What to do about books with Jewish characters – who are clearly Jewish – but with a plot that is not at all about being Jewish? When the story could be just as easily about someone not Jewish…only it isn’t. Is this Jewish literature? Maybe not. But it’s a book about Jews. So then what? Do Jews make the literature Jewish? Is any book narrated by a female character necessarily “women’s literature”? But then, how could the culture, any culture that surrounds a lead character, not infuse the plot, seep into the structure of the story? And if the story as a whole is influenced by a culture, then doesn’t that put that book, that story, into the category of that culture? In this scenario, Jewish culture and Jewish literature specifically. There are a number of recent books that have come out in the past few years whose characters are Jewish, whose tones are Jewish, but – if asked to point to the Jewish content…well, it would be hard to find something explicit other than it being about people who happen to be Jews. What to do when, for many, the Jewish experience is not really about the actions or structures of Judaism, but more broadly defined. And therefore, these new works of literature couldn’t really be said to be overtly Jewish. Do we extend our definition? But then, how many “Jewish” books from previous generations, those about immigrants on the Lower East Side, for example, were really about being Jewish as opposed to being about Jews who are living a particular experience?
Miri joined the JBC team in Winter, 2004 upon graduating from Brandeis University. Originally from Philadelphia, she has lived and studied in Israel and London. Prior to working with JBC, she interned for the Jewish Publication Society. After seven years as the director of the JBC Network program, Miri has shifted her focus to book clubs, working to develop resources to better serve book club readers.