Summertime is the perfect time to curl up with a good book. What to read? When we put out the word that we were seeking suggestions from people around the state, we had an avalanche of responses, some in the form of a simple list and others adding in a bit of editorial. Either way, the breadth of suggestions prove without a doubt that the people of the book are indeed people who can’t pass up a good book. Here are their picks for summer:
Jeanette Kuvin Oren
I’m really enjoying Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings. It’s about a tight group of teens who meet at summer camp and the ways their lives diverge afterwards. Next will be King of the Class by Gila Green, a futuristic satire on Israeli politics and religion. Then, The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman, about a couple in pre-war Prague who meet again decades later in New York.
Rabbi Ilana Garber
Beth El Temple, West Hartford
After reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (which I highly recommend to both women AND men), I decided I just had to read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. This is the 50th anniversary of its original publication and I can’t believe – as a Barnard College alumna and a female rabbi – that I had never read it! It’s very interesting to see how far we have come in some ways, and how much more work we have to do. For lighter summer reading, I’d recommend My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar and Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner, two books I read this past year as part of The Jewish View, a program at Beth El. Both books are intense explorations of personal journeys – I didn’t want to put either one down for a second!
Executive Director, UJA Federation of Greenwich
Number one on my list is Dara Horn’s new book, A Guide For the Perplexed. I have an advance copy through the Jewish Book Council and right at the beginning you know it’s going to be a page-turner. Dara Horn’s writing never disappoints. I also plan to read the book my mother, Eleanor Ehrenkranz, just released on Jewish poetry, called Explaining Life: The Wisdom of Modern Jewish Poetry. While I have read most of the poems, I am eager to read the responses by Senator Lieberman, Tova Feldshuh, Judith Viorst, Dara Horn, and others! (Editor’s note: watch for an interview with Eleanor Ehrenkranz in an upcoming issue of the Ledger)
The best book I read this year was Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. It is a beautifully written and unusual story about love. I don’t want to give any hints that might spoil the story – people should just read it…
I’m a member of a small group of three friends who for the last several years have been trying to read the great novels of all time, along with our mentor Andrew De Rocco. The last two books we read were The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass and a current novel which may some day be considered a classic, Canada by Richard Ford. We are currently reading Call It Sleep, a relatively unknown classic by Henry Roth, which is a story of Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century. Our next book is The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. For fun I am also reading Mickey and Willie by Allen Barra, a new book about my boyhood baseball idols, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. For the most part, none of these are traditional summer reading, but very worthy of anyone’s time.
Ira J. Wise
Director of Education, Congregation B’nai Israel, Bridgeport
The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal, by Jonathan Mooney, an amazing advocate for special needs (he himself is dyslexic and profoundly learning disabled) and a Jewish teacher. He traces his own journey as he learns that normal is relative and everybody needs to find their own way to live.
Relational Judaism by Ron Wolfson
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
Sacred Housekeeping by Harriet Rossetto. An honest autobiography of the founder of Beit Teshuvah. Once a tiny halfway house for Jewish ex-cons, it has become a huge and powerful treatment center for people with a variety of addictions.
Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Noah’s Wife – 5500 BCE, by T.K. Thorne
Torah Conversations with Nechama
Leibowitz, by Benjamin Yasgur
Sales Associate, CT Jewish Ledger
I’ve read two books by Rick Bragg, Ava’s Man and All Over but the Shoutin. The first is a story about the author’s grandmother and her husband and their story of a poor family in the South. The other is about his youth and his mother and her difficult relationship with his father. The stories are rich in warmth and humor, and Bragg pulls them off without bitterness. I’d also suggest all the James Herriot books for all animal lovers, but readers should start with the first. These are perfect for beach reading.
Francene Turken Weingast
Educational Services Specialist, Commission on Jewish Education,
Lately, I have been enjoying Victoria Thompson murder mysteries that take place in old New York beginning with Murder on Astor Place. These are mindless, fast reading page turners. You can polish one off in a few hours. Great for a long plane ride or a day at the beach.
Just finished reading Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of “Gosford Park,” and probably best known for creating and writing “Downton Abbey.” I loved reading about the world of upper crust English society with Fellowes’s subtle, mocking touch. As anyone who is a “Downton” fan knows, he writes with wit and poignancy. This is a perfect beach book!
I’m nearly done reading August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien. I’m really looking forward to reading Country Girl: A Memoir by O’Brien.
Months ago I ordered J.K. Rowling’s adult novel, The Casual Vacancy in hard cover. It is 500 pages. I’m a huge fan of Rowling and of Edinburgh, and will read this book by the end of summer, I know.
I’m also looking forward to reading Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival by Maziar Bahari. He is the Iranian journalist about whom Jon Stewart is currently directing a documentary film.
Another hard cover book I want to read is Life After Death by Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three, teenage boys accused and convicted of murdering three little boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. He served 17 years on death row before gaining release a couple of years ago.
Another friend loaned me two books,The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker that is set in Burma (Myanmar?), and A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi.
Yet another friend suggested that I read
Significant Objects by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn. It’s a compilation of 100 stories written by creative writers who wrote stories about an eclectic collection of items liberated from thrift stores and yard sales. I read one of the stories, “Rooster Oven Mitt,” by Victor LaValle and enjoyed it a lot.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ll be re-reading the book I’ve just finished editing for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford, which is coming out on June 26. Revisiting Our Neighborhoods: Stories from Hartford’s Past is the second anthology about growing up, living, and working in Hartford between the early and middle years of the 20th century. Lots of wonderful photos and lots of stories by 135 contributors.
Rabbi Jim Prosnit
Congregation B’nai Israel, Bridgeport
I teach a course called Jewish Interpretation of Scripture at Fairfield University so I’m always on the look out for contemporary discussions of traditional biblical texts. I just finished reading Beginnings: Reflections on the Bible’s Intriguing Firsts by Meir Shalev. It’s terrific! Shalev is in the main an Israeli novelist (Pigeon and a Boy; The Blue Mountain) so his writing is lyrical and his insights engaging. Topics include the first love, the first dream, the first laugh, the first spies.
Summer time is also a time for rabbis to look for High Holy Day sermonic fodder. I sense there is potential in Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other by Sherry Turkle.
I’m a mystery reader too and just “discovered” a new author, Luise Penny and her French Canadian Inspector General Armand Gamache.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. It’s about family and memory. Anything else is a spoiler.
Breakfast with Buddha took me on a delightful road trip from Westchester to North Dakota, in the company of your average (is there such a thing?) New York area liberal smart married with children nice guy and his ditzy sister’s spiritual teacher — a large shaven head monk from somewhere far from here in purple robes with a big laugh and profoundly simple answers to the big questions. Charming, funny, serious — I couldn’t put it down. Now reading Lunch with Buddha — same two guys driving from Seattle to North Dakota with more serious life questions. I hope they eventually have dinner together!
The Passage of Power gives me the history and insights into eight years that shaped my life and the life of the country: I went from a naive teenager to a radicalized young adult and Lyndon Johnson went from being a powerful senator to an impotent vice president and then president after Kennedy’s assassination.
Midnight in Peking uses the foil of a murder investigation to reveal what the last days of old China were really like in 1937—another time period that interests me as the world was darkening with terrible violence and the US dug deeper into isolationism and Peking fought to keep control over the country.
Executive Director, Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford
On my list:
Catherine the Great by Robert Massie (want to review Russian history for the Society’s upcoming trip!)
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillipp Sendker
The Storyteller by Jodi Picolt
This is a Soul by Marilyn Berger
A great book I recently read – The Dovekeepers
I just finished The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. Not only is it a big, fat, juicy book – but also very powerful.
Prof. Vera Schwarcz
Professor of East Asian studies and history, Wesleyan University, West Hartford
I am thinking if Israel, today and earlier, and find that good, well translated fiction takes me there most imaginatively:
A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev
From the Four Winds byHaim Sabato
Program Coordinator, UJA/Federation Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit
11-22-63 by Stephen King
These are a few of the ones I enjoyed.
Jewish related books: A Pigeon & A Boy, The 188th Crybaby Brigade, Jerusalem Maiden, The Year of Living Biblically
Other books: Kitchen House, The Language of Flowers, Me Before You, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Wife 22
Non Fiction: Half the Sky, Driving the Saudis, Son of Hamas, Start Up Nation
Harold Lindenthal, Hartford
My summer reading includes the following three books:
What A Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and Jason Epstein
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT) Hartford
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
An American Bride in Kabul: A memoir by Phyllis Chesler
Tomorrow There will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
Margot: A Novel by Jillian Cantor
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Connecticut Regional Director, Anti-Defamation League
Abe Foxman and ADL lay leader Christopher Wolf, who has an enormous amount of expertise on the subject, have just this month authored a book called Viral Hate. There really is no one else better prepared to consider the impact of Internet hate than these two individuals. I will be reading it over the next week or two.
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven
I will look forward to reading Innocents by Francesca Segal. It seems to have won every book award and is touted as being impossible to resist. And I have been promising myself to read the latest Aharon Appelfeld’s Until the Dawn’s Light. A friend gave me Richard Breitman and Allan J.Lichtman’s FDR and the Jews, which I have promised to finish for a book group. I have just purchased David Roskies’ latest book on Holocaust Literature and I know I will use it as a resource for this year’s March of the Living.
For professional reasons the #1 book on my summer reading list promises an important message for all of us in the organized Jewish community. Dr. Ron Wolfson has gifted us with his most recent work, Relational Judaism. His subtitle is intriguing: Using the power of relationships to transform the Jewish community.
And saving the best for last: Paris: The Novel by Edward Rutherferd is touted as magical. I’ve read Alan Furst’s mystery about Paris, Mission to Paris, and The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, so this will make a nice trio for this year. Love to get there again in 2014.
A girl can dream, can’t she?
Sara Dara Littman
Rick Yancey’s gripping dystopian The Fifth Wave. Yancey was apparently inspired to write this book after seeing a BBC interview in which physicist Stephen Hawking contended “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
Can’t wait to read: Jordan Sonnenblick’s Are You Experienced? which comes out in early September. Fifteen-year-old guitar player Rich gets into trouble when the police (and his dad) show up at a protest rally where his girlfriend has persuaded him to perform. To make matters worse, this happens near the anniversary of his uncle’s death from a drug overdose years ago. Rich’s dad always gets depressed this time of year, but whenever Rich asks questions about his late uncle, his dad shuts down. Frustrated by his dad’s silence, Rich sneaks into his office. What Rich learns, who he meets, and what he does could change his life forever.
In the adult world, I’ve got Jean Thompson’s The Humanity Project next up on my bedside table.
Director, Berman Institute – North American Jewish Data Bank and Editor, American Jewish Year Book
By Moonlight, a memoir by my sister, Batya Dashefsky. Making aliya was a natural choice for Batya Dashefsky, who was born into an American family committed to the Labor Zionist ideology. Making that choice was not too difficult; staying the course was much harder. The sense of loss – loss of family, culture and language — was sometimes overwhelming. Then, after several decades, Batya comes to the realization that the State of Israel had lost its founding ideological basis – and disillusionment sets in. What happened to the country that inspired a nation?
Twice this year, I’ve led reviews at Jewish book groups of Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, which everyone seemed to love. So although it’s not a new book, I recommend reading this wonderful tale of the heroic people of Masada.
Other books I read this year and enjoyed:
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker. A beautifully written, poignant love story, this book will move you to tears.
The World Without You by Joshua Henkin. This is a heartfelt novel about a family dealing with the loss of a son.
Defending Jacob by William Landay. Another legal thriller—a lawyer is torn between loyalty and justice when his teenaged son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.
Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman. A non-fiction account of Israel’s spy and intelligence network from 1948 until today. Fascinating!
The Aleppo Code by Matti Friedman. This is a true-life detective story about a 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible.
I like the author Elinor Lipman, so I read her compilation of personal essays called I Can’t Complain. For lovers of her books these essays offer great insight into the Northampton writer.
Paris in Love by Eloisa James. I’ve recommended this account of a family’s sabbatical year in Paris to friends on their way to the City of Light. At the end of the book, the author provides a helpful list of her favorite restaurants, places to visit, shops, etc.
On my list for summer reading: The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman; Daniel Silva’s latest thriller featuring the incomparable Mossad agent Gabriel Allon; and The Golem and the Jinni.
Many things are repeatable, though in this case, apparently not in the form of a movie. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, was released in 2004, but as the book suggests, it’s never too late to get to the party.
Enders Game by Orson Scott Card and soon to be, hopefully, a good movie, was only the start. One of the all-time series of books about being human (or not), includes Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind and maybe Ender in Exile, which I’ll begin shortly.
Dark, paranoid, funny and enlightening – there are worse ways to look at the world. Philip Dick is always relevant. My first and enduring love was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? One of the truly great titles.
The A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, by George R. R. Martin, is like running a marathon – lots of endorphins and stretches where you’re not sure you can make it. Still, I have not wavered, and am looking forwards to book six, The Winds of Winter, which (appropriately enough) will unfortunately not be ready by summer. The books are as good as the television series, which in this case says a lot.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. It’s about family and memory. Anything else is a spoiler.
Breakfast with Buddha took me on a delightful road trip from Westchester to North Dakota, in the company of your average (is there such a thing?) New York area liberal smart married with children nice guy and his ditzy sister’s spiritual teacher — a large, shaven head monk from somewhere far from here in purple robes with a big laugh and profoundly simple answers to the big questions. Charming, funny, serious — I couldn’t put it down. Now reading Lunch with Buddha — same two guys driving from Seattle to North Dakota with more serious life questions. I hope they eventually have dinner together!
The Passage of Power gives me the history and insights into eight years that shaped my life and the life of the country. I went from a naive teenager to a radicalized young adult and Lyndon Johnson went from being a powerful senator to an impotent vice president and then president after Kennedy’s assassination.
Midnight in Peking uses the foil of a murder investigation to reveal what the last days of old China were really like in 1937 — another time period that interests me as the world was darkening with terrible violence and the U.S. dug deeper into isolationism and Peking fought to keep control over the country.
Unorthodox by Debra Feldman. I literally could not put it down; riveting story, beautifully written.
Prof. June-Ann Greeley
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
Sacred Heart University, Fairfield
Wow, there are so many books, but a few that I thoroughly enjoyed and think would have some appeal:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
Director of Community Engagement, Mandell JCC,
The JCC Book Lovers Club is planning to read the following books over the summer and into the fall:
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson Jacob’s Oath by Martin Fletcher
A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon by Anthony Marra
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer