The ProsenPeople

Jewish Book Council Staff Picks for January 2017

Thursday, January 26, 2017 | Permalink

Did you set new reading goals for 2017? So did we! Check out how the Jewish Book Council staff is kicking of a new year of reading!

Evie

Carolyn

Mimi

Suzanne

Families! From dysfunction to love! Judy Batalion’s memoir White Walls is about living with mother who exists in piles of junk and stuff, grandparents that are Holocaust survivors, and a life of total dysfunction. Through reading this story we can all see something to relate to in one's own mother-daughter relationship.

Naomi

Just started reading David Grossman’s latest, A Horse Walks into a Bar!

Carol

Moonglow is Michael Chabon at his creative and joyful best: playful and serious, musical and surprising, with tremendous imaginative reach. For me, one of his best!

Becca

Conceived of long before the last election, Tell Me How This Ends Well is set in a dystopian United States in which casual anti-Semitism is the norm. It's been fascinating—and chilling—to read about this society that eerily reflects the political trends of today.

Joyce

Mary Glickman had me hooked from the beginning with the richly drawn characters and settings of An Undisturbed Peace.

Miri

Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife is a WWII book unlike most others—not only does it feature detailed zoological descriptions, it exists in a world where almost everyone is part of the underground resistance against the Nazis.

Nat

I constantly advocate for reading literature that challenges your personal perception of the world, so to start off the new year I decided to follow my own advice with Salt Houses by Hala Alyan, a novel about a Palestinian family forced from their home in Nablus during the ’67 War, following four generations from Kuwait to Lebanon to Boston and back. I also read Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s Waking Lions, a similarly challenging novel about love, corruption, and racial tensions in Israel’s Negev Desert.

                        

This week I’m picking up Vulture in a Cage, a new translated collection of the poetry of Solomon ibn Gabirol, and following up last week’s reread of Lynn Povich’s memoir The Good Girls Revolt with Bonnie S. Anderson’s biography of Ernestine Rose, The Rabbi’s Atheist Daughter. Bonnie, Lynn, and All the Single Ladies author Rebecca Traister will be speaking about Jewish women’s movements throughout American history as part of Jewish Book Council’s third season of Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation—if you’ll be in New York this spring, see below for more details!

Good Girls, Nasty Women: Gender and American Jewish History

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 | The Jewish Museum, New York City

Disappointed Amazon's Good Girls Revolt was cancelled after the first season? Hear from award-winning journalist Lynn Povich, the author of the memoir upon which the show was based, in conversation with Ernestine Rose biographer and women's historian Bonnie S. Anderson and Rebecca Traister, journalist and author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Discover the Jewish women behind history's great revolutions and contemporary movements, from the activists of America's Antebellum to the women's liberation stirrings of the midcentury—to today's "nasty" women—at Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in New York City!

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How Jewish Was Ernestine Rose?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Bonnie S. Anderson explained why the subject of her book The Rabbi's Atheist Daughter: Ernestine Rose, International Feminist Pioneer would have been at the front of the Women’s March on Washington this past weekend. Bonnie is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


Born in 1810 to a Polish rabbi and his wife, Ernestyna Potowska, as she may have been called then—her Hebrew names have been lost to history—was raised as an Orthodox Jew. (Virtually all Jewish families were Orthodox then—the nascent Reform movement was just starting in Berlin.)

Educated by her father, Ernestine was taught skills usually reserved to boys: learning Hebrew and reading Torah. Early on, she began to ask questions, as Jewish boys were supposed to do. “Little girls must not ask questions,” her father declared, a pronouncement that she later said made her “an advocate of religious freedom and women’s rights.” At 12 years old, she tested God’s approval of her community’s stricture that “You must keep the Sabbath unto the breaking of a piece of straw.” When the deity sent no sign to stop her doing this, she “broke with the God of Moses and began her break with any personal God.”

She went through the motions of practicing her religion for a few more years, unwilling to finalize the breach with her father, whom she adored. But in her mid-teens she completely renounced Judaism—and with it, all religious belief. She later argued that to Jews, it was all or nothing; Christians could rotate among various denominations, but for the Jew “there is but one step between his religion and Atheism.” If one “takes one step in advance, he is out of darkness, into the broad light of day.” For the rest of her long life, Ernestine Rose, as she became when she married in 1836, identified as an atheist, lectured ardently for free thought, and repudiated all religions as “superstition.”

But can you ever leave the Tribe? I have written elsewhere in these columns about Rose’s experiences of antisemitism, but here I am interested in how much her Jewish upbringing shaped her adult values. After settling in England in 1831, she found a “new father,” the eminent industrialist-turned-radical Robert Owen. Rose became Own’s “disciple” and embraced his philosophy for the rest of her life. Owen believed that the religion of the “New Moral World” he hoped to create consisted in “promoting the happiness of every man, woman, and child[…] without regard to their class, sect, party, or color.” Rose consistently praised Owen’s patience, benevolence, charity, and kindness and made his ideals her own. The egalitarianism of this philosophy demanded human rights for everyone: “white and black, man and woman,” Rose declared, “humanity’s children are all one and the same family, therefore there should be no slaves among them.” In the United States, she consistently linked women and slaves. “Like or unlike, he [the black man] is a human being, and I will use the same argument with regard to him that I use when pleading—no, not when pleading—when claiming the rights of woman,” she declared in 1855.

Owenite philosophy did away with the Christian concept of Original Sin and refused to blame anyone—not the misogynist nor the slave-owner—since people’s characters and values were formed by the society in which they lived. “An entire change in the character and condition of mankind” can be brought about by “philosophical inquiries into the nature of the causes that produce depravity, vice, and misery,” Rose maintained. Restoring the rights of women and slaves would benefit men and whites as well. It would be “in the interest of all….all are one in the race.” Social and political reform can heal the world.

This ideal consitutes the Jewish ethic of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Found in classical rabbinic literature, this concept may have been conveyed to the young Jewish girl during her studies with her father in Poland. Whether in England or America, this ideal motivated Ernestine Rose’s amazing activism, leading her to tour and lecture, to join conventions and sponsor meetings, to write and petition. Throughout her career, she attempted to make the world a better place for women, for slaves, and paradoxically, for non-believers. I believe that even as an outspoken atheist, she remained committed to this basic Jewish precept.

Bonnie S. Anderson taught history and women's studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York for over thirty years. A pioneer in the field of women's history, Anderson lectures throughout Europe and the United States on women’s movements, international feminism, the history of sexuality, and women’s issues today.

Good Girls, Nasty Women: Gender and American Jewish History

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 | The Jewish Museum, New York City

Disappointed Amazon's Good Girls Revolt was cancelled after the first season? Hear from award-winning journalist Lynn Povich, the author of the memoir upon which the show was based, in conversation with Ernestine Rose biographer and women's historian Bonnie S. Anderson and Rebecca Traister, journalist and author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Discover the Jewish women behind history's great revolutions and contemporary movements, from the activists of America's Antebellum to the women's liberation stirrings of the midcentury—to today's "nasty" women—at Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in New York City!

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Book Cover of the Week: On Turpentine Lane

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

It’s been kind of a topsy-turvy week, so the image of a quaint suburban house ripped from the earth and spun like Dorothy Gale’s twister-borne home feels about right at the moment:

As bizarrely inviting as the picture is, it’s the details that make this book cover special: the flying SOLD sign, the sensible brown shoe flying off the foot one of the three figures rattling around inside the suspended house, the sheet of paper blown against the leg of another, the plaid lining of the open trench coat… The detail of the illustrations translates the care with which Elinor Lipman has crafted the Jewish family at the heart of her latest novel. On Turpentine Lane follows private school director of stewardship Faith Frankel as she struggles with an absent fiancée, a cloying mother, an unfaithful father with illusions of artistic grandeur, and an officemate whose friendship might be growing a little too close…

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Agitate! Agitate! Ernestine Rose and the Age of Trump

Monday, January 23, 2017 | Permalink

Bonnie S. Anderson is the author of The Rabbi's Atheist Daughter: Ernestine Rose, International Feminist Pioneer, a biography of “the queen of the platform” for women’s rights, free thought, and abolition in the mid-nineteenth century. In response to current events in the United States, Bonnie is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


The healthiest way I coped with the election of Donald Trump was to write blog entries about Ernestine Rose, the subject of my recent biography. Rose, who lived from 1810 to 1892, spent her career combatting society’s inequities. She persevered for decades to implement her ideals.

A few months after she arrived in New York City in 1836, she knocked on doors in lower Manhattan, trying to get signatures on a petition for married women’s property rights. Legal doctrine then maintained that “husband and wife are one person and that person is the husband.” Single women could own property, but anything a married woman possessed or earned, from a salary to a pocketbook, belonged to her husband. At first, Rose gathered only one signature a month. “Some of the ladies said the gentlemen would laugh at them,” she remembered, “Others, that they had rights enough; and the men said the women had too many rights already.” Relying on her own beloved husband’s support, she persisted. She addressed the state legislature in Albany five times on this subject in the 1840s and found allies to work with her. In 1848, the state of New York gave women in future marriages the right to own property, but not their earnings. “This was not much, to be sure,” Rose later remarked, “for at best it was only for the favored few, and not for the suffering many. But it was a beginning, and an important step.”

Ernestine Rose and others labored on. Finally, fourteen years after she started this campaign, New York gave married women complete property rights. Rose celebrated the victory in a public letter:

How has all this been achieved? The answer is, by agitation—conventions and public lectures to enlighten woman on the laws which oppressed her—to enlighten men on the injustice he perpetrated against her….Agitate! agitate! Ought to be the motto of every reformer. Agitation is the opposite of stagnation—the one is life, the other, death.

Rose did not confine herself to property rights. She worked for women’s right to vote, for their ability to hold jobs and positions confined to men, for their right to equal education. But women’s rights were only one of her three chief causes. She labored equally hard for free thought and anti-slavery.

The only one of these three causes she lived to see achieved was the end of formal slavery in the United States. By the time she died at 82, women still did not possess the vote in any nation and atheists like herself remained discriminated against. But she never gave up and even in old age and illness continued to champion her beliefs.

If she were alive today, I know she would have been at the Women’s March on Washington this past weekend to protest Trump’s inauguration. In many ways, Ernestine Rose’s values are the opposite of Donald Trump’s. She set out on her own at 17 years old, not profiting from her father’s business as he did. She consistently believed that all people, “black and white, men and women,” were equal and so should have equal rights; by contrast, Trump and his father refused to rent their properties to black people into the 1970s. Rose defended prostitutes as victims of male desire; Trump has justified men’s sexual attacks on women. Near the end of her life, Rose argued that all people—“the Christian, the Mahomatan, the Jew, the Deist, and the Atheist”—can “reform the laws so as to have perfect freedom of conscience, the right to think and express our thoughts on all subjects.” Trump’s campaign denigrated Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, and disabled people.

So no matter how disheartened you may feel by his recent election, I urge everyone to battle on. Don’t mourn, organize! Let the Women’s March be the first of many events championing our values and ideals. Follow Rose’s heroic example and agitate, agitate! It is the only way to change the world.

Bonnie S. Anderson taught history and women's studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York for over thirty years. A pioneer in the field of women's history, Anderson lectures throughout Europe and the United States on women’s movements, international feminism, the history of sexuality, and women’s issues today.

Good Girls, Nasty Women: Gender and American Jewish History

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 | The Jewish Museum, New York City

Disappointed Amazon's Good Girls Revolt was cancelled after the first season? Hear from award-winning journalist Lynn Povich, the author of the memoir upon which the show was based, in conversation with Ernestine Rose biographer and women's historian Bonnie S. Anderson and Rebecca Traister, journalist and author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Discover the Jewish women behind history's great revolutions and contemporary movements, from the activists of America's Antebellum to the women's liberation stirrings of the midcentury—to today's "nasty" women—at Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in New York City!

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Reading the Holocaust

Thursday, January 19, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Peter Hayes introduced readers to the teachers named in the dedication and acknowledgements to his book Why?: Explaining the Holocaust. Peter is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


While writing Why?: Explaining the Holocaust, I tried to address two groups of readers at once: people new to the subject, and people well informed about it. My goal was to open understanding to novices and to extend or sharpen the knowledge of veterans. Readers will decide whether I succeeded in this chancy undertaking. But the effort made me think about authors who have done so. What other books on the subject can be recommended as both readable and reliable to both newcomers and old hands?

Of course, the classic such works—e.g., several by Primo Levi, Saul Friedländer’s two-volume Nazi Germany and the Jews, and Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men—remain indispensable, but I can think of a number of lesser known or newer titles that should have similar resonance.

Let me start with three outstanding books that emerged from family histories and powerfully foreground personal experience, Edmund de Waal’s elegiac The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), Göran Rosenberg’s searing A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz(2012), and Modris Ekstein’s harrowing Walking Since Daybreak (1999). De Waal artfully portrays the rise and dispersal of a European Jewish family through the story of one of their possessions, a collection of miniature Japanese carvings (netsuke). Rosenberg tells the story of his father, a survivor of the death camp and much else, as he tries to rebuild life in postwar Sweden and descends into despair and suicide. Ekstein, a non-Jewish Latvian who became an accomplished historian in Canada, immerses you so intensely in the cauldron of conflicts in his native region during the era of the World Wars that you feel its multi-dimensional tragedy. When you reach the end of each of these profound and graceful books, you will want to start again—when you can bear to.

My other recommendations consist of knowledgeable and accessible responses to central questions about the Holocaust. Certainly high on any such list is “How does a country become a persecuting society?” as Germany did after 1933. To get an answer, you could hardly do better than to start with Thomas Kühne’s aptly titled Belonging and Genocide (2010), a disturbing demonstration of the dark side of community-building. Another such question is “What kind of people could do such things?” Two illuminating sets of answers emerge from Bettina Stangneth’s Eichmann Before Jerusalem (2014), a book that exposes not only the mentality of a murderer, but also the origins of Holocaust denial, and Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies (2013), which shows that women were not immune to corruption.


In recent years, much of the “action” in Holocaust studies has centered on issues of complicity on the part, to take the most controversial examples, of non-Jewish Poles, foreign governments, the Catholic Church, and even American businesses, both in and outside of Germany. Journalist Anna Bikont’s excellent The Crime and the Silence (2015) is about both what some Poles did to Jews during the war and how stubbornly many Poles have resisted acknowledging such acts ever since. The late Theodore Hamerow’s Why We Watched (2008) draws on numerous contemporary sources in assembling the most vivid and comprehensive account available of how Europeans and Americans justified doing so little to aid Jews. A worthy supplement to his book is Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, FDR and the Jews (2013), which reminds us, despite the biographical focus of the title, that the American public deserves more blame for the shortcomings of national policy than the president at the time. On the choices made by the Papacy and American investors, the sharpest, most absorbing studies are David Kertzer The Pope and Mussolini (2014), which deservedly won a Pulitzer Prize, and Thomas Doherty, Hollywood and Hitler 1933-1939 (2013).


Two fine and concise new books with great pertinence to the present are Deborah Lipstadt’s Holocaust: An American Understanding (2016), which perceptively traces how and why the Holocaust became a prominent theme in American culture, and Michael Marrus’s, Lessons of the Holocaust(2016), a well-reasoned warning against drawing them too readily.

Finally, I want to draw renewed attention to my personal favorite among the pioneers of Holocaust studies, Yehuda Bauer. To experience the good sense, limpid writing, and sharp judgment that he brought to the subject for decades, read Rethinking the Holocaust(2001), a collection of thoughtful topical essays. You will be able almost to hear the British-accented voice of this wise and articulate man as he converses with you.

Peter Hayes currently chairs the Academic Committee at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was from 1980 to 2016 Professor of History and German and from 2000 to 2016 Theodore Zev Weiss Holocaust Educational Foundation Professor at Northwestern University. He writes and lectures widely on German and Holocaust history in the United States and abroad.

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On Dedication(s)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 | Permalink

Peter Hayes is an award-winning educator and the author of  How Was It Possible?: A Holocaust Reader. With the release of his new book Why?: Explaining the Holocaust today, Peter will be guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


A friend of mine says that the most interesting parts of any book are the dedication and the acknowledgements because they reveal most about the author. In the case of my newest book, Why? Explaining the Holocaust, I doubt this generalization will apply. The subject matter is too unsettling and important. But I hope my expressions of thanks will get readers’ momentary attention, especially the dedication. It is to six teachers who changed my life.

Public education was one of the glories of America in the decades just after World War II, which is when I grew up. The first two people I mention opened worlds to me in the middle and high school classrooms of Framingham, Massachusetts. Mary Faherty was a devout Catholic who not only assured that I got confirmed in that faith, from which I already was falling away at the age of thirteen, but who also introduced me to Shakespeare, Browning, and Ibsen, who are not exactly canonical Catholic authors. I ended up a writer, and I might never have become attuned to words as I am without her. James McGillivray taught history as I had never encountered it before: in the spirit of his era, as a subject that focused as much on the “frame of reference” of those who wrote it as on the matters they wrote about. I ended up a historian of a less subjectivist bent, but I might never have been as questioning and skeptical of received wisdom as I am without him (and Ibsen!).

I came in contact with the other four of these mentors at the elite private institutions—Bowdoin, Oxford, and Yale—to which scholarships gave me access. All men (such was the era), they could not have been otherwise more different from each other or from me, the product of a family in which no one had completed college. Athern Daggett was an elderly, endearing New England Yankee who taught constitutional and international law in Mr. Chipsian fashion; John Rensenbrink an intellectual iconoclast and gadfly (and later Green Party leader) of Midwestern Dutch Calvinist heritage who supervised my undergraduate senior thesis on African politics; Tim Mason, a brilliant and charismatic English Marxist specializing in central European history, moved my attention toward Europe and backward in time, and then passed me on to Henry Turner, a classically liberal American scholar and careful prose stylist, who devoted his career to unmasking the easy certainties of marxisant approaches to German history.

What all six of these disparate people imparted was a combination of passion and rigor. They loved and believed in what they taught, and they treated it—and wanted me to treat it—with the kind of respect that hard work indicates. They made participating in their interests seem like the most fascinating thing I possibly could do with my time and energy. That ability to spark is, of course, the kinetic secret to great teaching. It’s also the singular talent that gives the lie to the old saw that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

Good teaching, whether in person in a classroom or at a distance via the pages of a book, requires the capacity to inspire that these people had, along with one other vital component of their magic: empathy, the ability to sense where listeners and readers are, to reach that place, and to bring them to a new location.

All but one of these six individuals is gone now; and the exception is 88 years old as I write. But, whenever and wherever I have taught and written during a long career, they have been constant presences. To a young person whose parents were not very adept in that role, these teachers provided models of why and how to pay it forward. Now, at long last and in a small way, I get to pay them back.

Peter Hayes currently chairs the Academic Committee at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was from 1980 to 2016 Professor of History and German and from 2000 to 2016 Theodore Zev Weiss Holocaust Educational Foundation Professor at Northwestern University. He writes and lectures widely on German and Holocaust history in the United States and abroad.

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New Reviews January 13, 2017

Friday, January 13, 2017 | Permalink

This week's new reviews at Jewish Book Council:

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A Week of Jewish Literary Honors

Thursday, January 12, 2017 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

It’s been quite a week in the world of Jewish literature: Jewish Book Council and the Association of Jewish Libraries both released major announcements on the same day, naming the books and authors to receive this year’s National Jewish Book Awards and Sydney Taylor Book Award medals!

Awarded in roughly twenty different categories each year, the National Jewish Book Awards honor authors of outstanding Jewish literature across a wide range of genre and subjects. Academic press winners for the 2016 National Jewish Book Awards include Michael Bazyler's Holocaust, Genocide, and the Law: A Quest for Justice in a Post-Holocaust World (Oxford University Press), Never Better!: The Modern Jewish Picaresque by Miriam Udel (University of Michigan Press), Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391 – 1392 by Benjamin R. Gampel (Cambridge University Press), Extraterritorial Dreams: European Citizenship, Sephardi Jews, and the Ottoman Twentieth Century by Sarah Abrevaya Stein (University of Chicago Press), Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece by Devin E. Naar (Stanford University Press), Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food by Roger Horowitz (Columbia University Press), and Makers of Jewish Modernity: Thinkers, Artists, Leaders, and the World They Made (Princeton University Press).

Daniel Gordis’s Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn received the Everett Family Foundation Award for Jewish Book of the Year, and Michael Chabon was awarded Jewish Book Council’s Modern Literary Achievement Award for his lifetime contribution to Jewish Literature.

In fiction, winners included Rose Tremain for The Gustav Sonata (W. W. Norton & Company), Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (Knopf Books for Young Readers) for Debut Fiction, and Lauren Belfer’s And After the Fire (Harper) won the inaugural Debby and Ken Miller Award for Book Club titles. Stanly Moss’s Almost Complete Poems (Seven Stories Press) received newly dedicated Berru Award in Memory of Ruth and Bernie Weinflash for Poetry, and awards for Young Adult and Children’s Literature went to On Blackberry Hill, a self-published novel by Rachel Mann, and I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley (Simon & Schuster).

CLICK HERE for the full list of 2016 National Jewish Book Award Winners and Finalists

Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley also received the Syndey Taylor Award Gold Medal for their children’s illustrated biography of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as did Gavriel Savit for his YA crossover debut. The Gold Medal was also awarded to Adam Gidwitz and Hatem Aly for The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (Dutton Children’s Books). Silver Medalists included Richard Michelson’s Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy (Knopf Books for Young Readers), illustrated by Edel Rodriguez; A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards and illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Schwartz & Wade); A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher (Viking Books for Young Readers); and 2016 – 2017 JBC Network author Joel Ben Izzy’s novel Dreidels on the Brain. For the full list of 2017 Sydney Taylor Award winners, honorees, and finalists, read the official press release here.

Last week, the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize 2017 Shortlist was announced, naming 2015 National Jewish Book Award-winner The Crime and the Silence by Anna Bikont (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Little, Brown & Company), Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933 – 1949 by David Cesarani (St. Martin’s Press), All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski, and Philippe Sands’s East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, a 2016 – 2017 JBC Network book.

Jewish Book Council also recently launched the Natan Book Award, a two-stage prize to encourage writers in writing and promoting their work before it has been published. Do you have a forthcoming book of interest to Jewish audiences? Find out more about Jewish Book Council’s programs, resources, and awards for 2017!

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Picking Up the Brush. I Mean the Mop. I Mean the Brush.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, poet Molly Peacock reflected the courage behind the encouragement she received, her upbringing in a Jewish neighborhood as an Irish Protestant, and how the story of a boy who saved himself from the Nazi gas chambers with a mop stayed with her through adulthood. With the release of her collection The Analyst this week, Molly is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

I am a goyishe lady, almost 70. After 38 years of being in analysis (not all at once! In spates, sometimes long, sometimes short, of intensity over the years,) I am no longer a patient. Yet now I have to be patient with my former analyst, Joan Stein, now 82. We have embarked on a new relationship. It’s a bit like a watercolor of the old relationship. The paintbrush (and the mop) are still saving our lives.

After those watercolors began appearing on her walls about 25 years ago, Joan Stein reduced her practice to four days a week. On Fridays she took painting classes in the studios at the 92 St. YMHA on Lexington Avenue. Her watercolors were often portraits of people. It was people who engaged her, not landscapes or objects. Faces, postures. Like the face of her father that she painted as a very young woman at Radcliffe. What had once been rejected resurfaced. Her talent was waiting, just as she so patiently once waited for me, hour after hour, to slowly come to feel what I felt when I felt it, not after the feeling had hardened cold.

Doctors rescued Joan, even as she, the analyst, rescued me. But in both our lives something else, so health-giving and so essential to survival, was at work. After her stroke, Joan lost a great deal of language, and most of her ability to read. She even had to re-learn to use a key to unlock her apartment. Of course she had to abandon her practice.

But she did not lose her capacity to paint. That part of her brain worked—and it began to work to save her life. After she returned from the hospital, she began to paint. The art she had turned away from began to restore her life. She couldn’t any longer paint faces, so she began painting other living things: flowers.

When people talk about the “vision” of a poet, they’re really talking about imagery. It’s the images a poet creates that amount to what we name a poets’ “vision.” I don’t think of myself as a visionary, but I often wake up with images, and I try to write poems from this hypnogogic state. Occasionally I wake up with this image: a mop in filthy water in a bucket on a concrete floor. After visiting my analyst, whose living room that once served as her therapy room is now a watercolor studio, I wake up with another image: a watercolor brush dips in almost musical motion into water, into paint, onto paper… Another image materializes, brilliant and glowing.

“If I couldn’t paint, I wouldn’t want to live,” Joan tells me, on each of my pilgrimages to visit her, and in each of our stay-in-touch phone calls. She is saving her own life by picking up the brush. I mean the mop. I mean the brush.

Joan watched me as I reintegrated all the parts of my life. She watched the repair over decades. And now I have the privilege of watching the woman who helped with every artistic decision of my life put her own life in her hands as she takes up that brush, every day. Several of the poems in The Analyst take place in small museums we have visited in our new, rather strange, post-stroke, post-analytical relationship. I barely know what to call her in the last poem in the book, where we are watching three monks make a sand painting at The Asia Society in New York. Here the poet steps in to query the monks:

“…Excuse me, my friend is

recovering from an accident. She’s a …
painter. May we ask you some questions?”
(Have I introduced you, my former analyst,

as my painter-friend?) You point with your cane<
to the mandala-in-sand…When they’re done,
they’ll brush it all away. You can’t believe it.
Nothing stays (including the memory you’ve lost).
What lasts? The pattern the monks have

memorized. Their burnt-down temple re-
turns as this circular core.
                                                                                                       Only when
something’s over can its shape materialize.

Molly Peacock is the President Emerita of the Poetry Society of America, the author of seven poetry collections, and the co-creator of Poetry in Motion. Her newest book, The Analyst: Poems, comes out January 3, 2017 from W. W. Norton & Company.

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Book Cover of the Week: The Widow of Wall Street

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

If you enjoy dark fiction about family relationships and deception, keep an eye out for a new novel coming out this April from bestselling author Randy Susan Meyers:

You gotta love a glitzy book cover. The Widow of Wall Street opens in 2009 with a visit to the Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution, where Phoebe Pierce’s husband, Jake, is imprisoned on fraud charges following the discovery of the elaborate Ponzi scheme upon which he built their fortune. The novel follows Phoebe from the beginnings of her relationship with Jake in the summer of 1960 through the present day, living with her husband’s notoriety and the world’s censure and suspicion, reminding readers with that sparkly city skyline that all that glitters is not gold.

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