Post­ed by Nao­mi Firestone-Teeter

A few weeks ago, Miri Pomer­antz Dauber and I had a great con­ver­sa­tion with Michelle Haimoff, whose debut nov­el, These Days Are Ours, will be pub­lished in Feb­ru­ary. We con­tin­ued the ongo­ing con­ver­sa­tion about what it means to be a Jew­ish” author and the dif­fer­ence between a Jew­ish book and a book that hap­pens to be writ­ten by a Jew­ish author (with Jew­ish cul­tur­al ref­er­ences as the Jew­ish” com­po­nent). The con­ver­sa­tion got me think­ing back to my very first blog post for JBC, which took a look at Joan­na Smith Rakof­f’s A For­tu­nate Age and Kei­th Gessen’s All the Sad Young Lit­er­ary Men, par­tic­u­lar­ly:

For sev­er­al of Rakoff’s char­ac­ters, their Jew­ish her­itage becomes a part of the back­drop – their Judaism is not front and cen­ter – but it’s a part of their foun­da­tion, mak­ing brief appear­ances through­out the book. None of the char­ac­ters are par­tic­u­lar­ly reli­gious (although one does end up explor­ing Israel out of the bound­aries of the nar­ra­tive), and none com­ment on their Judaism as a neg­a­tive fac­tor with­in their life (or par­tic­u­lar­ly pos­i­tive) – it’s just a fact. They don’t wear it on their sleeve, but it’s there on the first page of the book, and it seeps back in through­out the course of the narrative. 

In 2007, we spent a lot of time think­ing about ques­tions sur­round­ing Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture and even host­ed a pan­el at the Strand as a part of the oy!hoo fes­ti­val called You Can Write, But You Can’t Hide: The Sub­tle Ubiq­ui­ty of Jew­ish Identity:

Even if you haven’t noticed it, it’s there in every sen­tence you write. It’s there to make you feel guilty, there to make you feel proud, there to make you remem­ber who and why you are. It’s your Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, and it’s as big as the entire world, inject­ing itself into every­thing. But just what is Jew­ish iden­ti­ty? And how does it affect Jew­ish writ­ers? And what’s to become of it in an exceed­ing­ly sec­u­lar world? Join an intre­pid group of authors as they grap­ple with these ques­tions while still try­ing to make their moth­ers proud.

These are the ques­tions that par­tic­u­lar­ly dri­ve me, as a sec­u­lar Jew liv­ing in New York City who is in the busi­ness of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture (and ideas, his­to­ry, cul­ture, etc.). With each new book that tack­les the sub­ject, I revis­it the ideas I con­sid­ered in that first blog post and the ques­tions we sought to address at the oy!hoo and con­sid­er my own life choic­es and where I want to go from here. I eager­ly antic­i­pate the 2012 crop of books that are con­cerned with sim­i­lar questions. 

With that out of my system…your final JBC Book­shelf before I pack up and head to Ire­land for a week! See you in January…

Break­ing and Enter­ing: A Nov­el, Eileen Pol­lack (Jan­u­ary 2012, Four Way Books)
Read an excerpt here

Flatscreen: A Nov­el, Adam Wil­son (Feb­ru­ary 2012, Harp­er Peren­ni­al)
Check out The Faster Times, Adam is a found­ing editor

New Amer­i­can Hag­gadah, Jonathan Safran Foer, ed.; Nathan Eng­lan­der, new trans. (March 2012, Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny)
Read reviews of Safran Foer’s Eat­ing Ani­mals, Every­thing is Illu­mi­nat­ed, and Incred­i­bly Loud and Incred­i­bly Close on the JBC website
Read an excerpt here

Orig­i­nal­ly from Lan­cast­er, Penn­syl­va­nia, Nao­mi is the CEO of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She grad­u­at­ed from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty with degrees in Eng­lish and Art His­to­ry and, in addi­tion, stud­ied at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don. Pri­or to her role as exec­u­tive direc­tor, Nao­mi served as the found­ing edi­tor of the JBC web­site and blog and man­ag­ing edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World. In addi­tion, she has over­seen JBC’s dig­i­tal ini­tia­tives, and also devel­oped the JBC’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series and Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Conversation.