In cel­e­bra­tion of the High Hol­i­days, we asked thir­teen writ­ers to share a book they would rec­om­mend read­ing dur­ing this sea­son. Touch­ing on themes of renew­al, reflec­tion, atone­ment, for­give­ness, prayer, and more, these selec­tions promise a trans­for­ma­tive experience.

Jean Meltzer, author, most recent­ly, of Kiss­ing Kosher

This is Real and You Are Com­plete­ly Unpre­pared: The Days of Awe as a Jour­ney of Trans­for­ma­tion by Alan Lew

The High Hol­i­days are a won­der­ful time to recon­nect with the divine. Each year, I find myself return­ing to one book in order to aid my own spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment. This is Real and You are Com­plete­ly Unpre­pared: The Days of Awe as a Jour­ney of Trans­for­ma­tion by Rab­bi Alan Lew com­plete­ly trans­formed my under­stand­ing of the Jew­ish High Hol­i­day cycles. Blend­ing Jew­ish text with spir­i­tu­al lessons learned from a life­time of con­tem­pla­tive prac­tice, it’s a must-read for any­one seek­ing deep­er spir­i­tu­al mean­ing dur­ing the month of Elul.

God is Here: Reimag­in­ing the Divine by Toba Spitzer

In God is Here: Reimag­in­ing the Divine, Rab­bi Toba Spitzer mines the Jew­ish tex­tu­al tra­di­tion for an enriched vocab­u­lary of metaphors for God. For those of us for whom the image of a beard­ed man in the sky doesn’t quite work, God is Here reas­sures us that our fore­bears expe­ri­enced God else­where as well: in water, in rock, in fire. This book is a pow­er­ful read dur­ing the High Hol­i­day sea­son, when many of us try to con­nect with God, but don’t always suc­ceed. This book is a source of sup­port and inspi­ra­tion in that undertaking.

Mom Rage by Min­na Dubin

Guilt and remorse can be among our most pro­duc­tive emo­tions, but only if they open us up and cre­ate curios­i­ty about how to repair the harm we’ve caused and how to change mov­ing for­ward. If instead we’re shut down in shame or self-recrim­i­na­tion, we do nei­ther. To help the guilty moth­ers among us make amends and grow in the new year, I rec­om­mend Mom Rage by Min­na Dubin, a pow­er­ful exam­i­na­tion of the dif­fi­cult feel­ings of moth­er­hood sure to open you up to pro­duc­tive curiosity. 

When You Care by Elis­sa Strauss

Anoth­er rec­om­men­da­tion on the sub­ject is When You Care by Elis­sa Strauss, which will refresh and revi­tal­ize your rela­tion­ship to care­giv­ing in all its forms.

Melis­sa Broder, author, most recent­ly, of Death Val­ley

The Wild Edge of Sor­row: Rit­u­als of Renew­al and the Sacred Work of Grief by Fran­cis Weller

My Rosh Hashanah book selec­tion is The Wild Edge of Sor­row: Rit­u­als of Renew­al and the Sacred Work of Grief by Fran­cis Weller. Long after the shi­va peri­od and year of mourn­ing are over, how do we con­tin­ue to acknowl­edge and make room for grief when it aris­es? Weller explores the life-affirm­ing force of a sor­row ful­ly-hon­ored, and pre­scribes rit­u­als for doing so. He describes the act of bring­ing grief and death out of the shad­ow,” in a cul­ture that puts hap­pi­ness at a pre­mi­um, as our spir­i­tu­al responsibility.”

Feli­cia Berlin­er, author, most recent­ly, of Shmutz

The For­give­ness Tour: How to Find the Per­fect Apol­o­gy by Susan Shapiro 

If the idea of receiv­ing an apol­o­gy from some­one who hurt you is tan­ta­liz­ing, Susan Shapiro’s The For­give­ness Tour: How to Find the Per­fect Apol­o­gy is your go-to book. With sto­ries of betray­al from the com­mon­place (cheat­ing spouse) to the hor­rif­ic (Ser­bian geno­cide of Bosn­ian Mus­lims), Shapiro explores the teach­ings of for­give­ness from var­i­ous reli­gious tra­di­tions and offers some ques­tions to start the process of repair. What do you want to say to the per­son who hurt you, and what do you want to hear from them? What would help you heal? A pop­u­lar writ­ing teacher in New York City, (full dis­clo­sure: I took a work­shop with her more than a decade ago) Shapiro charts the details of her own hurt with humor and com­pas­sion. Does she get the apol­o­gy she wished for? It’s worth the read to find out.

On Repen­tance and Repair: Mak­ing Amends in an Unapolo­getic World by Danya Ruttenberg 

If there’s a force for repair on the inter­net, it’s Rab­bi Danya Rut­ten­berg, whose social media posts imme­di­ate­ly shift my doom-scrolling to soul-search­ing. In her book On Repen­tance and Repair: Mak­ing Amends in an Unapolo­getic World, Rab­bi Danya reflects on our rela­tion­ships to harm — the ways we all cause harm some­times,” have all been harmed,” and are all bystanders to harm.” She gives us a lens to reread Mai­monides’ instruc­tions for repen­tance and apply tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish ideas to con­tem­po­rary harms. This book (com­ing out in paper­back on Sep­tem­ber 12) will be my High Hol­i­days companion.

Days of Awe by S.Y. Agnon

I high­ly rec­om­mend S.Y. Agnon’s Days of Awe, a mar­velous com­pendi­um of sto­ries, com­men­taries, leg­ends, and more, about the High Hol­i­days. Struc­tured accord­ing to the hol­i­days’ chronol­o­gy, this time­less clas­sic is a book I return to every year, and that accom­pa­nies me through­out the hol­i­days along­side my mach­zor. I love Days of Awe for its poet­ic beau­ty, its diverse gen­res that some­how cohere seam­less­ly and ele­gant­ly, and its abil­i­ty to reveal to me every year some­thing new, per­son­al­ly rel­e­vant, and revitalizing.

Tod Gold­berg, author, most recent­ly, of Gang­sters Don’t Die

Father’s Day by Matthew Zapruder

One book that is nev­er far from me this time of the year is Matthew Zapruder’s poet­ry col­lec­tion Father’s Day. This col­lec­tion is both a med­i­ta­tion on this strange mod­ern life we’re all in togeth­er and the closed ecosys­tem of Zapruder’s home, where he and his wife are rais­ing a son with autism. Zaprud­er writes with pro­found empa­thy, always, but it’s when he exam­ines his own life that there is a del­i­cate grace that speaks of faith and char­i­ty, hope and loss, all at once. We see that in these lines from his poem My Life”:

can I say he is

my painful joy,

he thinks

in rhyme,

the truest friend

to no one yet

Zaprud­er is an ele­gant writer and the poems in Father’s Day reflect back the best of us, even in our hard­est times. 

Ash­ley Gold­berg, author, most recent­ly, of Abom­i­na­tion

The Amaz­ing Adven­tures of Kava­lier & Clay by Michael Chabon Michael

Chabon’s mas­ter­piece The Amaz­ing Adven­tures of Kava­lier & Clay is a fit­ting read for the High Hol­i­days. Fol­low­ing the exploits of two Jew­ish cousins – ama­teur magi­cian Joe and imag­i­na­tive Sam­my – and their com­ic book cre­ation from Nazi-occu­pied Prague to New York to Antarc­ti­ca, the nov­el has the scope and dar­ing to match that of any super­hero nar­ra­tive. And yet the book’s great­est strength may be its superb char­ac­ter­i­za­tion — the boys and their strug­gle with love, shame, fam­i­ly, and atonement.

The End of Her: Rac­ing Against Alzheimer’s to Solve a Mur­der by Wayne Hoffman 

Tablet edi­tor Wayne Hoffman’s fas­ci­nat­ing debut mem­oir, The End of Her, is a per­fect High Hol­i­day book since it cen­ters around Susan, his beloved Jew­ish moth­er. As a Man­hat­tan jour­nal­ist, Hoff­man tries to solve the mys­tery of what real­ly hap­pened to his mater­nal great-grand­moth­er Sarah, who was killed in Win­nipeg in 1913. But it’s hard to crack a cen­tu­ry-old unsolved mur­der with his mom declin­ing from Alzheimer’s. Mix­ing true crime with this poignant per­son­al cri­sis cre­ates a unique and unput­down­able fam­i­ly saga.

Act­ing Class by Nick Drnaso

Act­ing Class fol­lows a group of strangers as they embark on a col­lec­tive artis­tic process with an enig­mat­ic teacher that has them look­ing so deep inside them­selves, the lines of iden­ti­ty and real­i­ty become blurred. Though it fea­tures many indi­vid­ual char­ac­ters with their own respec­tive per­son­al jour­neys, Drna­so does an incred­i­ble job fol­low­ing a nar­ra­tive thread that brings them in and out of the present moment in a strange and uncan­ny sto­ry of self reflection.

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton

This mem­oir of the author’s time work­ing in Alberta’s oil sands exam­ines class and gen­der pol­i­tics through the eyes of a recent col­lege grad­u­ate try­ing to pay back her stu­dent loans. Beat­on looks back on the expe­ri­ence affec­tion­ate­ly and crit­i­cal­ly, paint­ing a com­pli­cat­ed pic­ture of becom­ing an adult in a harsh envi­ron­ment. Though gen­uine­ly heart­break­ing at times, fol­low­ing Beaton’s arc is a har­row­ing and reward­ing experience.

Leela Cor­man, author, most recent­ly, of You Are Not A Guest

Reach­ing Out With No Hands: Recon­sid­er­ing Yoko Ono by Lisa Carver

The atone­ment here is not Carver’s but ours, espe­cial­ly the patri­ar­chal rock estab­lish­ment that den­i­grates Yoko Ono as an artist and per­son. Carv­er, aka Lisa Suck­dog, is a trans­gres­sive per­for­mance artist, writer, and pub­lish­er of the icon­ic zine Rollerder­by. She redress­es decades of dis­missal, racism, and misog­y­ny aimed at Ono. It’s also a book about an artist who is a moth­er, by an artist who is one as well. Rarely are women grant­ed the agency to be those things simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. Carv­er writes, The Ger­man band Can mewled and hollered and banged. Ear­ly Pink Floyd, too. Why is that con­sid­ered inno­v­a­tive and cool, but Ono was made fun of for doing the same? I think because all those guys are guys, and she is a moth­er who lost her child, so mewl­ing and scream­ing are seen as imma­ture, inap­pro­pri­ate, and maybe even endangering.”

The Truce by Pri­mo Levi

The Truce is Pri­mo Lev­i’s account of his lib­er­a­tion from Auschwitz and slow return to life in the destroyed Europe of 1945. Dark­ness and humor coex­ist, as in this moment in Krakow: Now, that priest, young and with a kind face, under­stood nei­ther French nor Ger­man; as a result, for the first and only time in my post-scholas­tic career, I got some use out of years of clas­si­cal stud­ies by ini­ti­at­ing in Latin the strangest and most tan­gled of con­ver­sa­tions (‘Pater optime, ubi est men­sa pau­per­o­rum?’)”. Too often, we’re giv­en tidy nar­ra­tives of the peri­od that gloss over its impos­si­ble com­pli­ca­tions. The oppo­site is true in Lev­i’s pre­cise gaze. We’re grant­ed access to this shat­tered time in all of its dirt, fleas, and humor; the moments where peo­ple begin to recov­er their human­i­ty along with their flesh.

Mare’s Nest by Hol­ly Mitchell

Mare’s Nest by Hol­ly Mitchell is a poet­ry col­lec­tion I would rec­om­mend with­out reser­va­tion for the High Hol­i­days, as we look to G‑d as Avinu Malkeinu. Mitchell uses hors­es as teach­ers, much as Adam and Eve learned about them­selves from the ani­mals in Eden. Her poems are a lilt­ing med­i­ta­tion on par­ent­ing as a con­duit for active choice, whether that choice is vio­lent or loving.

Eden Pearl­stein, man­ag­ing edi­tor at Ayin Press

I. by Ger­ald Stern

The lit­er­ary form I am most drawn to dur­ing the High Hol­i­days is the con­tem­po­rary long poem. The anx­i­ety, curios­i­ty, and sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief required to begin and stick with a long, dif­fi­cult work of poet­ry approx­i­mates for me a day spent in shul wad­ing through hun­dreds of pages of arcane Hebrew poet­ry. For those who are sim­i­lar­ly adrift dur­ing the Days of Awe, I whole-heart­ed­ly sug­gest the book-length poem I. by the inim­itable Ger­ald Stern (May his mem­o­ry be a bless­ing). The one-let­ter title refers to the prophet Isa­iah (famous crit­ic of emp­ty rit­u­al), as well as the slip­pery fish of the self. The entire book (includ­ing a mov­ing intro­duc­tion by Ross Gay and inter­tex­tu­al after­word by Ali­cia Ostrik­er) is a riotous reflec­tion on life, death, pow­er, jus­tice, beau­ty, and what real­ly mat­ters — mak­ing it a per­fect com­pan­ion for this sea­son of intro­spec­tion and exaltation.