The ProsenPeople

Mini Round Up: Stern and Orringer

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Steve Stern (Frozen Rabbicreates a playlist for the NYTimes Paper Cuts blog.

Matthue Roth takes a look at Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge for MyJewishLearning.

Rachel Shukert, Zionist Secret Agent

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 | Permalink

On Monday, Rachel Shukert blogged on Mad Men, Lenny Bruce style. Below is her satirical short fiction response to some particularly egregious comments she received after an excerpt from her book was published on

Last week, a certain high-traffic website posted an excerpt from my new book, Everything Is Going To Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour. I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice it to say it had to do with my experience in Vienna and all its attendant Nazi ghosts, literal and figurative.

The anonymous posters in the comments thread were outraged. Some accused me of being an undercover Zionist agent. Others suggested that the Powers that Be (TPTB in Internet speak) had commissioned and planned the release of my book in a transparent attempt to drum up sympathy for the Jews just when the world was beginning to get wise to their inherent evil. One went so far as to deem my book–a mildly amusing travelogue about getting drunk and doing stupid things–as instrumental in conning the American public into invading Iran. Several commenters, to be fair, simply said my piece was the worst and least believable thing they had ever read. Clearly, I was a liar who had made the whole story up. What about the beautiful city of Vienna would possibly make anyone think of Nazis?

Well, my fellow Jews (and any Gentiles who may have found themselves on this blog), I guess the jig is up. After much soul-searching, I have decided to come clean, here to the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning, about the motivation and purpose of my book.


About two years ago, I was flossing my teeth and watching Season 4 Top Chef on DVR when the phone rang. It was Chuck Schumer, then acting President of the Elders of Zion, before leadership passed over to Diane von Furstenberg last spring. (In case you didn’t know, the E of Z presidency passes over in turn to leading Jews from every field, the way leadership of the E.U. passes from country to country. Judd Apatow is next on the docket.)

“Rachel, it’s Chuck,” said the distinguished gentleman from New York. “We’ve got a job for you.”

“Oh no,” I said. “You still haven’t paid me for the work I did personally evicting those 400 Palestinian orphans from their homes in order to make way for Wolf Blitzer’s sodomitical pleasure palace.”

“You never invoiced us,” said Schumer.

“I never invoiced you before,” I countered.

“Blankfein’s getting really strict about that stuff now,” said Schumer. “The major economic recession we’ve been orchestrating in order to consolidate our own power and wealth at the expense of the American worker is about to come to fruition, and we’ll be under scrutiny from all sides. But let me talk to him. If nothing else, we’ll get you some nice stock options from Goldman Sachs. You’ll be very happy.”

“I better be,” I said, “Or I just may go to the Internet forums.”

“There’s no need for that kind of talk, young lady,” snapped Schumer. “Besides, what else are you going to do? I saw your mother at the Zionist Cabal/Casino Night at the JCC in Cherry Hill the other night, and she told me you didn’t have a job right now.”

My mother. Of course she’d been talking to Schumer. It was all make sense. I sighed. “What do you want me to do?”

Schumer favored me with a smug chuckle. “I thought you’d never ask.”

“Well, I’m asking.”

He chuckled again. “So you are. So you are. Well, here it is, in a nutshell. Like I said, we’ve got big plans for the next few years. The recession is coming, and believe me, it’s going to be a doozy. We’ve set up a system that will methodically drain the wealth out of the entire world and into the Elders’ coffers for years to come. Those Real Americans aren’t going to know what hit them. But obviously, this might come with a backlash that could make other parts of our program more difficult; our Transjordanian expansion, for example, or our planned invasion of Iran.”

“I don’t understand the Iran thing,” I said. “Why do we want to do that again?”

Schumer sighed impatiently. “Honestly, Rachel,” he said, “Sometimes I don’t think you even read our newsletters. We’re telling everyone it has to do with Israel’s security. But really, it has to do with oil, and mostly with the fact that we are a malignant race bent on spreading evil and destruction wherever we go.”

“Oh, right,” I said. On the TV, Padma Lakshmi was solemnly intoning the failings of the dishes of Spike and Dale.

“Are you watching Top Chef?” Schumer said angrily. “Stephanie’s going to win the whole thing. Put it on mute.” I obeyed. “Now,” Schumer continued, satisfied, “once this all happens, we’re going to have to drum up some fresh sympathy. Remind people of all the horrible things that have happened to us–if deservedly–over the years. We want you to write a book.”

“Why me? Why not Roth?”

“Roth’s a loose cannon. You never know when he’s going to get all guilty and heavy-handed and start saying everything’s all our fault. Besides, Roth’s getting up there. He’s not going to be around forever, no matter how many swims he takes in that farshtinkener lake of his.”

“Ask his successor then,” I said. “Ask Shteyngart.”
“We thought of Shetyngart,” Schumer said thoughtfully. “We love Shteyngart, and he sure as hell owes us one. But don’t forget, Shteyngart’s a former Soviet. He sticks out. He can’t operate from the inside out, like a third-generation American like you.”

“Fourth,” I said proudly.

“Third,” Schumer insisted, “And frankly, that’s generous. Also, no offense to you or Shteyngart, but we’re looking for someone a little easier on the eyes. 2010, when your book would be released, is going to be the year of the Young Female Memoirist. We’ve got a few lined up already–KlausnerGould–but they don’t have your paranoia, your persecution complex. You’re the only woman for the job.”

I sighed again, the sigh of eternity. “What am I supposed to write about?”

“Well,” said Schumer. “Your mother tells me you spent quite a bit of time in Europe. Why don’t you write about that? Talk about Vienna. The ghosts of the past, all that jazz. Play up the anti-Semitism angle; not too much, but enough to let everyone know: WE HAVEN’T FORGOTTEN AND WE’RE STILL PISSED OFF.”

“But Chuck,” I said, with utmost sincerity, “I literally did not think about the Holocaust once while I was in Vienna. What could have possibly made me think of that? Certainly not the posters of Jorg Haider everywhere, or hearing people say terrible things about the Turks, or the fact that right before I went there I had been staying with my aunt who fled that beautiful and tolerant city as a 5-year-old in 1938? I mean, honestly, I had so many better things to focus on, like Mozart and Schiele and really fancy cake. It never even occurred to me to remember I was in a country which had managed to kill over 90% of its Jewish population comfortably within living memory.”

“So make something up,” said Schumer. “Like Anne Frank did. We got mileage out of that for forty years, and let me tell you something, she did pretty well out of it too. I’m going down to see her at her compound in Boca next week.”

“Give her my best.”

“You’re not going to regret this,” said Schumer. “But remember: we’re only getting you a book deal because you’re a 20-something girl, not because you’re a good writer or have anything to say. So don’t go getting fat and ugly on us, or we’ll find some other self-obsessed, urban, overprivileged Jewish slut to do our nefarious bidding, you understand?”

“Yes,” I said, “although by the time the book comes out, I won’t be a 20-something anymore.”

“I didn’t hear that,” said Chuck Schumer. “Now get writing.”

So that’s what I did. I concocted a wild and totally false story about how being in Vienna reminded me, even in passing, of certain aspects of World War II. I invented a relationship with an older man whose father may or may not have been a member of the Nazi party, if not the Gestapo, which everyone knows is impossible because someone born in 1957 as the youngest child of a large family couldn’t possibly have had a male parent born in say, 1917 or so. (Not that I ever claim this is the case in the book, only that it crossed my paranoid, persecution-complected, plotting Jewish mind.)

I also invented a positively ludicrous story about seeing a yellow Star of David in the flea market, which is impossible because a) such a thing never existed, b) could never have turned up in such a place and c) if it did, it must have been a fake or a film prop that I would have immediately recognized as such, and that any subsequent mental anguish suffered on my part was simply part of a written campaign to rationalize the inexcusable actions of the thuggish Zionist entity and fan the flames for our upcoming War on the Universe.

And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you snooping anonymous Internet commenters.

Rachel Shukert‘s second memoir, Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour, is now available. Check back on Friday to read her final post for the Visiting Scribe.

Joan Holloway’s Tushy is Jewish

Monday, August 09, 2010 | Permalink

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoir Everything Is Going To Be Great. She will be blogging all this week for the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning‘s Visiting Scribe.

Hello! My name is Rachel Shukert. You may remember me from summer camp, where I faked a recurring nut allergy in order to spend most of my time watching Days of Our Lives in the air-conditioned infirmary, but I’m also the author of Everything Is Going To Be Great, my brand-new memoir of the two mostly disastrous years I spent after college living in Europe and disappointing my parents.

This is my very first post for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning blog, and it would probably be a good idea to talk about my book and why I wrote it and what I’m doing for it and why you should buy it. I’ll do that later. Right now, like every other person in New York City, I only really want to talk about Mad Men. But I’m going to do it in the style of a leading comic light contemporary to its early 60’s milieu. For those of you who don’t watch the show, perhaps this will serve as a valuable primer.

For those of you who watch the show but don’t know Lenny Bruce, mazel tov on your high school graduation and look him up. For those of you who are familiar with neither Mad Men nor Lenny Bruce, I don’t know what to say to you. I guess check back tomorrow when I promise to write about my book and/or my feelings.

Here we go!

Dig: I’m Jewish, Don Draper’s Jewish, Pete Campbell is Jewish, Roger Sterling is goyish.

Betty Draper is very goyish. Trudy Campbell, Jewish. Matthew Weiner’s characterization of Betty Draper as an emotionally withholding shiksa goddess trophy wife for a man trying to subsume their his true identity behind a fake name and crumbling façade of masculinity? Very, very Jewish.

Gin is goyish. Rye is goyish, even if the Bronfmans distribute it. Hangovers are Jewish, as is marijuana. Creative is Jewish, Account Services is goyish. Plaid pants are goyish, but the plaid wallpaper in the Drapers’ kitchen is mysteriously Jewish.

Everyone at the old Sterling Cooper is goyish, especially Ken Cosgrove, who’s so goyish he’s practically a swastika. The new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is also goyish, but it’s trying to be Jewish. It’s like a giant conversion class. The buyout by the British was goyish but the episode where the guy got his foot run over by the giant lawn mower was the most Jewish thing to happen on television since Seinfeld went off the air.

Joan Holloway’s tushy is Jewish, very Jewish. Her air of unruffled competence is goyish. Adultery is goyish, but all of Don’s mistresses, with the possible exception of the dippy schoolteacher have been Jewish. Betty’s friend Francine may be casually anti-Semitic, but she is very, very Jewish. Remember what she said about all the Jews she saw on her vacation to Ft. Lauderdale? Switch things up a little and it could have been your Aunt Doris talking about the trip the B’nai Brith Senior Group took to Branson, MO last summer. “We were outnumbered. It was uncomfortable.”

Rachel Shukert’s new book Everything Is Going To Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour is now available. Come back all week to read more.

Jonathan Papernick’s Defense of the Short Story

Friday, August 06, 2010 | Permalink

Jonathan Papernick is the author of the newly published collection of short stories There Is No Other. He recently wrote to us with the below piece on why short stories are more important now than ever.

When I tell people that I have just published my second collection of short stories the reaction more often than not is: when am I going to write a novel? I have nothing against novels; I enjoy reading them as much as anybody, and have in fact, already written and published one. What I find strange is not the fact that readers are encouraging me to write a novel — it is the fact that the accomplishment of writing a collection of short stories is almost entirely dismissed as somehow unworthy. More and more the publishing industry seems to be overcome with a blockbuster mentality in which only a few books can rise to the top of the review pages and the bestseller list, while so many other books are not deemed worthy of discussion.

Publishers and agents love to say that people don’t read short stories anymore; I don’t believe that. What they’re really saying is that short stories do not make enough economic sense for them. It’s true that a successful novel may sell 50,000 or 100,000 copies, and a successful collection of short stories may sell a few thousand. But, readers should not concern themselves with economics, just good, well wrought stories. With less and less time in our busy lives, short stories are the perfect antidote to the workaday world — an expansive, human experience compressed into a package that can be consumed in its entirety in a half an hour, and sometimes in as little as five minutes. Short stories allow us to walk in the shoes of a characters and understand her hopes and fears and dreams intimately without having to make a three or 400 page commitment that may never be met. What better way is there for a reader to understand a young Jewish girl’s sexual dilemma with her crucifix-wearing suitor than to spend four pages in her mind as she works through the complexities not only of her tradition but also of her expectations as a modern young woman, without the reader actually going through the experience herself? How else can we enter the mind of a religious extremist, or an Iraq war vet, or a girl struggling with her weight, or a drug addict or… the list goes on and on. The fact is, we are better people for reading stories, more understanding, humanistic people, able to empathize with those who are not us. This world needs greater understanding, and a well-written short story can pierce the heart like a bullet and stay with a reader for the rest of her life.

The Kindle and other e-book formats make it easier than ever to obtain short stories from online magazines like Narrative magazine and One Story. For the old fashioned reader, One Story also publishes one saddle-stitched pamphlet-sized short story every three weeks that fits perfectly in one’s back pocket or purse — most stories can be read during an average rush-hour subway commute. I’ve recently discovered a great new literary journal called The Drum: A Literary Magazine For Your Ears, which publishes audio versions of short stories that can be easily downloaded to an iPod or iPhone. In the past few years I have certainly come to appreciate micro fiction, stories of 500 words or less, but I’m still having trouble getting my head around Twitter Fiction which is advertised as “Great works of fiction in 140 characters or less.” But, I think I can find the time to let it grow on me.

Due in part to these new innovative ways to bring stories to the reader, I believe that the short story is poised for a renaissance, now it’s up to you, the reader to help make this happen.

Jonathan Papernick is the author of The Ascent of Eli IsraelWho by Fire, Who by Blood, and the new collection of short stories There Is No Other. He will be appearing this summer and fall in farmers markets in New England and New York with his pushcart and his new alter ego Papernick the Book Peddler.

Twitter Book Club: By Fire, By Water

Thursday, August 05, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

Join the Jewish Book Council and author Mitchell James Kaplan in a discussion of the novel By Fire, By Water on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 12:30 pm- 1:10 pm!

About this month’s JBC Twitter Twunch and Talk selection:

In his thrilling debut novel, By Fire, By Water, Mitchell James Kaplan brings to life three simultaneous, cataclysmic historical events: the Spanish Inquisition, the reconquest of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella, and Columbus’s voyage to America. At the center of these events was a real-life historical figure: Luis de Santángel. He was a chancellor to the royal court, friend and financier of Christopher Columbus, and born to a family ofconversos–Jewish converts to Christianity. As Santángel witnesses his family, friends, and associates succumb one by one to the horrors of the Inquisition, he must navigate a world of intrigue, betrayal, and bloodshed before he can find redemption. Amidst a high-stakes story of some of history’s most enduring figures, Kaplan weaves a personal and timely tale of one man’s religious identity and awakening.

Impeccably researched and tightly woven, By Fire, By Water is popular historical fiction of the highest order. Kaplan has crafted a page-turner of intelligence and deep emotion: rich, dramatic, suspenseful, and wholly immersive.

Visit Mitchell James Kaplan’s website for more.

Be sure to keep a close eye on @JewishBook on Twitter throughout the month of August for your chance to win a FREE copy of the book!

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. The “Twunch and Talk” 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 “Twunch and Talk” (def Twunch: A loosely organized open invitation lunch meeting among twitter friends) follow the book club 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.

Get the book and start reading now!

Commission a Painting of Your Bookshelf

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

So glad I read Galleycat today, because I will definitely be ordering one of artist Jane Mount’s bookshelf paintings.

8″ x 10″
Original gouache & ink painting of YOUR bookshelf

This is an original gouache of a bookshelf full of your books (or whoever’s books you want!) on Arches hot press smooth watercolor paper.

It can include up to 16 books of your choice. All you have to do is send me a photo of the full spines of the books together on a shelf, large enough that I should be able to read all the authors, titles and publishers.

If you don’t have them all together you can take photos of them separately and I can combine them, no problem, If you don’t have the books at all that’s okay, too: I might have photos of them already and if not I can get photos of them from the bookstore; it just costs a bit more.

If you are interested in a piece that is 9×12″ and includes up to 22 books, please see this listing:

You can visit her store on here and read more here.

What books would you want on your painted bookshelf?

Ghita Schwarz Talks About Her Debut Novel

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

NETWORK author Ghita Schwarz discusses her debut novel, Displaced Persons, which will be published next week.

Happy Birthday TC Jewfolk!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

A big happy FIRST birthday to our friends over at TC Jewfolk, who are keeping the Jews of the Twin Cities Jewishly informed of the happenings in their neck of the woods. PLUS, they publish all kinds of interesting articles for those of us not lucky enough to reside in the Twin Cities…such as: “diaTribe Reviews: The Tale of the Dueling Jewish Books!," “10 ways to stay awake during Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur services," and “Noshin’: Shabbat Grilling Menu".

Israeli Fiction Round Up

Monday, August 02, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Don’t have the funds to travel over to Israel this fall? Well, we have an easy solution…bring Israel to your home with this great fall line-up of Israeli fiction:

NETWORK author David Grossman – To the End of Land – Knopf, Sep. 2010

Orly Castel-Bloom – Dolly City – Dalkey Archive Press, October 2010 (read the first advance review of the book here)

Michal Govrin – Hold On To the Sun – Feminist Press CUNY, October 2010

Joshua Sobol – Cut Throat Dog – Melville House, October 2010

Rohr Finalist Yael Hedaya – Eden – Henry Holt, November 2010

Yishai Sarid – Limassol – Europa Editions, November 2010

We Received a Beautiful Blogger Award!

Monday, August 02, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Jewish Book Council blog just received a Beautiful Blogger Award from our friends over at the Jewish Publication Society (thanks, guys!).

To claim our reward, we have to share 7 little known facts about the JBC and pass the award on to 7 other blogs.

Here are some facts you may not know about the Jewish Book Council:

1. The Council’s origins date back to 1925, when Fanny Goldstein, a librarian at the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library, set up an exhibit of Judaic books as a focus of what she called Jewish Book Week. That means that we are celebrating our 85th anniversary this year!

2. Over the past seven years, over 1,200 authors have done their two minutes in front of the Jewish Book NETWORK.

3. Over the past 59 years, we have had 539 National Jewish Book Award winners.

4. When the Jewish Book Annual first came out in 1941 it was published in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish.

5. The three authors who have toured to the most places for the Jewish Book NETWORK are Samuel G. FreedmanAri L. Goldman, and Martin Fletcher.

6. When Jewish Book World first began it was a twelve-page pamphlet. Jewish Book World is now a 85-100 page quarterly magazine filled with over 100 reviews per issue.

7. There have only been two artists who have been featured on a Jewish Book Month poster twice: Tobi Kahn and Paul Kolker.

And here are our choices for blogs to receive the beautiful blogger award:

1. MyJewishLearning: A transdenominational blog with great weekly columns, including Best of the Week and Wise Fridays, as well updates on Jewish literature, art, music, food. MyJewishLearning is also JBC’s partner in theAuthor Blog series featured on both blogs.

2. Jewish Literary Review: A blog that covers Jewish writing, philosophy, history and law.

3. AJL Blog: People of the Books: The blog of The Association of Jewish Libraries, an international organization of people who are interested in, and work with, Judaic resources.

4. My Machberet: A blog with write-ups on Jewish news (especially of the literary sort) and commentary.

5. Moment Magazine Blog: A blog that covers wordly topics through a journalistic, independent Jewish lens.

6. Jewcy: An online media outlet/blog, social network, and brand devoted to helping Jews and their peers expand the meaning of community by presenting a spectrum of voices, content, and discussion.

7. Lilith Blog: An independent, Jewish, and frankly feminist blog.