The ProsenPeople

Book Cover of the Week: FARM 54

Thursday, May 26, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Published today by Ponent Mon: Galit and Gilad Seliktar’s FARM 54:

Awesome Book Trailer Alert

Thursday, May 26, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter


BEA 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

We have a lot of NETWORK author updates for you…but that will come next week. For now…a glimpse at BEA 2011:


The Never Ending Book

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 | Permalink

On Monday, C. Alexander London wrote about being an accidental adventurer. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe.

By far the question I am asked most often by my young readers is, as well as by teachers and librarians: “When does the next Accidental Adventures book come out?”

It’s a flattering question for an author, and one of the many blessings of writing series fiction. If the characters and the story resonate, readers will demand more. Having only published the first book (We Are Not Eaten By Yaks) in a planned quadrology about the TV-addicted children of world famous explorers, it is gratifying to know that readers are eager for more.

The hype surrounding The Hunger Games trilogy or The latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book or, of course, the mother of them all, Harry Potter, shows just how eager fans of a popular series can be for its continuation. Younger readers, who struggle with the constant state of change and loss that is childhood, yearn for familiar characters and the persistent worlds that exist in well-made series. It’s only natural. There is a sadness that comes with finishing a beloved book, whether you’re the writer or the reader.

“I grow fond of these characters I bring into being,” the acclaimed English novelist, David Mitchell, told an interviewer, explaining why he brings some characters back in book after book. “In my adult life I have spent more weeks in [their company] than I have with my own flesh-and-blood parents or brother. Letting them dissolve into nothingness feels too much like abandoning an inconvenient cat by a reservoir.”

This dissolution into nothingness is feeling well known to readers, the hollow feeling when the pages have all run out; the longing for more time in that imagined world when the author has no more to say.

Series books can keep this dissolution at bay, for both reader and writer, for years at a time. It was easier to bear sending Harry Potter back to the Dursleys when you knew he’d be back at Hogwarts in the next publishing cycle.

Of course, there is a dark side to the love of these series. A recent article in the New Yorker, “Just Write It,” about George R. R. Martin, the author of the Song of Ice and Fire trilogy, describes the madness that can descend on fans when the next book in the series is delayed, how adoration can quickly turn to resentment and the toll that can take on an author’s relationship with his readers.

It can be painful for an author, struggling to deliver. The more successful the series, the more pressure the storyteller is under to meet the needs and expectations of fans. And for the fans, there is always the lurking sense of the doom that their beloved world—whether it be Hogwarts or the conflict-ridden districts of the Hunger Games—must come to an end. After the 7th Harry Potter book, many people I know felt a real and profound sense of loss.

There is, however, a technology that has shielded the readers of one series from this sense of loss: Simchat Torah, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the completion of the reading of the five books of Moses.

Every year, Jews read aloud these holy books and every year, at the end of the reading of the fifth book, Deuteronomy, Moses dies. Moses is the closest person that Torah has to a protagonist and, by some accounts, is himself the author of the whole shebang, or at least, the amanuensis for the Creator. And then boom, he’s dead, after a year of reading and study that has created more arguments than 1000 Tolkien message boards combined.

So what do the Jews who have been reading this series with more faith and fervor than even the most die-hard Twilight fans do to prevent that devastating feeling of completion?

They party and they start over.

Simchat Torah, which celebrates the end of the annual reading of the Torah, also celebrates the beginning of the annual reading of the Torah. After finishing the final passages of Deuteronomy, the first passages of Genesis are read.  The last breath of Moses goes right into the breath that creates the universe, that brings light into darkness and sets off what is, for believers, the first story ever told.

And then, to top it off, there’s dancing.

That empty of feeling you get when you finish a really good book doesn’t ever come, because you never finish. You read it again, and you dance. When the Rabbis are faced with the inevitable “what next?” they can answer with the creation of the world.

This didn’t happen by accident. It was in the 14th century that the idea of going right into the book Genesis after Deuteronomy was introduced. It was an innovation to give comfort at the end of reading and an affirmation that study and learning of Torah never ends.

As a thoroughly secular author, I do not pretend to have illusions of holiness for my books—there are wedgies and lizard poop and talking yaks, after all—and I don’t think my books could bear 2,000 years of rereading (maybe 200?), but Simchat Torah, does offer some help for secular authors and readers.

We rely on our own sages of literacy—librarians and teachers—informed, professional, and sensitive to the needs of readers, to find their own innovations to keep the cycle of reading going. There are summer reading campaigns and parties; there are new social websites for book lovers; there are always new series to discover.

No beloved series can last forever, but a reading life can, as one book breathes into another.

C. Alexander London is the author of We Are Not Eaten By Yaks: An Accidental Adventure, and the forthcoming sequel, We Dine With Cannibals. As Charles London, his grown-up alter ego, he wrote One Day The Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War and Far From Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community.  

The Wandering Jew and The Yeti

Monday, May 23, 2011 | Permalink

C. Alexander London is the author of We Are Not Eaten By Yaks: An Accidental Adventure, and the forthcoming sequel, We Dine With Cannibals. As Charles London, his grown-up alter ego, he wrote One Day The Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War and Far From Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community.  He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe.

It’s odd that a middle grade novel called We Are Not Eaten By Yaks about two eleven year old couch potatoes and their adventures should have its origins in a personal quest for Jewish meaning, but if I had not been for the scattering of the Jewish people, I never would have been in Rangoon to celebrate the High Holidays with a few of the last Jews in Burma, and I never would have written it.

I suppose I should start at the beginning, before I became a writer of books for younger readers.

I was in Asia doing research for what would become Far From Zion, a narrative of my journey through the far reaches of the Diaspora to figure out what it meant for me to be a part of the Jewish people. What did I have in common with a Jew in Rangoon? What did he share with a recent convert in rural Uganda? And what did all of us share with a Jewish community in Arkansas or with my Orthodox great-great grandfather who settled in Virginia or with the nephew of a Chasidic Rabbi in Jerusalem? What bound us together; why did Jewish community persist, and what was my place in it?

I took a trip, starting in Burma, to find out.

At the time, however, thousands of monks and pro-democracy protesters were clashing violently with government soldiers all over the country, and on Yom Kippur, things in Rangoon started to get crazy. I literally walked into the middle of the protests in front of a sacred Buddhist shrine in the center of downtown. Within twenty-four hours, the military junta, which controls Burma (and which they had renamed Myanmar) sealed off the country, shut down the internet and scrambled all western television. No CNN. No NBC. No Cartoon Network. And I really missed it.

Even as things were going insane in the streets, TV somehow made me feel safer, more comfortable, less far from home. After only a month, I was tired of traveling and chaos and excitement. I got out of the country just when things started to get violent in Burma and I flew to Mumbai, India in the middle of the festival of Ganesh. Fireworks and pink paint everywhere. Crowds of pilgrims and partygoers on every corner.

I was so over it.

I was homesick already and I had a year of travel ahead of me to places like Uganda, Bosnia, Iran, Cuba and, yes, even Arkansas. My friends and family were often jealous because I was always in some far-off place having some crazy adventure—family members pictured me as a cross between Indiana Jones and Woody Allen—but all I wanted was to be curled up on the couch at home watching TV.

It was on that first flight out of Rangoon (and a series of others as my year of wandering unfolded) that I imagined these two eleven year olds, Oliver and Celia Navel, who just want to be left alone to watch television, but are doomed for a life adventure. They lived at the Explorers Club and are the children of world famous adventurers, inheritors of a great tradition of globetrekking, with which they want nothing at all to do.

When we meet Oliver and Celia in the first book in the series, they wish they could cast off that inheritance and just be the normal children of boring parents. But their mother has gone missing; their father craves excitement, and they are doomed to travel the world, to encounter mystics and sages, discover ancient ruins, and come face to face with the mythic Yeti. They cannot cast off their destiny!

And they are so over it.

I guess there is something Jewish about that. After being forced to wander for thousands of years, the Jewish people too, were so over it.

Of course, Moses never had to fight a Yeti.

C. Alexander London is the author of We Are Not Eaten By Yaks: An Accidental Adventure, and the forthcoming sequel, We Dine With Cannibals. He will be blogging all week for the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

Book Cover of the Week: The Book of Life

Thursday, May 19, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Coming in September from Reagan Arthur Books/Back Bay Books: The Book of Life (Stuart Nadler):

Philip Roth = Michael Jordan? Almost.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Earlier this morning, Philip Roth was announced as the Man Booker International Prize winner (which carries a £60,000 prize!). Looking for the Michael Jordan connection? Read more over at Jewcy.

(Bravo PR!)

Tune in to hear Deborah Lipstadt TODAY

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Pull up to those radios, folks. Deborah Lipstadt will be on Talk of the Nation @ 3:40PM today to explain why she believes it remains imperative to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Read more at NPR here.

Memory, Scent, and My Mother

Friday, May 13, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Molly Birnbaum wrote about her first writing teacher and the scent of Passover. She has been blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe.

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day. In celebration, my mom and I went out to lunch. We ate crisp salads and tuna sashimi. We laughed a bit too loudly, tipsy after a glass of white wine. Before that we had been shopping, trying on summer dresses and sandals with straps twisting up our ankles—a little too hopeful for the immediacy of warm weather as we listened to a chilling thunderstorm soaking the streets outside.

I write about my mother in my book, Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way. After all, she took care of me after I was hit by a car while jogging in 2005 – the accident that broke my pelvis, tore the tendons in my left knee, and fractured my skull; the one that ultimately robbed me, an aspiring chef, of my sense of smell. In the months of my recovery, I found it devastating to not be able to perceive the scents that had once been so closely aligned with my memories of my mother: the smell of her lilac perfume, of her rosemary-mint shampoo, of the chicken dish she used to make with dried cherries and cream. I understood the importance of scent in terms of taste and flavor. But I had not realized how intrinsically it is tied to memory and emotion, too.

I’m lucky, though, I know: I recovered from all of the injuries I sustained in the accident. My sense of smell slowly returned—once scent at a time, over the next six years. And all the while, my mother was there—supporting, comforting, helping me to move on. I’m incredibly lucky to have her, too.

During lunch, my mother and I watched the rain come down in torrents through the tall and airy windows of the restaurant. It was cozy inside, warm with the scent of yeast rolls straight from the oven, and the taste of a fruity white wine lingering on the back of our tongues. Instead of immediately leaving to face the weather once again, we decided to linger over coffee and dessert. We shared apanna cotta. It was silky and smooth, laced with vanilla, and topped with fresh strawberries, which were an almost neon red. Very little has tasted better.

Molly Birnbaum’s Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way is now available.

The Scent of Passover

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 | Permalink

On Monday, Molly Birnbaum wrote about her first writing teacher. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe.

On the first night of Passover, my boyfriend and I attended a seder on the grounds of a mental institution.

That sounds strange, I know. But that’s where my aunt and uncle live: in a new condo development on the campus of an old hospital, one of the many developments constructed over the last few years in this surprisingly popular real estate hot spot. And as we drove our car up the road leading to their home, I thought of the complicated mental landscape surrounding this land, of the myriad diagnoses and dramas that had run their course on the surrounding acres. And you know what? It felt fitting.

Not that my family is crazy.

They’re just quirky. And dramatic. And loud.

Like any Jewish family—like any family at all, really—my family has eccentricities. We have whimsical retellings of our past. These traits seem to come out around the holidays, of course.

And I love this about them. I love them very much. But that didn’t make it any easier the first time I brought my new boyfriend, Matt, to his first seder in their company, now three years ago last month. That seder was in upstate New York, before what has become a mass exodus to Boston, where we all seem to live now.

Matt, who was raised Protestant, had never been to a seder before. He had never tried Manischewitz. Or gefilte fish. He’d never heard the Four Questions, or attempted to sing poor translations of Hebrew prayers. He gave it a great shot, though: One of the many reasons I love him; one of the many reasons I followed him from New York to Boston when he was accepted to a graduate program at Harvard, even knowing that my entire extended family would be right around the corner from our new home. Matt loves gefilte fish. And thus, my grandmother loves him. Who woulda thought?

This year, when Matt and I walked into my aunt and uncle’s condo, I had a fluttering feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was nervous. I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was because two of our friends, a married couple named Charlie and Marie, were joining us, and they were a new addition to the crew. Perhaps because this was the first Passover spent together as a family in Massachusetts. The first away from the state many of us had called home.

But the kitchen smelled like brisket, which my stepmother, Cyndi, had been cooking for hours. There was matzoh ball soup simmering on the stop top, and salads vibrant with green spinach and purple cauliflower already lining our plates. The horseradish was neon pink, and the charoset an earthy brown. Just like before.

My grandmother had made the gefilte fish from scratch, like she’s done for decades, even though she’s now in a wheelchair and can no longer reach the kitchen shelves. My cousin, Jenn, had cooked a matzoh kugel, sweet with currants and rich with eggs. It was studded with apples and apricots, laced with cinnamon and sugar. It smelled like breakfast, but also dessert. It reminded me of the noodle kugel my mother used to make when I was a kid, before my parents divorced.

As we sat for the seder, and later ate dinner, I thought of these tastes and smells, ones that I’ve known my entire life. The fatty scent of meat, cooked low and long, will forever remind me of my family. Just like the taste of gefilte fish and sticky sweet Manischewitz wine. The kitchen of Passover smells like my childhood, the food tastes of my past. And that’s comforting. No matter what demons—crazy or otherwise—are hanging out with Elijah right behind the front door.

Molly Birnbaum is the author of Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way