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Jewish Book Council Staff Picks for April 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017 | Permalink

Independent Bookstore Day is this weekend! If you're visiting your local bookstore to support your local literary anchor on Saturday—or any day of the week—let us be your guide: check out the books Jewish Book Council's staff recommends to our readers for April 2017!

Want to browse past staff picks? Scroll through our monthly lists of recommended reads or browse our staff libraries!

Suzanne

Disobedience: A Novel by Naomi Alderman extremely interesting story of a young woman who fled her ultra-Orthodox life, only return for the first time after the death of her father, the head rabbi of a London Jewish community. This story deals with her re-connection of what was and how she deals with this past and her current life. I highly suggest this thoroughly thought-provoking book. Can't wait to see how they make this into an upcoming movie!

Carol

In Joshua Cohen’s Moving Kings, two directionless Israelis, Yoav and Uri, have just completed their army service and get jobs working in Yoav's uncle's moving company in Queens. Cohen's portrayal of the grim, gritty, often brutal world they inhabit—and the one they inhabited in the IDF—is boldly drawn in what is often insanely insightful and mordantly funny prose. Hard-hitting and entertaining, this is Cohen's most accessible novel yet.

Becca

The Tincture of Time: a Memoir of (Medical) Uncertainty by Elizabeth L. Silver is one of the most poignant and thought-provoking memoirs I've read. As an infant, Silver's daughter has an unexplained brain bleed. While she relentlessly seek medical answers, Silver also looks for solace in religion, literature, history, and the law. All of these references are fascinating, but none can provide complete reassurance—much like the book itself. This memoir is a beautiful exploration of situations in which the only thing that can provide a definite answer is time.

Miri

After the Fire by Lauren Belfer is a great read for book clubs—it even won the Book Club category in the 2016 National Jewish Book Award—as it raises all sorts of larger questions about obligation, religion, culture and art, and responsibilities.

Nat

I’m head-over-heels in love with Elan Mastai’s science fiction novel All Our Wrong Todays, the chronicles of a hapless accidental time traveler from “the world we were supposed to have,” 2016. Mastai fuses humor with poignancy, human foible with heroism in a cast of flawed, sympathetic characters hurtled toward and away from one another by the full range from passion to the pettiest of pursuits. Steered by a series of successive failures and fail-safes, the novel takes readers on a rare, captivating caper across the channels of time, deftly hinting at the inevitable without exposing the unforeseen—or relying on cheap plot twists.

I’m also in the middle of Sonora: A Novel by Hannah Lillith Assadi, a hazy yet cutting account of adolescence and displacement in the Arizona desert, where the daughter of a Palestinian father and Israeli mother discovers sex, drugs, dreams, and premonitions of death.

Naomi

Carolyn

Evie


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Jewish Book Council Staff Picks for March 2017

Friday, March 31, 2017 | Permalink

The Jewish Book Council staff shares what we've been reading over the last month:

Carolyn

How did the small country of Israel, with a population of only six million, become a leader in the development of new technology being deployed on the battlefield? The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Become a High-Tech Military Superpower by Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot addresses this question and more about Israel's success.

Suzanne

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain traces the lives of two boys through their adulthood in Switzerland during WWII from very different lives. One is a boy who becomes a hotel owner and the other a hopeful Jewish concert pianist. Their story is about love, lost, anti-Semitism and lifetime of friendship. I found this a very moving story that I couldn't put down.

Mimi

Although Gavriel Savit’s Anna and the Swallow Man was originally touted as a YA book, it certainly appropriate for an adult. The writing is very sophisticated and the story captured my attention.


Joyce

Beautifully written by a gifted storyteller, Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb explores complex times and characters in post-Holocaust Georgia through characters you will come to love.


Miri

I really enjoyed reading Abigail Pogrebin’s My Jewish Year, as both a memoir and as an exploration of the Jewish year. Abigail has a great voice, and, even though I came in knowing a lot about the holidays, I learned new things and read some really interesting interpretations from the rabbis that she interviewed.

Carol

Daphne Merkin chronicles her lifelong battle with clinical depression in This Close to Happy, a moving, lucid, and ultimately hopeful memoir.


Evie

Reading Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank is something of a rite of passage for the Jewish Book Council staff. I’m delighted to be initiated!


Becca

Schadenfreude, A Love Story is the hilarious and insightful memoir of an angsty, half-Jewish teenager who becomes obsessed with Kafka and all things German. As someone who has lived in Germany for a short time, I couldn't get enough of Schuman's loving, snarky, spot-on observations—and I think any reader would find her story just as enjoyable as I did.

Nat

Publishing George Prochnik’s Visiting Scribe essays on his new biography of Gershom Scholem, Stranger in a Strange Land, reminded me what a privilege it is to edit a series that invites authors to share deeply personal reflections on what it means to be a Jewish writer—and to be Jewish, period.

Naomi

I grabbed a copy of Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen to read over a recent trip—I couldn't put it down!


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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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Jewish Book Council Staff Picks for November 2016

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 | Permalink

Carol

Last week, in the wake of Donald Trump's victory and Leonard Cohen's death, I reached for Liel Leibovitz's thoughtful and illuminating 2013 meditation on the great poet/songwriter, entitled A Broken Hallelujah. Reading it actually made me feel a little better.

I'm also reading The Empire of the Senses, Alexis Landau's sweeping historical novel set in Berlin between the two world wars and filled with Jewish and gentile characters who are at once united and divided by family ties, national loyalties, and romantic passions.

Naomi

Written in three-parts, Noemi Jaffe's What are the Blind Men Dreaming? brings together the experiences and reflections of three generations of women: Lili Stern—the author’s mother—a Holocaust survivor whose diary entries open the book; Noemi Jaffe herself, reflecting on her mother's experiences upon reading her diary and visiting Auschwitz in 2009; and Noemi's daughter Leda Cartum​, as a response to "the power of memory and survival." Translated from Brazilian Portuguese and Serbian (Lili moved to Brazil from the Balkans following the war), What are the Blind Men Dreaming?is a thoughtful and moving addition to the canon of Holocaust literature.

Suzanne

Mischling by Affinity Konar is a debut novel of the horrific times in Dr. Menngele's Auschwitz laboratory. The story alternates between 13-year-old identical twins Pearl and Stasha and the horrific acts of medical experiments that were done to them and thousands of other children. Throughout this novel, there is awful despair but also acts of survival and hope.

I’m also reading The Imperial Wife by Irina Reyn, in which the past and the present collide over a priceless artifact. This is an interesting look at the ambition of two different but similar women.

Evie

I thought Helen Maryles Shankman’s In the Land of Armadillos it was strikingly emotive, a glimpse into one small Polish town during World War II. The short stories are electric and heartbreaking, showcasing a the many different sides to one larger story—the regular lives of a people that are thrust into history. The writer has the uncanny ability to craft each story as if it was its own world, yet fit neatly within the others like a puzzle. Each character is finely wrought and complex, often struggling with the mundane details of their everyday lives while under the immense pressure of death hovering over them daily. They are beautiful stories flowing with magic and poetry, as the author inserted a little piece of magic into each one.

Joyce

Perfect for this time of reflection, Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World by journalist and award-winning writer Megan Feldman Bettencourt is an emotional journey exploring everything from a mundane slight to crimes that are unthinkable, with teachers from all walks of life who show the way to learning to forgive.

Becca

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain is about two young boys—one Jewish and one not—growing upon Switzerland after World War II. I love the author's beautiful but spare writing—the narrative seems so direct that it takes a while to realize how much is left unspoken. I'm also particularly struck by one boy's concept of Swiss neutrality and self-reliance, which affects his relationships throughout the novel.

Nat

On recommendation from Naomi, this week I read David Samuel Levinson’s forthcoming novel Tell Me How This Ends Well, in which three adult siblings are forced to contend with their mother’s rapidly declining health in a rabidly antisemitic world six years into the future. I’m also revisiting David Peace’s GB84, a hefty crime novel set against the British coal miner’s strike in of 1984, and yesterday I picked up a copy of The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism by Kristin Dombeck. It’s one of the most illuminating and all-too-real works of nonfiction I have read this year—it’s all I can do to stop myself from tearing pages directly out of the book and anonymously delivering them to certain mailboxes...

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Jewish Book Council Staff Picks for September 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016 | Permalink

Becca

Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan is about a family of Irish Jews over three generations, written by a young writer who became fascinated with the Jewish experience in Ireland when she was in school at Cambridge and became close friends with Jewish students. Before coming across the Irish Sea, she had no idea there even were Irish Jews!

Carol

Two She-Bears, Meir Shalev’s newest novel, is a complex and raw book that continues to get better and better the further you read.

Suzanne

Karolina’s Twins was a book that I could not put down. It is a story of life, survival and love. It is also a story of a promise that must be kept, no matter the cost and the dark horrible memories that it may bring. Lena Woodward, a survivor of the Holocaust, has lived with an awful memory of what happened to twin girls that were born during the worst of times and what it took to survive the atrocities of the Holocaust. Lena hires an investigator and lawyer to help her find the twins from her past at the same moment her son presents her with a lawsuit to take over her estate and her independence in the present. This story takes us through bond of friendship of the past, the secret that has been lived with and how they come to terms with it all.

Evie

The Golden Age by Joan London is told from the perspective of Frank, a Jewish teenager who escaped World War II with his family and was hospitalized for polio soon after they settled in Australia. This very personal and diverse fictional narrative is very well written: I’m enjoying the novel because it incorporates a family immigrant story with the experience of a lovelorn, disabled teen—and his letters and poetry.

Nat

I just started reading Murder, Inc. and the Moral Life: Gangsters and Gangbusters in La Guardia’s New York by Robert Weldon Whalen.
The book has been very eye-opening for me in terms of how a series of trials in 1940 and 1941 continues to influence American cinema, television, literature, and popular culture today—and the ethical imprints and implications of that fascination. It’s a solid piece of scholarship, but the writing flows very well, and I’m finding this work of nonfiction a thoroughly engaging and accessible read. I also have my nose in Against Everything, a collection of essays by Mark Greif. It opens with the claim that if Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” were written today, it would be about an exercise machine—a notion that resonates with me on many different levels.

Miri


Mimi


Naomi


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Jewish Book Council Staff Picks for August 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Salma Felah

Carol

This month, I am reading The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret. It is as funny, as odd, and as true as his unforgettable and entertaining short stories.

Miri

Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole is an interesting look into a world of Jewish scholarship I knew nothing about, and a good Jewish history.

Becca

The Life of Louis Kahn by Wendy Lesser is an extremely personal story because it is about my grandfather. It is very interesting to me to read a story I have heard about in pieces. It is extremely well written, and even though it has not come out I recommend it to all!

Sophie

I haven't started yet, but I am very excited to read The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz this month!

Naomi

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer is an intergenerational look American Jewry, its relationship to Israel, the Holocaust, Jewish ritual, politics, technology, and media (among other things...) and how they each play out in a domestic space and the world more generally.

Evie

This month, I am reading I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Set in the English countryside during the 1930s, it is narrated by a young girl who lives with her family in a decrepit castle in England. So far it is a good read, but I have not finished it yet!

Joyce

This month, I am reading The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky. Her writing is compelling and her characters are already living with me—and I just started!

Suzanne

At some point in everyone's life, you dream about "running away." Leave Me by Gayle Forman is that story. Overworked, very busy mother, wife and full-time editor, Maribeth Klein gets sick and can not recuperate. This novel is about what Maribeth does to face her real life again.

Nat

I'm riding the last month of summer for all it's worth with my August reads. Currently I have my nose burred in Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon and an upcoming English translation of Tommy Wieringa's These Are the Names, which won the 2013 Libris Prize in its original Dutch. It doesn't take long to see why: I'm only a few chapters in and I'm already spellbound by the novel's balance of mundane and mysterious between two seemingly inharmonious stories without ever striking a discordant note.

And for those wondering how Moonglow compares to his previous novels: Chabon's back.

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Jewish Book Council Staff Picks for July 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Salma Falah

Miri

Carolyn

Becca

Sophie

 This month, I am reading Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown. This book is about a young Jewish woman in 1935 and her relationship with her mother. It highlights strong women during harsh times. This book is very well written and very interesting. Even though I am only halfway through, I enjoy her detailed writing style. I recommend it to people who enjoy strong female leads.

I am also reading Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon. This book portrays strong women in the early twentieth century. I am only in beginning, but so far it is extremely well written.

Mimi

 This month, I am reading Imagine That by Mark Fins. This is a memoir that takes place in Bayside, Queens in 1957. Since I grew up in Bayside in that time period, this book especially resonated with me. I enjoyed the main characters fertile imagination. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a light read.

I am also reading Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. This book follows the lives of three different women in 1939. The writing is clear and concise, and it is an interesting read. I recommend it to people who like the time period of WWII.

Nat

This July I fell in love with Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear, a sylphic novel on the power and powerlessness of parents, children, writers, and their translators, set in contemporary Brazil. I read it one summery gulp.

                                                  Evie

The Big Lie is a YA look at the world if the Nazi's had won World War II, the focus of the book is on Jessika, who is an exemplary daughter of a high Nazi official. But she struggles with her limited world view when her best friend forces her to confront the world and the lies she has been told, as well as her confusion over her sexuality. The book is fast-paced, compelling, and forces the reader to confront the idea that the world they have always been taken as a given a lie.

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April 2014 Jewish Book Council Staff Picks

Thursday, April 10, 2014 | Permalink

What we're reading this month:

Suzanne: The Harem Midwife (Roberta Rich) | Naomi: A Bintel Brief (Liana Finck)
Miri: The Inn at Lake Devine (Elinor Lipman) | Nat: Testimony (The Shoah Foundation)
Carol: The Life-Transforming Diet (David Zulberg) | Mimi: Seduction (M.J. Rose)

February 2014 Jewish Book Council Staff Picks

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 | Permalink

What we're reading this month:

Suzanne: My Promised Land (Ari Shavit) | Naomi: All Russians Love Birch Trees (Olga Grjasnowa)
Mimi: An American Bride in Kabul (Phyllis Chesler) | Joyce: The Mothers (Jennifer Gilmore)
Carol: Little Failure (Gary Shteyngart) | Carolyn: Outwitting History (Aaron Lansky)
Nat: One More Thing (B.J. Novak) | Miri: Cut Me Loose (Leah Vincent)


January 2014 Jewish Book Council Staff Picks

Wednesday, January 08, 2014 | Permalink

What we're reading this month:

January 2014 Jewish Book Council Staff Picks

Suzanne: The Jew and the Pope (Sybil Terres Gilmar) | Carol: Unclean Lips (Josh Lambert)
Miri: Joy Comes in the Morning (Jonathan Rosen)
Carolyn: How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick (Letty Cottin Pogrebin)
Naomi: The Rise of David Levinsky (Abraham Cahan) | Nat: The Last Animal (Abby Geni)