The ProsenPeople

JBC Bookshelf: Baseball Edition

Monday, March 21, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Batter up! With spring training underway and baseball season fast approaching, we have a few “Jews and Baseball” titles to throw your way:

Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, Rebecca T. Alpert (July 2011, Oxford University Press)
A look at the many-faceted relationship between Jews and black baseball in Jim Crown America

Pitching in the Promised Land: A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League, Aaron Pribble (April 2011, University of Nebraska Press)
Israel’s only season of professional baseball boasted an unforgettable cast of characters: a DJ/street artist third baseman from teh Brox, a wildman catcher from Australia, the journeymen Dominicans who were much older than they claimed to be, and even Sandy Koufax

Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want to Be One , Mark Kurlansky (March 2011, Yale University Press)
Kurlansky explores the truth behind the slugger’s legend: his Bronx boyhood, his spectacular discipline as an aspiring ballplayer, the complexity of his decision not to play on Yom Kippur, and the cultural context of virulent anti-Semitism in which his career played out

Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg, Shelley Sommer (March 2011, Boyds Mill Press)
Young adults, 10 and up, will be able to enjoy this biography of Hank Greenberg, which includes archival photos

Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King, Richard Michelson; Zachary Pullen, illus. (February 2011, Sleeping Bear Press)
Award-winning author Richard Michelson chronicles the meteoric rise of one of baseball’s earliest (and unsung) champions

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Nadia Kalman

Friday, March 18, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our fifth, and final, installment of this year’s “Words from our Finalists”…Nadia Kalman

Nadia…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Nadia

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

When writing The Cosmopolitans, I found it challenging to emphasize with characters who initially seemed very different from me – such as Jean Strauss. Finding that empathy is also the most rewarding part about writing.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Family stories, and the way people in my family tell stories – spinning funny stories out of sad histories, and cautionary tales out of seeming triumphs. Writers such as Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, Sholem Aleichem, Primo Levi, Lev Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, and Michael Chabon.

Who is your intended audience?

Jewish people and immigrants of all kinds.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I am now one third of the way through writing a second novel. Entitled “The Women’s Battalion of Death,” and set in the Russia of 1917, the novel fictionalizes the exploits of an historical all-female militia whose members included Jews from the Pale, laundresses, princesses, opera singers and maids.

What are you reading now?

A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz – I’m fascinated by his memories of a Jerusalem neighborhood in which everyone “worked for Chekhov.”

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

There are many moments that led to my becoming a writer, beginning in my early childhood, but when I turned thirty, I decided to make it the focus of my life. I was scuba diving at the time – perhaps I realized there were safer ways of finding excitement.

What is the mountaintop for you – how do you define success?

I used to think that success meant accumulating awards and recognition, but I now I think it is doing what you love, and, in some small way, contributing to the well-being of others. I hope to connect with readers and help them connect with one another.

How do you write – what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

Before starting to write, I read a little, from the Torah, Chekhov’s notebooks, Mandelstam’s poems, the Brothers Grimm, etc. (I suppose it’s a little strange to write “etc.” when these sources are so disparate.)

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

We are all, in some sense, immigrants – none of us feel completely at home in the world. If we recognize this about one another, that recognition can allow us to connect.

Turkish Coffee for the Crown Prince

Friday, March 18, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Reyna Simnegar, the author of Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love, wrote about Miss Venezela Material and Sephardim Strike Back!

It was a regular morning at my home, dishes to wash, laundry to fold, when I got a phone call from my husband. “Reyna, I am coming this afternoon with Reza Pahlavi.” Thinking it was a work colleague, I casually asked him, “At what time? Do you guys want to have dinner here?” That’s when he finally explained to me this “Reza Pahlavi” was not any “Pahlavi,” he was His Imperial Highness Crowned Prince Reza Pahlavi of Iran!

The Prince was visiting Boston and somehow my husband (if you know him, you know this is right up his alley) had convinced His Imperial Highness to come have dessert and tea at our house! My legs were shaking. “The crowned prince — here? In this messy house? I am going to kill Sammy!” I immediately recruited a cleaning lady and set off for a hunt to buy Persian desserts. As I was pulling off the driveway, I noticed the secret service searching the vicinity of my house making sure it was a safe place for the prince.

The more I thought about it, the more nervous I became. “We are Jewish, I wonder if he realizes he is coming to an Orthodox Jewish home…” My mind kept on thinking how this would probably have never happened back in Iran. I loaded the car with more sweets than an army could finish and tons of gorgeous fresh flowers. “Persians love flowers,” I told myself. I headed back home and started to get ready to meet the son of the Shah! I was so nervous. To calm myself, I started thinking, “He is just another human being, just like me, there is nothing to be nervous about.” I solemnly decided it was so silly of me to be nervous and I was going to even refer to him by his name: “We are in America, these nonsense titles are so passé!”

The doorbell rang. I could see from the window his armored car parked outside. I opened the door and there he was, in his entire splendor, tall-dark-and-handsome. He approached me with a smile, bodyguards on both sides, self-confident and impossible to evade, “Thank you for having me over, Mrs. Simnegar.”

I nearly fainted. I just stared at him and quietly blurted out, “It is my pleasure, Your Highness.”

I had surrendered.

The Prince was incredibly charming and kind. I figured I must offer him chai, since this is what most Persians crave after sweets. To my surprise, instead of tea, His Imperial Highness wanted coffee! Unfortunately, all I had was tea. I had never been a good coffee-maker, much less a good Turkish coffee-maker. Ever since this episode, I made it a personal goal to learn the secrets of Turkish coffee-making. A few years later I met the expert, Peleg Morris. Peleg learned the art of making Turkish coffee while serving in the Israeli Army and camping in treacherous deserts. He was even appointed the best Turkish-coffee-maker in his division. If His Imperial Highness ever honors me visiting again, I will surely be ready.

Turkish Coffee: Kahveh

Turkish coffee is traditionally made in a special long-handled copper jug called ibrik. However, a very small saucepan will also do the trick.

This coffee is served in tiny porcelain cups. After drinking this coffee, some people read the future by looking at the patterns the coffee grounds have left behind in the cup. I am not even kidding! We have no real fortunetellers in the family, but a few aunts are known for making great guesses.

1 cup water
2 teaspoons fine ground Turkish coffee
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cardamom seeds or ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder

1. Place the water in an ibrik or very small saucepan with a long handle. Bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Remove from heat and add coffee, sugar, and cardamom. Mix with a spoon.
3. Reduce the flame to medium. Return the ibrik to the heat and boil until the coffee rises to the top of the ibrik just like lava in a volcano.
4. Immediately remove from the heat before “eruption” occurs and serve.

Yield: 4 (¼-cup) servings

Reyna Simnegar‘s Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love is now available. She has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Imre Kertesz’s “Fiasco”

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Melville House is publishing Imre Kertész’s Fiasco later this month. Considered to be the “untranslated “missing” book from the trilogy that won Imre Kertész the Nobel Prize,”Fiasco continues the story that Kertész began with Fatelessness and Kaddish for an Unborn Child. More from the publisher:

Fiasco, as Imre Kertész himself has said, “is fiction founded on reality” – a Kafka-like account that is surprisingly funny in its unrelentingly pessimistic clarity, of the Communist takeover of his homeland. Forced into the army and assigned to escort military prisoners, the protagonist decides to feign insanity to be released from duty. But meanwhile, life under the new regime is portrayed almost as an uninterrupted continuation of life in the Nazi concentration camps – which in turn, is depicted as a continuation of the patriarchal dictatorship of a joyless childhood. It is, in short, a searing extension of Kertész’s fundamental theme: the totalitarian experience seen as trauma not only for an individual, but for the whole civilization – ours – that made Auschwitz possible.

Read more here.

The Urban Family Passover Haggadah

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Remember Alef Betty?

To further her exploration of “Modern Hebrew Arts,” Tsilli Pines has created The Urban Family Passover Haggadah:

Old traditions, new perspectives. A modern design with English text, as well as Hebrew blessings and transliterations.

64 page softcover book with perfect binding, glossy color cover, and 1-color interior.

Read about the story behind the Haggadah here (including the design!) and check out blog posts on Haggadot she collected during her research:

Maxwell House Haggadah

Jacob Wexler Haggadah

Pre-order your copy (and view sample pages) here.


$59/set of 5

$89/set of 10

JLit Links

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Philip Roth on Thomas Wolfe at The Center for Fiction

Joshua Cohen in the Paris Review

Nicole Krauss is a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction

Manga for Purim

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

We’ve seen a graphic megillah before, but this is something else.

Earlier today, MyJewishLearning posted about Throne of Secrets, a new comic book version of the Purim story that follows the megillah but isn’t afraid to take artistic license.

King Achashverosh is painted as even more lecherous than the usual, stabbing his soldiers when they displease him, and a straight-up sadistic humor. Esther is bashful and demure, her grandfather (grandfather!?) Yair is old, but sagely, and Mordechai is — well, not the civil, cultured Mordechai we’re used to reading about …

Read more (and see a page from the book!) here.

Intriguing, right? And the art looks great.

And there’s a movie in the works, too? Fun.

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Allison Amend

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our fourth installment of “Words from our Finalists”…Allison Amend

Allison…meet our Readers

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

The most challenging aspect about writing fiction is actually writing it. Sometimes sitting down at that desk (or standing; I have a standing desk) and pounding it out seems a Herculean task. I find great excuses not to write: I have to alphabetize my sock drawer, pick a fight with my brother, defrost tomorrow’s dinner, research waterproof mailboxes, clean my makeup brushes….

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

I am a writer because I love to read. I love the way a book can transport you to a different time, place, culture or even body. On my best days, I escape myself and succeed in seeing the world from a different perspective, in questioning the categories the world creates.

Who is your intended audience?

My mom. She is a 60-something, highly educated avid reader who belongs to multiple book clubs. She reads and pays attention to the New York Times and theNew Yorker book reviews, and, best of all, she buys hardcover books. She is also a fierce salesperson for Stations West. I once saw her corner a man in an independent bookstore and practically force him to purchase my book.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I am finishing a novel that combines art forgery and human cloning. It was originally supposed to be diametrically opposed to Stations West—set in the future without overt Jewish themes—but of course the plot has been taken over by Holocaust survivors attempting to recover art stolen by the Nazis. You can’t escape your interests! I’m also working on short stories, screenplays and Jewish children’s books for the PJ Library. It’s good to have a project that you’re cheating on by working on other projects.

What are you reading now?

I like to read my peers’ work—I’m reading the other Sami Rohr Prize finalists’ excellent books, and I find I’m in great company. Other recent favorites include A Visit From the Goon SquadThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetWhat the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves UsSomething Red

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I gave up my dreams of becoming a princess or a superhero, or Princess Superhero. I didn’t know you were “allowed” to be a writer, though, until I attended grad school at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and met people who had dedicated their lives to the craft. I knew I wanted to be among them. But I think my parents are still holding out hope that I’ll go to law school.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

The “mountaintop” is a good metaphor for success. I know from hiking that often you reach “false peaks”—where you arrive at the top only to find a higher peak further along the ridge. I think being a writer feels like that. There’s always someone more successful than you. I imagine some famous writer saying, “Yes, I won the Pulitzer, but I still don’t have a Nobel!” I feel so proud to have my words in print; getting recognized for the Sami Rohr Prize is gratification galore. To extend the hiking metaphor—I’ve reached a lovely spot. I think I’ll have my lunch here and enjoy the view for a while.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

Mostly I need a good ergonomic set up, lots of coffee, and few distractions. That’s not very sexy, I know. Writing is not a sexy job.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

In Stations West, I’m trying to reclaim the myth of the Old West and show the extent to which Jews helped form that history. We’ve romanticized the Wild West, but it was an unforgiving place, quick to judge, slow to accept. In a larger sense, I want to record how the history of American Judaism is emblematic of the history of America in general. Placing the very contemporary struggle of assimilation and identity in the past hopefully sheds light on our own struggles, and helps us to negotiate our daily lives. But what I love to hear most is that it’s a good read. My favorite books keep me up all night reading; I’m thrilled to think that I’ve contributed to literary insomnia.

You can read more about Allison Amend by visiting her website:

Deborah Lipstadt Podcast

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

JBC friend, author, and Rohr judge Deborah Lipstadt has a new book: The Eichmann Trial The Eichmann Trial, which was published yesterday, offers a reassessment of the groundbreaking trial that has become a touchstone for judicial proceedings throughout the world in which victims of genocide confront its perpetrators.

Watch out for Lipstadt’s guest blog posts for the JBC/MJL Author Blog in April, but in the meantime, check out this podcast from Tablet, which makes a case for why Eichmann’s trial was such a watershed—it introduced the use of survivor testimony as a part of a trial in a way that hadn’t really been done before and in so doing, changed the way the word looks at genocide and prosecutes its perpetrators. Lispstadt also discusses how the trial introduced questions of who has the right to speak for the Jews, what criticism Israel faced for taking it upon itself to try Eichmann, and other fascinating matters. Find the podcast here.

And, watch the book trailer below:

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Joseph Skibell

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our third installment of “Words from our Finalists”…Joseph Skibell

Joseph…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Joseph

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

What did Hemingway say in his Paris Review interview with George Plimpton? “The hardest thing about writing is getting the words in the right order.” Typical Hemingway brevity, but that does seem to cover it.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Inspiration comes from everywhere. In the last two weeks, I saw a production of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” and I heard the master guitarist Pierre Bensusan play. The creative generosity of both Shepard and Bensusan reminded me of what art can really do when it’s honest and it comes from an open and pure heart. I find that very inspiring. Being moved by their work makes me want to continue working and trying to inhabit that same open and honest space.

Who is your intended audience?

Perhaps I should be a little more ambitious, but I try to write for the entirety of the literate world. And I’m hoping that members of the literate world will read my books to members of the non-literate world. I’m sometimes saddened that adult readers, unlike their “young adult” counterparts, seem fairly unadventurous, that fiction that deals with small, domestic issues, preferably in the mode of realism, seems so much more palpable to these adult readers than do daring, ambitious “ill-behaved” books that take on bigger issues in a more playful, ferocious or rambunctious style.

Milan Kundera calls these “ill-behaved” books “the children of Tristram Shandy” as opposed to the “well-behaved” books, which he calls “children of Clarissa.” Rushdie’s Midnight Children, Grass’s The Tin Drum,Kundera’s own Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the novels of Beckett, Kafka and Bellow all fall into this category of ill-behaved books, as do my A Blessing on the Moon and A Curable Romantic.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I have a short list of new projects, but nothing that can be spoken about yet, really. I think I’ve found the subject for my next novel, and I’m excited about that, and it’s going to be very different from the other three books.

What are you reading now?

The novel I’m urging onto anybody who will listen is Howard Norman’s What is Left the Daughter. Norman is one of our finest novelists with a singular and idiosyncratic voice. He’s unpretentiously gifted, and this book is one of his best. I’m planning on reading it again, actually. I don’t quite understand how he achieves the effects he achieves. The book is so moving, but it’s hard to say why. His work has that same honesty and purity I mentioned finding in the Shepard’s play and in Bensusan’s playing. A spirit of childlike play, I guess, combined with a hungry intelligence and an artful sense of integrity.

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I was in Mr. Bravenec’s sixth grade class at Geo. A. Rush Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas, when I read Anthony Scaduto’s biography of Bob Dylan. According to Scaduto, Dylan read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row as a kid and was so turned on by it that he read all of Steinbeck’s work after that. At the time, I wanted to grow up to be Bob Dylan, so I thought I should probably do everything Bob Dylan did as a child in order to realize this ambition. I got a copy of Cannery Row out of the library and I read it, and I was so turned on by it, I read everything that Steinbeck had written, also. By the time I was done, though, I no longer wanted to be Bob Dylan. I wanted to be John Steinbeck.

Later, during his Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, Dylan visited Jack Kerouac’s grave. I read about this in Rolling Stone Magazine. I’d never heard of Jack Kerouac, but I bought a copy of On the Road, and then I read all of Kerouac’s work, which I also found inspiring.

Still, I didn’t think I could be a novelist, because — especially after reading Steinbeck — I thought a novelist had to know how to brush out a horse and repair a motor and dissect mollusks and things like that. But then I read Voltaire’sCandide – I was in the seventh grade; I remember reading it during my algebra class – and I thought to myself: Hey, I could write a book like this. I mean, there are no animals in Candide, no one repairs a motor, there’s no science, there’s barely a landscape.

So, really, I have Bob Dylan to thank for all of this, I guess. Thanks, Bob.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

It’s easy to get sidetracked by big advances and awards and being on bestseller lists and things like that. Writing can be such a lonely pursuit, and I know so many writers who end up craving those things, just so they know that there’s somebody out there who actually cares about what they’re doing. So I try to remember why books were important to me in the first place.

I think it’s the same with really great writing. When someone like W.B. Yeats says, “Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned,” or Jackson Browne describes Culver City as a place “where the ghostly specter of Howard Hughes/hovers in the smoke of a thousand barbeques,” you think to yourself, “Man, that’s about as good as it gets.” I mean, these are writers whose use of words and thoughts and observations and emotions and meter and sound is as astonishing and as inspiring as the physical stuff Shaun White can do on a snowboard.You know, when you see somebody like Shaun White do something really amazing on a snowboard, you kind of empathize with him. He sort of stands in for all of humanity. You think, “Wow, it’s amazing that he can do that,” but you’re also thinking, “Wow, it’s amazing that a human being can do that.”

And because of writing like this, you actually experience something you wouldn’t have been able to experience otherwise, and it’s something you wouldn’t have been able to experience in any other way.

So I guess, for me, that would really be the mountaintop, or the pinnacle of success – knowing that your work is speaking to another person in a way that reverberates with their concerns and their lives in a meaningful way.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

The discipline of writing every day is so intensely focused that I have next to no memory about the process itself, though it seems to involve a Cross pen, an AMPAD legal-size “Evidence” pad – 100 sheets, Canary yellow, Wide Ruled, 8½” x 14” with a double-thick back for extra support (these are harder and harder to come by these days) – a chair, a desk, and a hot beverage, sometimes coffee, sometimes tea. I try to keep a very low page count every day, so that doing the work always remains enjoyable.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

With A Blessing on the Moon, I wanted to speak to the reader so deeply that the book enters the reader’s dream-life, and I’ve been told on many occasions, by readers, that this is how the novel works. With The English Disease, I simply wanted to make the reader laugh.

A Curable Romantic was a bit different. WithA Curable Romantic, my hope was that Dr. Sammelsohn, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, would seem like a sweet and endearing friend accompanying the reader wherever he or she went for the few weeks it takes to read the book.

At heart, I hope my novels work as a kind of cure for that deep loneliness I imagine we all feel, the writer’s voice whispering intimately into the reader’s inner ear, speaking about the most essential things: love, family, death, hope, desire, dreams.

You can read more about Joseph Skibell by visiting his website: