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Jewish Books to Look Forward to in 2018

Wednesday, January 03, 2018 | Permalink

It's the first week of January, a.k.a. time to compile our reading lists for the year ahead. There are so many amazing Jewish-interest books coming out in 2018...We have a lot of reading to do! Here's just a small selection of forthcoming releases that we're particularly excited about.

The Magnificent Esme Wells (April) is set in the thrilling and merciless early days of the intertwined worlds of Las Vegas casinos and Hollywood studios, when both were dominated by ruthless, power-wielding Jewish mobsters. An aspiring Vegas headliner and her precocious daughter (that's Esme) are the focus of this compelling story that brings to life an important, fascinating era. —Carol Kaufman, Editorial Director

Image result for sadness is a white bird

Sadness is a White Bird (February) is the story of a young Israeli-American man who, as he is preparing to join the IDF, befriends two Palestinian siblings, and is forced to confront his own identity; this includes an attempt to understand his grandfather's family history and commitment to the creation of the State of Israel after his community in Salonica is destroyed by the Nazis. —Naomi Firestone-Teeter, Executive Director

 Image result for we are gathered jamie weisman 

I'm looking forward to the release of The Chateau by Paul Goldberg (February). Who couldn't relate to a novel about a crooked condo board? On the lighter side, We Are Gathered (June) by debut novelist Jamie Weisman is a tender and funny story that describes an interfaith wedding in Atlanta from the perspectives of its (adoring, envious, resentful, hilarious) guests. —Stefanie Shulman, Associate Director, Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature

This Narrow Space by Elisha Waldman The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas

This Narrow Space (January) is the very intense and well-written memoir of an American doctor about his experiences in Israel. The Last Watchman of Cairo (March) is an outstanding story about the reign, over many generations, of the watchmen of the major synagogue in Cairo. —Carolyn Starman Hessel, Director, Sami Rohr Prize 

I'm excited to read The Iron Season (October), the sequel to Helene Wecker's historical fiction/fantasy novel The Golem and the Jinni. —Suzanne Swift, Director, JBC Network

The Diamond Setter by Moshe Sakal (March) is the tale of a famous blue diamond, a love triangle between three men from Tel Aviv and Damascus, and an intimate yet wide-reaching evocation of the Middle East throughout the twentieth century. It's been a bestseller in Israel, and I'm thrilled to see it translated into English by Jessica Cohen. —Becca Kantor, Managing Editor

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 December 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016 | Permalink

Find out what the Jewish Book Council staff is reading this month!

Mimi

Sababa by Yamin Levy is an interesting book of two stories, both taking place in Jerusalem, but centuries apart. One story focuses on the Second Temple era while the other story takes place in the 21st century.

Carolyn

Meir Shalev’s Two She-Bears is a beautiful story set on a moshav in pre-state Israel, written by one of that country's most eloquent writers.

Joyce

Janis Cooke Newman’s A Master Plan for Rescue is a beautiful story about an American boy whose world is turned upside down by loss. The world is at war and Jack, a 12-year-old Irish American, comes face-to-face with the horrors of Nazi Germany in his Manhattan neighborhood. As Jack sets out to right the wrongs in his world, he learns that the stories we hear, the stories we tell, and the story we hope can come true can lead to true heroism.

Carol

I am finding Affinity Konar's second novel, Mischling, both hard to pick up because of its horrific subject matter—Josef Mengele's sadistic experiments on and torture of identical twins in Auschwitz—and impossible to put down: Konar's powerful, original prose pulls the reader irresistibly into this nightmarish world.

Miri

As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner delves into the complex relationship of a Jewish family in the late 1940s. Set in a Jewish beach community in Connecticut, the book shows daily life in the post-war time, and the societal changes that follow.

Becca

I've been reading Toward a Hot Jew, a collection of raw, incisive, and beautiful graphic essays by Miriam Libicki. I'm fascinated by the shifting relationship between Jews, visual arts, and body image throughout the centuries—and comics are the perfect medium for a contemporary take on the topic.

Nat

Jacob Bacharach’s The Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gates sucked me in from Page 1. The novel ponders the family tensions between the forefathers of Genesis and the women among them, retold as a modern-day story of a woman named Isabel following the collapse of an eight-year relationship and subsequent relocation from New York City to Pittsburgh, where she meets a young man named Isaac whose complicated relationship with his parents, Sarah and Abbie—an architect turned ignoble real estate developer—begins to leech into Isabel’s own life.

It’s been very interesting to read Bacharach’s novel alongside The House of the Mother: The Social Roles of Maternal King in Biblical Hebrew Narrative and Poetry by Cynthia R. Chapman, who challenges scholars to reconsider the traditional academic and rabbinical constructs of patrilineal social genealogy between and among the Biblical dynasties in favor of a greater appreciation for the maternal influences on house structure and political divisions in each generation.

And speaking of maternal influences, I also just finished a re-read of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children Marjorie Ingall, in anticipation of the talk she’s giving at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) Conference next month. I hope to see plenty of Jewish Book Council’s readers there!

Suzanne

Armando Lucas Correa’s The German Girl is a great read! The story spans 70 years, beginning with the narrative of an eleven-year-old girl named Hannah in Nazi-occupied Berlin. The novel follows Hannah and her family on the S.S. St. Louis and into Cuba, together with the story of another girl her age in present-day New York, and sheds light on the life of the Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis. It is a very timely story, especially with the recent changes in our access to Cuba.

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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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