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JLit Links

Friday, December 09, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

  • The latest issue of
  • Erika Dreifus's "Year in Jewish Books"
  • The Daily Beast looks at why Adam Kirsch's Why Trilling Matters reminds us of the power of reading (a review of this title will appear on the Jewish Book Council next week!)
  • Our wonderful Jewish Book World reviewers now have their own pages on our website! When you click on any reviewer's name on our "Books" page, you'll be able to see both a bio and books they've reviewed for us that appear online.

Jews, Non-Jews, and Being Losers Together

Friday, December 09, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Matthue Roth blogged about publishing a real life old-fashioned book and getting up early

Yesterday, I put out a Twitter call: What should I write about? The always-dependable dlevy asked, in reply, "have you talked about responses to your work from non Jewish readers?" I haven't, not yet -- but I also haven't really talked about my response from Jewish readers. (And, sort of on that subject, I could also puzzle why I've gotten such amazing Amazon reviews from readers I don't know -- because, as you know, all Jews know each other -- but the one review that I know is from a friend is, well, nice, but so short.)

Weirdly, if you want to keep a scorecard, I've written two books that are about Orthodox Jews, my first two, and then two books (and a movie) that have nothing to do with Orthodox Jews. I say it's weird because, as I've become more and more fundamentalistly Hasidic, I seem to be writing less overtly about Jews.

What does it mean? And why does my new book Automatic straddle the boundary, telling stories about me in high school, back when I had no idea I'd ever become Orthodox, but sticking in a blurb or two of wisdom from the Vilna Gaon and kabbalah? Here, let me show you:
Every day I remember I’m alive I feel guilty. Some days I sleepwalk through the day and don’t even remember that much. There are kids starving in Africa. There are kids starving a couple blocks from where I live.

The Vilna Gaon says that, if humans weren’t blessed with the power to forget, we would learn all there is to know in two or three years, and there would be no further reason for us to remain alive.

I'd like to think, in my self-assured way, that everyone (Orthodox people, non-Orthodox people, non-Jews) can float with my weird, Paulo Coelho-like digressions, and that they still understand what I'm saying in the first place. Back when I was going to poetry slams every night, people thought of me as "the Jewish guy," even though this was Berkeley and half the room was Jewish -- because I was the one who did poems about being Jewish. I talked about Judaism like the black kids talked about being black, and the Sri Lankan kids talked about being Sri Lankan, and the Palestinian kids talked about being Palestinian. And all my most popular poems were the ones that included the most weird things about religion, and the most Yiddish words:

One night I said to this gay Arab poet, who'd had to leave his country because they wanted to kill him, that we were both in exile, and he said back, Baby, the whole WORLD is in exile. It was the most Jewish thing I'd ever heard. And one of the truest.

Maybe that's the meaning behind Automatic -- it's my little book about my friendship with my Christian best friend, and how Jewish the whole thing was. Or how Irish Catholic it was. Or maybe we're all just talking about the same feelings, and using different metaphors to drive it home. And by "metaphors," I don't mean in that puzzling poetry way. I mean languages. And gods. And ways to digest the whole thing of our lives.

Matthue Roth's newest book is Automatic. He is also the author of three novels and the memoir Yom Kippur a Go-Go, and is an associate editor at His screenplay 1/20 is currently in production as a feature film.

Midrash Manicures: The Torah on Your Tips

Wednesday, December 07, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Sharon B.

Forget those little flowers you used to get painted on your pinkie when you were nine-- join the big leagues of manicure mania with Rabbi Yael Buechler and her Midrash Manicures!

Rabbi Buechler began doing her own manicures as a middle school student in 1996-- since then, she has developed a nail business, Nails & Co., and a website,!

As you can see on her website, Rabbi Buechler has designed manicures anywhere from intricate scenes of Noah’s Ark, to The Ten Plagues for Passover, to famous biblical phrases. Her manicures have been discussed by celebrities including Jon Stewart and Barry Manilow, and websites like the New York Times and

Now, if only someone would develop scratch and sniff polish... 'cause how tasty does that apple look?!

Writers Should Get Up Early

Wednesday, December 07, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Matthue Roth blogged about publishing a real life old-fashioned book. He will be blogging all week for JBC and MJL.

As a glutton for torture (and as a recent parent, which is kind of the same thing), I’ve been taking advantage of early mornings. My kids wake up at 6:30 or so, and I leave for the day-job at 8:00ish — so if I’ve ever dreamed of getting anything done before I leave (ha ha, I said dreamed), I’d better be doing it early.

I often get asked what my best writing times are. Usually I go on for hours — I’m either the best or worst interview you’ve had, if, you know, you’re an interviewer — but that question is simple. Late at night or early in the morning. Partly, it’s because no one else is around to distract you. Partly, I think, it’s that those are the times that are closest to sleep, when your mind is most open and your memories are all jumbled up and free-associating and fictionalizing themselves. Those are the times I started writing Automatic. It’s a book where a lot of things blend together, the people I grew up with and growing up Jewish and working-class and my best friend dying and the music that we were listening to as it was all happening.

Those times are when our inhibitions are at their lowest, too. When you can sort of force yourself to write about all those things that you wouldn’t write about otherwise, unless you were drunk or feeling really intense.

Earliness is in our genes. Abraham was an early riser. He used to pray at the moment the sun rises, and there’s still a tradition that, at the moment the sun clears the horizon, the gates of Heaven are open to any prayer sent their way. One of my favorite bits of Jewish historical apocrypha is this: The first minyan of the morning used to be called the “thieves’ minyan,” since they had to be out early to lie in wait for unsuspecting travelers to pass…and even if you were going to be a thief, you still had to pray.

I remember reading that both Michael Chabon and Salman Rushdie work from 10-3. (I also remember thinking, when I read that, really? They’re both amazing writers, and both masters of the craft, but in my too-hardcore-fanboy estimation, both have gotten a little soft and overconfident with their storytelling. The Chabon who wrote the breathtaking, pulse-stopping first scene of Wonder Boys, I don’t think that could ever have happened at 10:30, between cups of coffee. Same with the page-long description of Saleem Sinai’s nose in Midnight’s Children–which, by the way, I strongly feel should be a mission statement for Jewish writers. Or Jews in general.)

I’m probably venting. Also, I have the luxury of having a day-job and a job writing. Normally, it’s an insane balancing act. But it’s that same stress that keeps my passion intact, I hope. The same way TV shows inevitably go downhill once the two forbidden characters consummate their untouchable lust for each other (Moonlighting, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), great writers always seem to write their greatest books before they get discovered.* I’m not claiming to be a great writer (although I think I’m a pretty good one). But I hope that, relative to the stories I’ve written before, I still have some of my best stuff yet to be written.

*–Or, admittedly, maybe we just claim those books as great, and when they try something else, we inevitably have to compare it, to the new work’s detriment. But all love has to spring from somewhere.

Matthue Roth's newest book is Automatic. He is also the author of three novels and the memoir Yom Kippur a Go-Go, and is an associate editor at His screenplay 1/20 is currently in production as a feature film.

Book Cover of the Week: Seriously, Just Go to Sleep

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The children's version of Adam Mansbach's smash success (coming April 2012)...

Speaking of General Grant...

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Speaking of General Grant and the Jews, have you seen the book trailer for When General Grant Expelled the Jews? If not, check it out below:

JBC Bookshelf: Series, Art, and Fiction

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

It seems like every time I work through the books on my desk a new stack magically appears...

As you can see from the highlights (from the stack) below, two of our favorite Jewish series (Jewish Encounters (Schocken Books/Nextbook Press) and Jewish Lives (Yale University Press)) continue to grow as they continue to address interesting figures and topics in Jewish history in 2012. And, while you wait for the latest in fiction and Jewish series, check out the Visual Art books below--they make wonderful Chanukah gifts!

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, Janet Bishop, et al. (June 2011, Yale University Press)

Find out more about the Steins by watching these videos

Gay Block: About Love: Photographs and Films 1973-2011, Anne Wilkes Tucker (September 2011, Radius Books)
View sample photographs from the book here

50 Jewish Artists You Should Know, Edward van Voolen (October 2011, Presetel Publishing)
The latest addition to the You Should Know series

The Street Sweeper, Elliot Perlman (January 2012, Riverhead Books) 
Watch an interview with Perlman on his latest book

Walther Rathenau: Weimar's Fallen Statesman, Shulamit Volkov (January 2012, Yale University Press)
Served as Foreign Ministry of Germany during the Weimar Republic before he was assassinated in June 1922

When General Grant Expelled the Jews, Jonathan Sarna (March 2012, Schocken Books/Nextbook Press)
Check out these events throughout the spring to hear Sarna discuss his latest work


Tuesday, December 06, 2011 | Permalink

by Elyse Ingber

Jump for joy.  Jump for Jenny.  Jump-A-Thon.  Jump for Colorectal Cancer Research. 

Wait, what? What is all of this jumping?

Through Jewish Book Council, Sid Jacobson JCC engaged Ellen Bari, author of Jumping Jenny, to entertain the children of our Early Childhood Center on November 16. Ellen worked with both the Center for the Arts and the Early Childhood Center directors and teachers to develop a multi-media program to capture the attention of our 2-, 3-, and 4-year olds. The students colored cut-outs of Jenny, the book’s main character, and our pre-sale of the book ensured that they went home with a signed copy. It was an incredibly successful day.

But it wasn’t over!

Inspired by Jumping Jenny, the children decided that, like Jenny, they could use their jumping for good. And so, the Jump-A-Thon was born. On November 30, parents and friends sponsored children at both the JCC and Brookville campus Bernice Jacobson Day School & Camp for a penny a jump in honor of an Early Childhood Center teacher who was recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer. In total, the center jumped 8,812 times and raised over $2,000 for the Colon Cancer Alliance.

There was tzedakah, there was laughter, there was a connection to a book that urged us to make a difference.  And, yes, we jumped for joy.

Elyse Ingber is the director of performance and visual arts at the Sid Jacobson JCC.

Publishing a Real Life Old-Fashioned Book

Monday, December 05, 2011 | Permalink
Matthue Roth's latest book, Automatic, is now available. He will be blogging here for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning all week.

Here's the thing about being both an author and a blogger: It makes you impatient. When I write a rant or draw a cartoon, I scan it in, click a few buttons, and -- zoomba! -- the world gets it. Or, you know, anyone who happens to be looking at my Twitter page at that moment. When I write a book, I send it to my agent, the editor, the publisher, the copy editor, and then, three years later, you can walk to a bookstore and pick it up.

I'm sure there's some Jewish lesson I should be able to glean from this. Like, how Jerusalem wasn't burned in a day or how over a thousand years passed between the time the Gemara was written and the time it was printed up in its first printed version, the Vilna Shas, the kind that we read today, with all the wacky columns and stuff.

Except, not really. Because the Talmud is called the oral Torah, and the essence of a story is in the telling, not when it's written down and printed with a day-glo green cover and sent to a bookstore. There's something about the immediacy of storytelling that the three-year publishing process, which is standard for the industry, has missed out on. And, weirdly, I think the Internet is bringing it back.

So, partly because I'm a naturally impatient person -- and also partly because it's 15,000 words, which is a weird length that's way too long for a short story and way too short for a novel -- I put out this new book, Automatic, and I did it myself.

I didn't just write it in a day. I spent most of a year editing it. I'd probably still be editing it, except that it's sort of about the band R.E.M. (it's also sort of about my best friend dying) -- and, one day a few weeks ago, R.E.M. broke up. It's now or never, I told myself. In the space of half an hour, I'd signed up for a Kindle author account. And then I hit send, just like sending an email -- and, zoomba. I'd published a book.

Amazon is sort of a double-edged sword -- yes, it's crazy that they own half the universe, but it's an author's dream because THEY ACTUALLY SELL BOOKS. People who never go to bookstores, people like most of my family, will click on Amazon and buy a book in a second. (I also put it on Smashwords as a pdf -- also $2 -- if you don't have a Kindle.)

But I'm old-fashioned. I don't own a Kindle and I don't like reading long things online. Plus, I'm a design slut. I like things that look cool, and books that open like toys, and books that smell like books. So I designed a non-Kindle edition that does all the things ebooks will never do -- it has hand lettering and easy-on-the-eyes layouts, and layouts on the page that (hopefully) make you feel like you're luxuriating in something, not just squeezing the words out of a mass-market paperback. (But, I promise, no annoyingly coy stuff or Fun Fonts). I also made a die-cut front cover, because, dammit, books are meant to be touched.


I showed it to my friend/icon/if-I-wasn't-a-Hasidic-Jew-I'd-say-"idol" Richard Nash, who said, "Oh, it's a zine!" And I thought, Oh, yeah -- that's it exactly. Fifteen years after being a teenage zine-maker, using a copy machine at my summer job, I've reverted to being exactly where I started. It isn't glamorous, but hopefully, the product is. And there are worse things in the world. 

I know self-publishing is still a dirty word -- it's like Amanda Hocking said, authors shouldn't have time to do all the stuff involved with publishing; we're too busy being authors. And I've been really fortunate to have people like Scholastic and Soft Skull to take the foot-dragging stuff out of my hands for my big projects. But it's also nice to finger this little handmade thing in my hand and say, dammit, this is mine.

Matthue Roth's newest book is Automatic. He is also the author of three novels and the memoir Yom Kippur a Go-Go, and is an associate editor at His screenplay 1/20 is currently in production as a feature film.

Randy Susan Meyers on her Jewish Book Festival Ride

Friday, December 02, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer's Daughters) talks about her recent Jewish Book Network tour for The Huffington Post:

"Don't forget; Jewish people read an enormous amount," my lovely (and Jewish) literary agent said before my book launch. "We really love books."

I nodded. Yes, I knew that -- at least I knew it in as much as I was Jewish and I read -- as did my mother, my sister, and my daughters, but could I raise that sample to the status of landslide? Discerning what was true in my culture was fraught with difficulty. I grew up with a slight case of anomie, surrounded by a cultural belief that all-things-Jewish equals families-pushing-one-towards-great-achievement, while, among other family oddities, my grandmother taught me to shoplift.

 Continue reading here.