Summertime is the perfect time to dive into a good book. What to read? We asked around for some suggestions – and the responses poured in, some in the form of a simple list, others with a bit of commentary to explain their choices. You’ll find a few titles recommended – and a few that you are likely not to have heard of before. All in all, we’re pretty sure you’ll find the perfect summer read!
Westport-Weston Probate Judge
Host, “The Lisa Wexler Show,” Cumulus Radio WFAS AM 1230
Sycamore Row by John Grisham was good. About a probate judge — naturally I had to read it! Also, the latest Daniel Silva thriller usually comes out in July. He’s always good, and his main protagonist is an Israeli former spy.
Andree Aelion Brooks
Journalist, author and specialist in Jewish history
There is no finer or more enjoyable book to read this summer than Simon Schama’s new book, The Story of the Jews. I regularly lecture on Jewish history to lay audiences and I can attest to his accuracy and his eye for the telling details of daily living that bring these ancestors back to life. He has scoured dozens of sources, from archival documents to archeological reports. And he has an amazing gift for extracting the most meaningful. He is also humorous and writes with a contemporary touch missing from too many academic tomes. He has fun with his facts. You will love it. It is absorbing.
I also recommend the new book on the life of Maimonides, Maimonides: Life and Thought by Moshe Halbertal. Maimonides was a man whose name is well known in America, but whose life and controversies – yes, he was highly controversial in his time – are far less known. I have just started this book, but it also breaks new ground in a less traveled area of Jewish history.
Student, Hebrew High School of New England
Chanah’s Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women’s Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening by Rabbi Haviva Ner-David. In Ner-David’s second memoir, she explores the mitzvoth traditionally assigned to women with a feminist lens, through a series of touching and inspirational personal anecdotes.
Paper Towns by John Green. Written by the author of The Fault in Our Stars, this novel tells the story of “Q” and his friends, as he finishes high school and learns to understand others as they are, not as he wishes to see them.
Like Dreamers by Yossi Klein Halevi. The story of modern Israel as seen through the eyes of the paratroopers who liberated the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967; the men would go on to hold radically different political opinions and shape the country.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. This young adult novel tells a whimsical and fun story of participants in a teen beauty pageant whose plane crashes on a tropical island. Together, the diverse group of girls learn to work together, understand each other, and become self-sufficient.
Gender and Timebound Commandments in Judaism by Elizabeth Shanks Alexander. Alexander, a professor at the University of Virginia, delves deep into early halakhic texts to seek the root of women’s traditional exemption from time-constrained ritual.
Former President, Mandell JCC; Former Federation Campaign Chair (Hartford)
I am part of a very small book club trying read the greatest novels of all time. Our last two books were The Double by Jose Saramago and Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Age of Innocence, while a classic, is actually easy to read and a fabulous love story. In fact, it is hard to put down. For fun, I just finished Where Nobody Knows Your Name – the story of life in the minor leagues by John Feinstein. Next on the agenda is O Pioneers by Willa Cather.
Rabbi Natan Margalit
Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life [CT]
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan. I’ve only just started reading this, but I’m already sensing that this is another in the growing list of Michael Pollan classics (I’m a fan). His writing is engaging, personal and also deeply thoughtful. He has a way of taking everyday things like plants, gardens, houses, eating and now cooking, and showing us the weave of biological and cultural connections that make them shine with depth and meaning.
My Promised Land by Ari Shavit. If you care about or think about Israel at all, and you haven’t yet read this, you should. It breaks the mold because Shavit doesn’t shy away from looking at the difficult truths and dark sides of Israel, but he does so from a caring, committed Zionist perspective. His writing is personal and his view is broad. My main critique is that he does not take seriously the way that some “secular” Israelis are re-claiming Judaism. He looks into many places for a new “center” for Israeli society, but his views on Judaism are black and white, so he misses a rising middle. But, by all means, read it and form your own opinions.
Harriet J. Dobin
Director, Hartford Jewish Film Festival
I gravitate to family and historical sagas, especially good multi-generational reads with Jewish themes that could be film scripts eventually! This summer or fall I hope to tackle Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land having just returned from Israel. I highly recommend recent titles that kept me enthralled: Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, The Sisters Weiss by Naomi Ragen, The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith H. Beer and Susan Dworkin, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was terrific. My Kindle Candy for this summer includes any new Gabriel Allon title from Daniel Silva, Elin Hilderbrand’s The Matchmaker and Too Jewish by Patty Friedmann.
CEO, UJA Federation of Greenwich
I am currently reading Henna House by Nomi Eve. Since I simply adored her first book, The Family Orchard, I am looking forward to another enchanting tale of family, history, love and wonder. Also on my list is Rabbi Telushkin’s new book, Rebbe, a portrait of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson — and the lessons he learned about living life from researching the Rebbe’s life. I recently heard both authors speak about their books and was inspired to start reading them right away!
Advertising Associate, Connecticut Jewish Ledger
An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch. A good beach read, with scenes of Victorian England richly brought to life, wonderful characters, great plot and warm love stories.
Development Director, Hebrew High School of New England
I highly recommend Joshua: A Brooklyn Tale by Andrew Kane. It was a fascinating story and written beautifully.
Professor of History, Central
Connecticut State University
Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics by Charles Krauthammer
Catastrophe: 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings
Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment by Andrew McCarthy
What’s a Dog For? The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy and Politics of Man’s Best Friend by John Homans
Unlearning Liberty: Censorship and the End of American Debate by Greg Lukianoff
Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life by Jonathan Sperber
The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace by Caroline Glick
Creative Director, JHL Publications
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Dickensian in its weave and occasionally Proustian in its story-telling, this 773-page, 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction is worth its weight in gold. The story as told by its narrator, Theo Decker, begins with the death of his mother during a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Theo removes “The Goldfinch” (a painting by Carel Fabritius, 1654) from the disaster scene. The rest is “Goldfinch” history. The scope of the story is vast. And, not dissimilar to Russian classics, breathtaking in its vastness. On several evenings, I sat on the edge of my bed flipping pages, sometimes jumping up as the story revealed itself, now and then going back to make sure I didn’t miss what a character was thinking. I thought about the story during the workday. How often does a book do that? If your friends have told you that the book is “too long” or “very wordy,” you’ll need to ratchet up your reading club circle. This is a fast-paced, action-packed, emotional rocket ship written with exquisite craftsmanship.
Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray
Temple Shearith Israel
I happen to love, love, love reading! It is hard to find the time, but I really try on vacation, during the summer, in airports… any down time I can find. I recently read an incredible book by Philip Roth- Patrimony – it describes in perfect elegant language the issues with an aging, beloved, cranky father. The descriptions of the Florida Jewish condo community is worth reading over and over. He gets it perfectly! So, now I’m going to read the next two autobiographies in this trilogy – The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography and Deception.
Also on my reading table are: Stand Up Straight and Sing! by Jessye Norman
Musically Speaking: A Life Through Song by Dr. Ruth Westheimer (heard her speak at a Federation function in Stamford – excellent!)
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
The Music Lesson by Katherine Weber
Program Manager, JFACT
I recently read The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd and Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline and they are perfect summer reads! I am currently reading Fugitive Colors: A Novel by Lisa Barr and can’t put it down.
North American web content editor, www.worldjewishdaily.com
I’ve read and enjoyed all these new books from my favorite mystery writers: The Target by David Baldacci; Dan Brown’s Inferno; John Grisham’s Sycamore Row; and Harlan Coben’s Missing You. Other books I would recommend:
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. The topic is aging parents, and the witty Chast has written a memoir that will make you laugh through your tears. An only child, Chast copes as best she can with her new role as caretaker, accountant and main decision-maker. It was a little difficult at first to get used to her storytelling via cartoons, but well worth doing so.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. We are introduced to a group of teenagers who meet at a trendy summer camp, and then the story follows them for the next 40 years. The book is long and sprawling, but very entertaining.
Arik: The Life of Ariel Sharon by David Landau. Ariel Sharon’s passing this year made me want to learn more about him. This is an in-depth comprehensive biography written by the former editor of Ha’aretz newspaper.
The Lie by Hesh Kestin. I stumbled upon this thriller about a left-wing Israeli lawyer — famous for defending Palestinians — who must re-evaluate her life when her own son is captured and tortured by terrorists. I enjoyed reading about the inner workings of Israel’s intelligence and defense agencies.
On my list for summer reading: Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman; The Silkworm by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith; The Heist. Daniel Silva’s latest thriller featuring my favorite Mossad agent, Gabriel Allon; and the two just-released books about the late Lubavitcher Rebbe: My Rebbe by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and Rebbe by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.
Advertising Associate, Connecticut Jewish Ledger
So, what is on my nightstand? Not usually all that much. My books are generally in my car as I spend so much time in it. I do my best reading between appointments or while waiting for my daughters etc. Here is my list: My Promised Land by Ari Shavit. A very thought-provoking book which is reminiscent of Working by Studs Terkel. It was recommended by my rabbi.
The Center Does Not Hold by Elyn R. Saks. She spoke at a Yale conference two months ago. She is a brilliant woman who finished medical school and law school while battling severe mental illness.
The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen. He’s also the author of the very interesting book called Sweet and Low. He is very funny and writes in amazing detail.
The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom. This could be categorized as a holiday gift type book. I suppose I am reading this because I read most of his other books. I have not finished it yet, but so far so good…
Editor, Connecticut Jewish Ledger
So many great books out there – several of my favorites reads over the past year have been mentioned by others: The Goldfinch, My Promised Land, The Interestings, Me Before You (and if you laughed and cried your way through that JoJo Moyes’ bestseller, you might want to try The Girl You Left Behind and The Last Letter From Your Lover). Right now, I’m halfway through The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker – which I’m having trouble putting down. Up next will be the two books about the Rebbe – one by Adin Steinsaltz, the other by Joseph Telushkin. And I can’t wait for August, when the next in William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor mystery series will be released — with Krueger it’s so much more than murder and mystery; it’s all about characters and the intricate way in which he juxtaposes the Native American culture with the ‘white man’s’ world. Krueger’s non-Cork O’Connor mystery, Ordinary Grace, is anything but ordinary. A quiet, wistful story told eloquently. If I had to pick my favorite read this year, certainly a contender would be The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce – a funny, wise and poignant story about getting lost and being found. A few more of my favorites this year:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
The Light in the Ruins and The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bojalian.
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Houseini.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
Visitation Street by Ivy Pachoda
Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny