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Book Cover of the Week: I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This

Tuesday, June 21, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

It took opposite journeys for a mother and daughter to each find themselves at the start of their adult lives: one needed to leave France to discover herself; the other needed to return to Paris to discover her family—the side that “didn’t have dealings with the Nazis. They occasionally traded goods with the Nazis,” as her grandmother insists.

The other side, as you may have guessed, is immortalized in the three-volume graphic memoir Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. Lest you think I’m going on a cartoonist craze after last week’s feature, Nadja Spiegelman’s memoir has little to say about her father or his work. Instead, I’m Supposed to Protect from All This is about the relationship between Nadja and her mother, New Yorker art director Françoise Mouly, strained by the echoes of Mouly’s own upbringing between two eccentric parents and the families that raised them, in turn.

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Book Cover of the Week: Hot Dog Taste Test

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 | Permalink

If you own a Netflix account—or a subscription to Lucky Peach, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, or McSweeney's—you've seen Lisa Hanawalt's work. This week, the designer and producer of BoJack Horseman releases a collection of her graphic essays in Hot Dog Taste Test:

Hot Dog Taste Test also features never-before-seen sequences of graphic memoir, including illustrations of her travels to Argentina, where Hanawalt's great-grandparents settled after escaping pogroms in Odessa, to join her mother's family in Buenos Aires on summer retreats to La Cumbrecita. You can preview sections of the book here and see how the creator of the most famous horse since Mr. Ed fares as an equestrian in the Sierra Grandes.

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Book Cover of the Week: The Reason for Flowers

Tuesday, June 07, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

One of my very favorite Jewish holiday traditions is coming up: beflowering one's home for Shavuot! Owing to a midrash that Mount Sinai spontaneously blossomed into flower with the transmission of the Torah at its top, a lovely (but often overlooked) custom emerged of decorating homes and even synagogues with visually and fragrantly appealing flora. And what better way to declare the spring is here?

With floral arrangements to be made, this is the perfect week to revisit Stephan Buchmann's delightful book The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives—now available in paperback! Trust me, the content is as enticing as the book cover—which is even more glorious in textured hard copy than the striking image you see above. One of my favorite nonfiction reads in the last year and likely the best book on flowers I've encountered yet, Buchmann's approach blends beauty with science, sociology, and good writing. Beyond accessible, The Reason for Flowers is an engaging and enjoyable read, packed with fascinating knowledge about the plants around us.

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Book Cover of the Week: Barbra Streisand's Jewish Lives Biography

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

What's a girl to do at 74 years old with a No. 1 selling album for every decade since 1964 to her name?

National treasure Barbra Streisand is still glowin', she's still crowin', she's still goin' strong: Streisand's longtime manager announced yesterday that the iconic performer is embarking on a North American summer tour this August, beginning in Los Angeles and concluding in Toronto, to herald the release of a new album. Which mean's it's a good time to share the book I have enshrined face-out on my shelves since April:

This black-and-white profile shot is the perfect portrait to grace the Yale Jewish Lives Series biography entitled Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power. Taken from Steve Schapiro and Lawrence Schiller's project to capture the young entertainer over the course of her first five years in Hollywood, the image captures Streisand's distinct appearance and ambition, the face and drive of the woman who inspired and empowered generations of Jewish girls to see themselves as gorgeous, talented, and unconquerably funny. Dedicated to the author's daughters (and son-in-law) and "all those who have ever been told they could not succeed," Neal Gabler's examination of Barbra Streisand's career and legacy highlights how her refutation of conventional standards and expectations "converted her Jewishness into a metaphor for outsider-ness that would eventually make her the avenger for anyone who felt marginalized and powerless." I feel infallible just looking at her photograph on the book cover.

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Book Cover of the Week: Here I Am

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

It's been over a decade since Jonathan Safran Foer's last novel—Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close—was published. But as fans of Foer's fiction may or may not have already heard, the hiatus ends this September, with the release of Here I Am!

Following a family in crisis over a three-week span in Washington, DC, Here I Am promises a welcome return for readers who loved Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything Is Illuminated. Mark your calendars for "Jonathan Safran Foer's most searching, hard-hitting, and grandly entertaining novel yet" to hit up your local book store, and look for more from the author in the months to come here at Jewish Book Council!

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Book Cover of the Week: Warp

Friday, March 18, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

You know how some shows take a few episodes to find their legs? I initially gave up on Parks and Recreation, for example, disappointed in the early run of a program I had greatly anticipated, and returned a couple seasons later to what by then quickly became one of my favorite comedy sitcoms of all time. After seeing the show through its finale I went back to the beginning of the series and discovered the brilliance of the early episodes I had shunned: though the humor had evaded audiences at the start of Parks & Rec, the writers were subtly developing the comedic arteries of the show, laying the foundation for the rest of the sitcom's seven-season run. Rewatching Season 1 with the full anticipation of what would follow made appreciate it on a whole new level.

The same can be true when it comes to books: an author's debut flop transforms to treasure on the merit of their later works, prized for the early strains of the writer's more popular books and progression it showcases.

Just such a phenomenon is promised with the re-release of Lev Grossman's first book, originally published in the late '90s. Tor Books revealed the cover for the September 2016 edition from St. Martin's Griffin earlier this week, attesting that "this re-publication of Grossman’s debut novel shows the roots of his Magicians hero Quentin Coldwater."

The author, for his own part, was a little more self-effacing: "St. Martin's published my first novel WARP in 1998," he announced this week on Facebook. "Unsatisfied with the amount of money they lost on it last time, they're republishing it (with an introduction by me) in September. Here's the new cover."

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Book Cover of the Week: Orphan #8

Tuesday, March 08, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

Orphan Number Eight author Kim Van Alkemade shared the cover for the novel's new large-print edition last week, and it's no wonder she's excited:

The title's original book cover is striking as well, but this new artwork matches the novel's intensity in its somber somber tones and ambiguosity—is the girl looking out the window yearning to escape, or is she simply watching the outside world from within?

It's those lace bobby socks that kill me.

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Book Cover of the Week: Native

Friday, March 04, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

Grove Press's cover for Sayed Kashua's new collection of essays is a marvel of visual balance:

Native: Dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian Life features a selection of the author's writing published in his satirical column for Haaretz in recent years. For those unfamiliar with Kashua's work and life story, these personal, tragicomedic essays are a worthy introduction; those well acquainted with his writing—from essays to fiction to television—are sure to treasure Native as a compilation of some of Kashua's finest contributions to the Israeli conscious. Think of it as Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me for Israel, exposing readers to ideas and realities they might otherwise never encounter.

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Book Cover of the Week: Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar

Thursday, February 11, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

I don't know anyone who didn't grow up with Eric Carle, whether has a young reader or a parent or a grandparent. Universally familiar to the last half century of children and those who read with them, the distinct artwork and restrained text prompting readers to turn the to the next page impacted if not defined how generation after generation learned to see the world around them: the personalities of animals, the adventures of insects, the vibrancy of the natural world.

As much a novelty of nostalgia as a short picture book for all ages, one of Eric Carle's most beloved characters returns between heart-patterned flyleaf pages to deliver a continuous message of love:

"You are so sweet, the cherry on my cake, the bees knees," the captions read. "You make the sun shine brighter, that stars sparkle, the birds sing, my heart flutter." Who wouldn't want to share that with their lovebug, large or small?

Eric Carle gave one of my favorite interviews of all time in The Paris Review for Young Readers, Spring 2015. Everyone who has ever met or been a child should read it. And check out the Eric Carle Museum, too.

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Book Cover of the Week: Poems That Make Grown Women Cry

Friday, February 05, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

It's already February, and with a certain day dedicated to romance on the greeting card calendar falling over a weekend this year, the pressure is on, for many, to curate a truly stellar activity or expression of love for those dear to them. Fortunately, there's still time to prepare.

It's hard to go wrong with poetry—I take that back: it's hard to go wrong with good poetry. And if you're not sure how to identify it yourself (or brave enough to try composing your own), might I suggest:

If you think poetry is cliché, you haven't encountered the verses selected by the writers, actors, translators, and song writers included in Anthony Holden and Ben Holden's dual anthologies. Poems That Make Grown Men Cry came out last spring; the companion, Poems That Make Grown Women Cry, follows this April from Simon & Schuster. Discover the poems that reliably reduce 100 women—including Ellena Ferrante, Francine Prose, Nikki Giovanni, Judi Dench, Yoko Ono, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Janet Suzman, Ruth Ozeki, and Ursula K. Le Guin—to tears: everything from the Romantic poets to Rumi to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to Gwendolyn Brooks to Jang Jin-Sun.

There's much to admire in the simplicity of both book covers, but I'm especially enamored by the typography gracing the forthcoming sequel. There's something reminiscent of a worn paperback novel inherited from one's mother in the filigreed Art Deco typeface, nearly-gold lettering simultaneously bold and wispy against a solid white background.

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