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In Our Time: Book Covers from R. B. Kitaj’s Personal Library

Friday, May 03, 2013 | Permalink

by Jackie Anzaroot

The Jewish Museum has opened a new exhibit titled R. B. Kitaj: Personal Library featuring the work of R. B. Kitaj, famed Jewish American artist and poet (1932 – 2007). The exhibit, which opened April 5th and will be on view until August 11th, features 33 screenprints that are exact reproductions of select book covers from Kitaj’s own personal library. The collection, titled In Our Time, dates from 1969 and, stylistically, draws upon the influences of the Pop and Readymade artistic movements.

Kitaj, a lover of books with eclectic tastes, was himself a poet and author as well as an artist. In 1989 he published the First Diasporist Manifesto, a short book that combines prose, poetry and art to describe how the Jewish diaspora has affected his outlook on art and himself as an artist. Kitaj later followed up the first manifesto with the Second Diasporist Manifesto in 2007, the same year that he committed suicide at the age of 74. Kitaj’s brilliant melding of styles—Pop and Readymade—in his featured art collection was a trend that followed the artist throughout most of his career and is evidently mirrored in the hybridization of rhetoric styles in his literary work. The artist’s tendency to stylistically hybridize both his artistic and literary work is also a reflection of his identity as self-described “diasporist” Jew.

The gallery at The Jewish Museum is an intriguing exhibition and is certainly representational of all the cultural bounty that can come out of being a diasporist. The collection serves not only as a tribute to his beloved library, but also as a reproduction of Kitaj’s personal mementos from his various journeys—both cultural and physical—into different places, schools of thought and philosophies. The screenprints of book covers come from a wide of array of genres and Kitaj’s love of poetry can be seen in his inclusion of one book of Vachel Lindsay’s poetry and in his a reproduction of a cover of one of the volumes of transition, a literary journal that once featured greats such as William Carlos Williams and James Joyce. Some oddities have also been included, such as a cover of an annual budget report for the city of Burbank, year 1968 - 1969, a military intelligence bulletin from 1944, and a medical and public health technical manual. The artist’s interest in Holocaust studies can also be seen in one cover that bears the title, “The Jewish Question” and belonged to a collection of anti-semitic articles published by Henry Ford’s newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, during prewar America, and in another titled We Have Not Forgotten.

As a whole this collection is not overtly Jewish. But there’s a level subtext that suggests a celebration of the artist as both a Jew and cultural observer. There’s the suggestion that it was, in fact, Kitaj’s feelings of Jewish diaspora, of not-belonging to any particular nation and not being attached to any one school or culture, that allowed him to pick his way through different movements, adopt different traditions and assimilate them into his own unique Jewish identity.

Jackie Anzaroot is a graduate of Brooklyn College with degrees in English and Linguistics. She has held internships at Simon & Schuster and is currently interning at the Jewish Book Council.

New Reviews

Friday, May 03, 2013 | Permalink
This week's Jewish Book Council reviews:



 

An Interview with Naomi Alderman

Friday, May 03, 2013 | Permalink
by Ada Brunstein

Naomi Alderman was a finalist for the 2007 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and is a Sami Rohr Prize Literary Institute fellow. Her most recent book, The Liars' Gospel, was published by Little, Brown and Company. Win a copy of The Liars' Gospel here.

Ada Brunstein: What made you want to write this book?

Naomi Alderman: I first thought of the idea for this book about twenty years ago when I was sixteen or so. I was studying both Hebrew and Latin at the same time which gives you two quite interesting perspectives on the same period. And my Hebrew teacher was telling me that there were references to Jesus in some of the ancient Jewish texts of the period. And I said ‘Oh somebody should write a book about this,’ and she said, ‘no no no they shouldn’t; no one should write a book about the Jewish Jesus.’ And of course that kind of strong reaction will make it stick in your mind.

And then it was this idea that would recur to me every Easter when there would be all sorts of things on the BBC about Jesus and Easter and it would just be so simplistic as an understanding of what was going on at the time: there are nasty high priests who did nasty things and Jesus died. It’s so much more complicated than that.

AB: How did you choose the characters you chose for these four gos­pels from among all the characters in Jesus’s life?

NA: They are the ones who spoke to me.

I would have loved to have gotten something out of Mary Magdalene but I couldn’t make her say anything to me.

I suppose the high priest definitely chose himself because that character seemed so neglected and I think he’s my favorite of the four because it just feels like a perspective that I haven’t ever seen.

Barabbas was definitely the last one for me to choose and for a long time I wasn’t sure he was right, but as I thought about it he got more and more right.

Judas also I think basically chose himself. I was very interested in whether I could portray him as somebody who was incredibly sincere in his various beliefs rather than again a pantomime villain character, a blaggard.

AB: Your portrayal of Judas is indeed more nuanced than the way we usually see Judas portrayed. Can you say more about how that charac­ter evolved?

NA: In fact the character note for Judas I got directly from the Gospel of Mark, which is the earliest gospel. This is what you get in the story of how that happened: You have two things juxtaposed right next to each other. There’s the story of how they go to Bethany, or Beith Anya, and this woman comes and pours perfume on Jesus’s head. In Mark it says one of the disciples said ‘why did you let her do that? The perfume could’ve been sold and money could’ve been given to the poor.’ And Jesus gives a really terrible answer. He says ‘why wouldn’t I let her do it? I will not be with you for too much longer, but the poor will always be with you.’ It’s a terrible answer. And then the very next line is ‘and then Judas went to betray him.’ And reading that as a novelist I thought well, ‘one of the disciples,’ that seems like it was obviously Judas and that was obviously his reason. And once you have that as the reason —because that’s quite a challenging question to which Jesus gives an evidently awful answer—that’s the basic note of that character.

Incidentally John, which was written much much later evidently came to the same conclusion as me. So he goes, ‘Judas said why did you let her do it, the perfume could’ve been sold and the money given to the poor.’ And then John adds another bit saying that Judas only asked this because he wanted to steal the money and keep it for himself.’ And you go ‘John, boytchik, you know you’re making that up. You saw what I saw in there which is that if you’re following a man who gives that answer then you can have a reason to feel like you have already been betrayed.’ This is the character note for Judas. He’s a man who betrays but he also feels he’s been betrayed.

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Dr. Ron Wolfson on Cutting-Edge Work in the Jewish Community

Thursday, May 02, 2013 | Permalink
Dr. Ron Wolfson, visionary educator and inspirational speaker, is Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles and a cofounder of Synagogue 3000. His most recent book, Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community (Jewish Lights Publishing), is now available. Earlier this week, he wrote about the future of Jewish institutions in the twenty-first century. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

In Relational Judaism, I report six case studies of organizations and individuals doing cutting-edge work in creating relational communities. Chabad is numero uno. Their first – and most important – “secret” of success: a warm welcome to everyone they meet and an invitation to share a meal, usually in the rabbi’s home and usually within five minutes of the first personal encounter. They practice what I have called “radical hospitality,” a passionate commitment to learning about each and every person they meet. Google “Chabad” and inevitably you will see results that include “no membership fees” and “free Hebrew school.” The truth is that Chabad is not “free.” What they have done is to turn the membership model upside down: instead of asking for dues upfront and then serving the members, Chabad offers hospitality and programming first and then aggressively asks for money. The vast majority of their funding comes from those grateful for their relationship with the Chabad rabbi and his family, almost always non-Orthodox Jews. Does it work? Estimates suggest Chabad raises well north of $1 billion annually.

Hillel is pioneering a relationship-based outreach effort called “Senior Jewish Educator/Campus Entrepreneur Initiative.” College sophomores and juniors are offered stipends and training to reach out to their circles of friends on campus who would rarely be caught inside a Hillel House. They are coached and taught by a full-time senior Jewish educator who also commits the time to reach 160 disengaged Jewish students annually.

Congregation-based community organizing is a strategy to surface concerns among congregants by conducting one-on-one conversations around questions such as “What keeps you up at night?” The conversation itself is a relational engagement experience that some synagogues use to mobilize social justice actions, but just as importantly leads to better connectedness among the membership.

There are several well-known efforts to engage the next generation of young Jewish professionals, among them Moishe House, NEXT (follow up with Birthright alumni), Jconnect in Seattle, and Next Dor – an initiative of Synagogue 3000 to place “engagement rabbis” and community organizers working from but outside mainstream synagogues to connect with young Jews ages 21-40.

No doubt that the social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest have enabled many to create and support relationships among friends and family. Jewish organizations are just beginning to marshal the power of these platforms for building online communities and for encouraging face-to-face communities.

Finally, it turns out the best fundraisers in the Jewish community all agree that relationships are at the heart of securing funding. For Relational Judaism, I interviewed the best of the best, among them Abraham Foxman, John Ruskay, David Ellenson, Arnold Eisen, Jerry Silverman and Esther Netter.

I believe the time has come for us to shift the paradigm of engagement from programmatic to relational. The goal is to build relationships with what I identify as “Nine Levels of Relationship” with the Jewish experience. The strategies are outlined in “Twelve Principles of Relational Engagement.” The six case studies prove that it is possible, that we can revive and strengthen our communal organizations if we put people first and then program for them. It is time for a Relational Judaism.

Check in with Ron at www.facebook.com/relationaljudaism and find additional JBC-reviewed titles by him here.

Maintaining Jewish Roots in the Military

Wednesday, May 01, 2013 | Permalink

by Elise Cooper

Although there are many themes to Alison Buckholtz’s book, Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War, one that stands out is the importance she places on her Jewish faith. She and her family relocated to the small town of Anacortes, Washington after her husband began a three-year assignment. She gives poignant examples on how Judaism helped her endure the hardships faced while her Navy husband, Scott, was deployed overseas.

The most heart-felt scenes involve her discussion on how she tried to instill the Jewish faith in her two young children, Ethan and Esther. The author explained that as a mom she faced challenges of being Jewish in a predominantly Christian military since proportionally there are far less Jewish members in the military than in the general population. She said in our interview, “I was concerned when I heard we were going to move to a remote area. How could I instill in my children Jewish traditions and values? Everything I had growing up, a Jewish education and time spent in Israel, did not leave me qualified to teach my children Jewish education. I was hoping to depend on Jewish organizations for that.”

The author devoted a whole chapter in the book on how she came to grips with living in Anacortes, Washington, while trying to maintain her Jewish roots. She writes, “Judaism is a religion that greatly values community, and none of us wanted to go it alone.” When she found out that the closest synagogue was a three hour round trip, she telephoned the chaplain’s office, hoping they had some ideas. To her horror, she was given the name of a Messianic synagogue. Alison noted, “I later learned that messianic Jews are attempting to infiltrate the military in order to target Jewish personnel for evangelization. My head exploded when I found that out and realized that Jews, like myself, who called the base for help were directed to this organization whose primary goal was to convert them to Christianity.” Through her efforts, the Navy chaplain on the base responded with a sense of urgency, striking the contact from the reference list.

Unfortunately, her problems of wanting to instill a Jewish identity in her children were not solved, and eventually Scott, Esther, Ethan, and Alison had to go it alone.They made the Jewish holidays special, which included finding a place to pray on a remote trail. As for the children, she improvised by using DVDs and CDs to teach them about their Jewish history. The Chabad representatives, closest to where the family lived, helped out, including reading the Megillah on base during the Purim holiday.

Her tenacity never stopped as she continued to search for other families with whom she could share the holidays. Eventually, a group was formed with Alison as the "CEO," organizing the Hanukkah Party, the Passover Seder, and making sure that all the families would convene for every major Jewish holiday.

What is especially poignant for any Jewish American reading this story is the blending of her experiences with her Jewish identity, many times with humor. For example, she wrote in the book, “I found it hard to believe we would have a snowy Passover; that kind of thing just doesn’t happen to desert people.”

In Standing By, Buckholtz also intertwines military life with her Jewish values. Unfortunately the War on Terror does not stop, even for solemn holidays such as Yom Kippur. As Scott left on Yom Kippur morning, Alison opened her prayer book and turned to the Unetaneh Tokef, a religious poem whose verses included “Who shall live and who shall die…who by water and who by fire.” She commented that her immediate thoughts were that Scott must fly jets on and off aircraft carriers and that phrase “sounded unthinkably cruel.”

She also writes about an incident, relating the American flag to a prayer book. “Then, one day, the heavens poured. I looked out from my bedroom window and saw the flag, soaked and heavy, drooping in the rain. I felt disrespectful, even guilty, as if I had left a prayer book outside.”

During our interview she reflected on how Judaism became relevant in her life, especially during Scott’s deployments. For her, it brought the traditions into the current day. There is a powerful passage in the book where she discusses the grief of separation and turns to her marriage contract, the ketubah for strength, “At the end of the long road…she saw him standing, waiting, for her, watching for her through the night.”

Further, she discusses the importance of a mitzvah. Alison writes, “A rabbi told me once that it’s critical to take care with small good deeds as with obviously important big ones.” She did that by performing a mitzvah, organizing fellow military spouses to report for duty, to come together to help and support one another. Alison felt a part of a team, a mitzvah committee, which performed their magic of kindness for that person in need.

Standing By, coming in paperback tomorrow, is a powerful book that shows how Buckholtz attempted to lead a normal Jewish life in a very abnormal situation. She stated in the interview, “A lot of times I turned to my Jewish values and experiences for comfort. In the midst of being surrounded by unfamiliarity it helped to bring back home something that was part of me.” Readers will understand her pressures, joys, rewards, and stresses, as she attempted to maintain a Jewish identity for herself and her family while living in a military setting.

Related: A Chanukah visit to the White House with Alison Buckholtz

Elise Cooper lives in Los Angeles and has written numerous national security articles supporting Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A's for many different outlets including the Military Press. She has had the pleasure to interview bestselling authors from many different genres.

JBC: A New Home for Your Book Club

Wednesday, May 01, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Miri Pomerantz Dauber

You already know that JBC's website is a great place to find book reviews, blog posts from authors, reading lists, and news from around the Jewish book world, but did you know that JBC now has a dedicated section (and staff person!) to give book clubs that little bit extra? JBC's new book club section puts reviews, discussion questions and reading lists all in one place, offers weekly book picks chosen with book clubs in mind, and has introduced two new servicespersonalized book recommendations and the chance for book clubs to video chat with authors!

Want to have the author at your next book club meeting and find out just what they meant with that ending? Register for JBC Live Chat! Do you dread coming up with suggestions for your next book? JBC will do it for you!

This is just the beginning...still to come: more readers' guides, sample reading lists, special features from the authorsnew discussion questions, character maps, background info, etc.book reviews from other book clubs. 

Check back frequently; the pageswhich will be changing and growing every week to feature new books, new ideas, and new programsgive book clubs a one-stop-shop for selecting a book and starting a conversation.  

Is there something that would really help your book club? Let us know, we'll see if we can add it. Questions, comments, suggestions, or just want to talk book clubs? Email Miri Pomerantz Dauber at bookclub@jewishbooks.org.

Interview: Helene Wecker

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 | Permalink
by Dani Crickman

Helene Wecker is the author of the The Golem and the Jinni. The debut novel follows the converging stories of two mythical creatures who must find their place within turn-of-the-century immigrant New York.

Dani Crickman: I love the simplicity of the title The Golem and the Jinni and how well it encompasses the story. How did you come up with the title? Were there any others you considered?

Helene Wecker: The title never was anything other than that in my mind, from the first twelve pages that I wrote which was back when I was at Columbia and it was for a workshop. I thought it would be a children's book or a novella or something short, and it had that fairytale feel to it. It was meant to have a simple title, like those of the stories from The Thousand and One Nights.

When it started to become apparent that this was going to become a long, more adult book, and it was going to take me a while to write it, I had a number of people tell me, “You're going to have to change the title before it gets sold. No one knows what a golem is, not as many people know what a jinni is as you think.” There were a couple of times when I started to think of other titles, and I just couldn't come up with anything. Everything was too vague or metaphorical. Later on, my editor, my agent, and I were all working on titles, and we still couldn't come up with anything. For some reason, this book was just completely resistant to any other title. So that was what we ended up going with. It's a conundrum we resolved by not doing anything about it in the end.

DC: The golem and the jinni have believable personalities that are both admirable and flawed, as well as opposite yet compatible to each other's. Was it difficult to find characterizations for them that worked?

HW: Yes, it was. During the seven years it took me to write the book, it went through a number of iterations, and the characters themselves went through a number of iterations. Especially the golem. At first she was very much more like an automaton. She had her own free will, but she had much less insight into other people. Her ability to hear other people's desires and fears was added in three or four years after I start­ed writing the book, because it was clear that she did not have enough agency. She did not interact very well with other characters because she didn't understand them well enough, and because of that she wasn't as interesting a character herself. It was like watching a robot move around and have to learn about people, which could be an interesting story, but it wasn't enough. Not for this.

The jinni was also hard to pin down because I wanted him to be ar­rogant and mercurial without being a total jerk. I wanted him to still be someone a reader could relate to or be interested in. With him, it was finding that balancing point. He was fun to write, in that it's sometimes fun to write the bad boy, but I didn't want to go to nuts with that.

They both took some fine-tuning, and it helped to think of them in relation to each other. They weren't created in a vacuum. I was thinking, How am I going to get them to spark off each other? What about the one is really going to piss off the other?

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Dr. Ron Wolfson on the Future of Jewish Institutions

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 | Permalink
Dr. Ron Wolfson, visionary educator and inspirational speaker, is Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles and a cofounder of Synagogue 3000. His most recent book, Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community (Jewish Lights Publishing), is now available. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

As I travel around the country visiting Jewish institutions of all kinds, my "worry" quotient is growing daily. Nearly everywhere I go, I hear stories of declining membership, difficulties in attracting the next generation, peaking enrollments and flat fundraising campaigns. This is unusual for me; I have been an optimistic cheerleader for the Jewish community during my career. Bottom line: I am not worried about the future of the Jewish people; I am very worried about the future of Jewish institutions.

What's happening? In Relational Judaism (Jewish Lights Publishing), I outline the many challenges facing any Jewish organization seeking to engage people. A "biggy" is the Internet. Once upon a time, rabbis and Jewish educators held exclusive access to the wealth of Jewish practice and tradition. Not today. In the zeitgeist of DIY - "Do It Yourself," the Internet offers enormous resources for just about anything someone wants to learn or do. Another challenge: why should I pay thousands of dollars in membership fees if I can "rent-a-rabbi" to do a backyard Bar/Bat Mitzvah? In the larger Jewish population centers, there are plenty of rabbis who cannot find work in established congregations hanging a shingle and offering their services as independent contractors. Jewish Community Centers face increasing competition from well-equipped health clubs open 24/7. Day school tuition is so high it is pricing out a large segment of those who would like to send their kids.

All this begs the central question facing Jewish institutions: "What's the value-added of joining?" If the "offer" of affiliation is not truly attractive, I am afraid the membership base will continue to narrow as young people find alternative ways to "do Jewish" and aging baby boomer/empty nesters opt out.

For me, the value-added must be a face-to-face community of relationships that gives my life meaning and purpose, belonging and blessing. "Meaning" is an understanding of the significance of life. "Purpose" is an imperative to do what you are put on earth to do during your life. "Belonging" is a community of people who will be there for you and with you. "Blessing" is a feeling of deep satisfaction and gratitude, a calendar and life cycle of opportunities to celebrate the gifts of life.

In my research for writing Relational Judaism, I searched for organizations and individuals who "get" this, who understand that building relationships, not simply offering a calendar of programs, is the task of the moment. The book presents six case studies: Chabad, Hillel, congregation-based community organizing, next generation initiatives, social media and fundraisers. In my next posting, I will share some lessons learned from their pioneering work, work that I believe is the forward edge of creating a Relational Judaism for the twenty-first century.

Find additional JBC-reviewed titles by Dr. Ron Wolfson here.

Interview: Jessica Soffer

Monday, April 29, 2013 | Permalink

by Penny Metsch

Jessica Soffer's debut novel, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April 2013.

Penny Metsch: Every aspect of your story is so timely, yet so enduring. Issues of immigration, parenting, teenage angst, and food, wonderful, beautifully prepared food, are with us every day. Yet, you have given us a fresh view of it all. The characters are each compelling in his or her own right, but also inter-woven like a precious rug. How did it all come together?

Jessica Soffer: That’s a really generous way of describing the book. Thank you so much. I didn’t think too terribly much about those con­cepts while writing. For the most part, I am inspired by characters and by images. The story was born from Lorca (a teenage pain addict, whom I’d written a story about while I was in graduate school) and an image that suddenly came to me and persisted: two people—an old woman and a young girl—cooking together in a kitchen. What grew out of that, around that, was a way of situating those elements.

PGM: Victoria and Joseph are Iraqi Jews. Their immigration journey has a very personal connection to your family’s history. Would you elaborate?

JS: My father was an Iraqi Jew who came to the United States at roughly the same time that Victoria and Joseph (two characters in Apricots) did. At one time, and for a very long time, the Jews in Baghdad flourished. They were the sophisticates, the intellectuals, a huge and important part of the political and cultural landscape. But after the Brits left Iraq in 1942, there was turmoil and instability—and the Nazis took advan­tage of that. Everything changed. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, 120,000 out of 135,000 Jews fled. First, before 1947, legally and safely. After, they were given the option to leave everything—their passports, belongings, everything—and be airlifted to Israel. Most did. My father didn’t. He went through Iran, into hiding, and eventually was given false papers, which enabled him to travel to Ellis Island.

PGM: I think I will remember Lorca for as long as I read. Her yearning for love and her self-mutilating response at rejection is heart wrench­ing. Did you ever know anyone like her?

JS: What a lovely thing to say. Thank you again. I knew some cutters growing up, but no one intimately. I was never present when they cut, nor was I ever in a position to intervene, which I am grateful for. But self-harm is an epidemic and one that has always interested me. In a lot of ways it’s the opposite of escapism. It’s an attempt to feel, to inhabit one’s body, the world, more. And feeling more is at the heart of what good writing should do, force us to inhabit another person’s life, another world.

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Digging Deep into the Soul in the Heart of Iowa

Monday, April 29, 2013 | Permalink

We prompted this year's Sami Rohr Prize awardees to write about "how they came to write their book." Over the next several weeks, we'll share their responses. Today, Stuart Nadler discusses how he came to write his short story collection The Book of Life.

I wrote all but one of the stories in The Book of Life while I was at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I hadn’t gone to Iowa thinking I would leave with a collection. In truth, I hadn’t even realized I was working on a collection until most of these stories were finished, and I recognized, looking over everything, that there was so much common ground in the work, places where the stories touched and diverged, characters who shared the same anxieties and concerns. As a reader, what I love most about short story collections is that, invariably, they represent in some way an author’s preoccupations and obsessions. And this, surely, was true about me and the stories in this book.

A good deal of The Book of Life is about family—fathers and sons, brothers, husbands and wives—and about the sins people commit against the people they love most. Invariably, I’ve come into the lives of these characters at their very worst mo­ments. In one story, a father reacts poorly to his son’s sudden interest in Judaism, while trying to exist in an open marriage. In another, a father takes his son to meet his own estranged father, a man he’s pretended has been dead for decades. I was on a treadmill at the gym when the idea for this story came to me. It’s the only time this has ever happened: the whole story, in its entirety. In "Catherine and Henry" a woman, unsure of her boyfriend’s faithfulness, tests him with a prostitute. This was the story I was working on when I came to the Workshop. I’d end up rewriting it for six years before it was published.

I was already fixated on the central ideas in this book by the time I arrived in Iowa: sin and redemption and the way these transgres­sions intersect with religion, or a lack of religion. I have never been particularly observant, but that first autumn, when the High Holidays arrived, I found myself taking bread down to the Iowa River to celebrate tashlich. In Hebrew, tashlich means “casting off.” It’s a simple exercise, in which you take pieces of bread and throw them into a river, an act that is supposed to symbolize casting off a year’s sins. The idea comes from the prophet Micah, who says that God “will cast all our sins/Into the depths of the sea.” I had never done this before, or even heard of the practice before I did it, and, to be entirely truthful, I haven’t done it since. The title of my book comes from the part of the High Holiday liturgy that has always been my favorite: On Rosh Hashanah It is Written, On Yom Kippur It is Sealed. The idea of a book of life has always fascinated me, as has the generous notion that its pages are opened fresh every year, and that one’s private sins can be forgiven communally.

This—On Rosh Hashanah It is Written, On Yom Kippur It is Sealed—was the initial title for the first story in my book. In it, a man has an affair with his best friend's grown daughter. I wrote the first draft of this story over the course of a frigid week in February. In many ways, the story was a breakthrough. Here was what I had been looking for. How people react when they’re tempted. How people suffer at their missed opportunities at love. How they seek out their faith, even if, as it is true for almost all of my characters, they don’t know or remember how to connect with that faith. The rest of the stories came quickly after that, and when I left Iowa that spring I had a bigger, baggier version of what this book would become. In the end, putting the book together was a process of assembly, and what remained after all the cutting and discarding and revision was the core of that initial preoc­cupation of mine—these characters who are cheaters and adulterers and liars and bad parents, bad brothers, bad friends, all of them trying to negotiate theirs sins and their guilt.

Stuart Nadler is a recipient of the 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was awarded a Truman Capote Fellowship and a Teaching-Writing Fellowship, he was also the Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. He is the author of Wise Men, and the story collection The Book of Life.