He made me believe that all these Jewish values we talk about are true, enacted daily in this rich diverse community of Jews.

He made me feel like that was my job too.

Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher comes out this week. Check back all week to read Laurel Snyder’s posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.



How Baxter Came to Be

Monday, August 23, 2010 | Permalink

Laurel Snyder is the author of the picture book Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher. She will be blogging all this week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

When I talk about how I came to write books for children, I often leave out an important part of the story—the miserable failures. There were (and continue to be) many of them. But in particular, there were many failed attempts to write Jewish picture books for intermarried families.

It’s funny, how the memory slips. In recent years I’ve managed to block out these particular manuscripts, because they feel so clunky and heavy-handed to me now. I wrote them a decade ago, when I was only just beginning to think about myself as an engaged Jew, and as a writer for kids. When they didn’t work, I set them aside, and turned my thoughts about intermarriage into an adult book called Half/Life instead.

After that I went on to publish other non-Jewish books for kids. In a sense, I divided my energies into two distinct sets of projects.

But then, through a strange series of events and conversations, I found myself drawn back to the idea of writing for Jewish children. And what happened was interesting — I wrote the book I’d been wanting to write all along.

I didn’t write Baxter to be an intermarriage book. The idea simply popped into my head one day — a kosher pig! It seemed like a silly idea. A fun idea. I didn’t think I could sell it. I was really surprised when I did.

In fact, it was only once the book was done and actually looked like a book that I was able to read it and recognize it for what it was—a book about inclusion and diversity. In some ways it was the happiest moment of my publishing career so far.

It was as though I’d planted a seed in my own mind, and left it alone, then come back to find it had grown into something I’d never have made on purpose. Something less intentional, less controlled than the failed manuscripts about intermarriage. In stepping away from my intent, I managed to produce something that might be of interest for the community I’d intended to write for.

Does this make sense? The other books I’d written — 100% Ruthie and The Queen of In-Between — were too much about my own struggle, as a kid growing up with one Jewish parent. They started from a place of frustration, with an axe to grind, and never quite managed to leave it. Or that’s what I think now, reading them.

Stop back later this week, and see for yourself!

Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher comes out this week. Check back all week to read Laurel Snyder’s posts.

Looking forward to 2011: Quiet Americans

Friday, August 20, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

JBC friend, author, and blogger Erika Dreifus just launched the website for her first work of fiction, Quiet Americans

A high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor in prewar Berlin. A Jewish immigrant soldier and the German POWs he is assigned to supervise. A refugee returning to Europe for the first time just as terrorists massacre Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A son of survivors and the family secrets modern technology may reveal. These are some of the characters and conflicts that emerge in Quiet Americans, in stories that reframe familiar questions about what is right and wrong, remembered and repressed, resolved and unending.

Read more about the book on her shiny, new website, including an excerpt.

An Even More Jewish Dating Site Than JDate

Thursday, August 19, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Alikewise: Dating based on book tastes

Love it.

We skimmed the profiles to find a few Jewy ones:

On Portnoy’s Complaint: “Hillarious, pointy and inteligent narrative. A master of stories and words.”

On The Chosen: “Recommended to me by my friend and former colleague Caroline de Graaf. A coming of age story about the pain of life and the fathers and friends who both cause it and offer relief. The heavy religious references (holocaust, Hasidism, Zionism) are important and interesting to learn, but this novel can also be read for the raw emotions and sensory reactions of religious and secular people alike.”

On The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: “This book ensured Chabon took the number one spot in my list of favorite authors (at least, those still writing). It was hilarious, well crafted, and one of the most really imaginative books I’d read in a long time.

I mean, it’s a noir detective novel taking place in an alternate history where Alaska is a temporary Jewish homeland, involves chasidic organized crime, and the murder of a former chess prodigy. What’s not to love?”

On A Tale of Love and Darkness: “I love the descriptions in this book. There are many which are completely mesmerizing like when he describes books as sexy or his descriptions of relatives and their abrupt way of speaking.”

(via MediaBistro)

Strike a Pose…Yale UP

Thursday, August 19, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Flipping through the pages of the Sept 2010 Vogue, I was pleased to see a familiar book cover…the premiere title in Yale University Press’ new Jewish Lives seriesSarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt (Robert Gottlieb). Read more about the series here and here.

Sarah will be published later this month, with the second title, Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity  (Shmuel Feiner; Anthony Berris, trans.), following in October.

Stay tuned for reviews of both titles in the winter issue of Jewish Book World.

Jewish Authors Conference: Writing for Adult Readers

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

For all the writers out there–

We’ve been working to put together a fantastic, informative conference for both published and unpublished authors. We’re excited to announce that registration is now open! Find out more and register on our website.


Jewish Book Carnival!

Monday, August 16, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

This month’s Jewish Book Carnival was hosted by AJL’s People of the Books Blog. Featured links include “The Top 5 Jewish Book to Film Adaptations”, “Recent Reads- The J-Word, by Andrew Sanger”, and Sylvia Rouss’ “Lessons I Learned When I Wrote My First Book”. View all of the links and participants here.

10 Tips to Cope with the Great Manhattan Shrink Exodus of 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Rachel Shukert blogged about Mad Men, Lenny Bruce style and her status as a Zionist secret agent. Her new memoir, Everything Is Going To Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour, is now available.

Hello crazy people! It’s the dog days of summer. The heat level alone in your apartment would be enough to induce panic, if the strange rash on your shin that won’t go away wasn’t already worrying you and all your friends had mysteriously disappeared to their “beach houses” and not invited you, making your feel paranoid and exacerbating your attachment disorder. And do you know where your therapist is?

No!! She’s disappeared like the children of Hamelin, and you have no idea where she might be, apart from that strange guilty murmur of something that sounded like “Manhasset” when you were clinging to her hand at your last session.

How can they do this to us? It’s not like they’re people, exactly. Why should they get a break from you? You don’t get a break from you! And what the hell are you supposed to do for the next three weeks?

Well, you’re in luck, because I’m here with my Top Ten Tips to Cope with Great Manhattan Shrink Exodus of 2010. And I’m not even going to bill you.

1. Take 12-hour showers. In these over-stimulated times, the humble shower stall is the closest thing we have to an isolation tank. There’s a reason they are used to calm unruly prison inmates. Nobody can bother you in the shower, unless they are there to murder you, a la Psycho. But that doesn’t happen very often.

2. Call your mother. Is your maternal figure of the “What, you forgot you had a mother” variety? Make her eat those words. She’ll always take your calls, and she has to listen to whatever narishkeit you’ve got to dish out — it’s part of the non-verbal contract she signed when she allowed herself to be inseminated with you. Don’t have a mother? Cultivate relationships with your father/literary agent/spouse/cat, and failing any of those–

3. Call my mother. Outside of New York City, therapists stick around through the month of August. My mother, Dr. Aveva Shukert Ph.D, of Omaha, Nebraska, stands ready to take your calls and your insurance information.

4. Retail Therapy. It even has the word “therapy” built in. Sure, the pleasure is short lived and you sometimes throw up when you see your credit card statement lurking in the mailbox and maybe even leave it there for a few days before you can bring yourself to open it, but a few hours in the soothing womb of Bergdorf Goodman does the mind and the soul good. (When I go to Bergdorf’s, I like to pretend it’s my house, and all the other people there are my servants. My shrink and I have not yet discussed this.)

5. Track down your shrink and his family. Show up at their vacation house with your goldfishhanging around your neck in a Mason jar of water and refuse to leave until you have driven your shrink crazy and you become the shrink.

6. Drink. Heavily. And reconvene with a whole new set of issues!

7. Find a therapy “buddy.” Got another friend in desperate straits and needing their 50 minutes on the couch? Take turns playing “shrink and patient” and put all the therapy language you’ve expensively acquired over the past 15 years to good use. It’s sort of like playing “school,” except with pharmaceuticals and abandonment issues (so it’s more like “college.”)

8. Go on vacation your own damn self. It’s shocking, and it may seem impossible. But you can do it. Baby steps.

9. Convert to Christianity. I’ve heard they don’t need therapy unless really bad things happen to them. Maybe it’s a rumor, but it may be worth a shot.

10. No matter what anybody says, don’t publish your new book in August when your shrink is away. That is just truly insane.

BONUS TIP: Make use of storefront psychics and palm readers.  Yes, they are probably charlatans.  But they also tell you a lot of things you already know about yourself, and even with the pricey combo package of healing crystals, zodiac charts, and having your wallet stolen, they still probably cost less than one session on Park Avenue.

Rachel Shukert has been blogging for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council. Read her new memoir, Everything Is Going To Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour.

Charles London Writes for Children!

Thursday, August 12, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Charles London, author of Far From Zion, past NETWORK member, and past JBC/MJL blogger, is coming out with a children’s book this winter called We Are Not Eaten by Yaks: An Accidental Adventure. Read more about the title here from Matthue of MyJewishLearning and view the awesomeness that is his book trailer below.