Summer’s here…time to lose yourself in a good book
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!
Professor of history, Central Connecticut State University
Author of several books and articles, including Meeting the Demands of Reason: The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakharov
My choices all criticize or condemn the liberal-left in America – though two are written by liberals. American Jews are themselves mostly on the left, and in the interest of intellectual diversity they would do well to read books that challenge, rather than repeat, the conventional wisdom as they understand it. Of course, I read other kinds of books as well – history, biography, cosmology, physics, and, yes, works written by liberals.
Making David into Goliath by Joshua Muravchik, which describes and analyzes the transformation of public opinion in Europe and in institutions in America – academia and the media in particular – from being pro-Israel up to the late 1960’s to being anti-Israel, often harshly and almost always unfairly so, thereafter.
Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate by Greg Lukianoff, which shows how intolerant and arrogant faculty and supine administrators have turned America’s colleges and universities into “islands of tyranny in a sea of freedom.”
Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer, a collection of articles, mostly op-eds, by the finest journalist of opinion in America and an individual of uncommon courage.
The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech by Kirsten Powers, a self-professed liberal indicts her fellow liberals for their intolerance of opinions different from their own.
Rabbi Amanda Brodie
Middle School Judaics and Language Arts Teacher
Ezra Academy (Woodbridge)
The Nazi Officer’s Wife is an incredible story. I am not obsessed with the Holocaust, honestly, but I have just finished it!
Alison Leigh Cowan
Reporter and editor
Member, Editorial Advisory Board, Connecticut Jewish Ledger
Here are a few books I’m reading now or about to start on:
The Road to Character by David Brooks
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
R.U.R. by Karel Capek, (A very old play about robots that I believe I had seen mentioned in some movie review of “Ex Machina.”
Time permitting, I might also tackle Lincoln and the Jews, a very beguiling book I just bought by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell. It was issued in conjunction with an exhibit on the same topic at the New York Historical Society.
Anne M. Danaher
Executive Director Jewish Family Services
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I’ve just started reading this beautifully written and very moving book.
I also plan to read Boston Girl by Anita Diamant.
Rabbi Stephen Fuchs
Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Beth Israel
Former President, World Union of Progressive Judaism
I would strongly recommend What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives (written by Rabbi Fuchs). I think it will offer readers an important perspective on Torah that they will appreciate.
Rabbi Jeff Glickman
Beth Hillel Temple
I just finished Bug in A Vacuum by Melanie Watt. It appears to be a children’s book, but is a wonderful, insightful and fun piece about loss and grieving. It is also a work of art. Pay attention to all the illustrations.
Director, Circle of Friends
Reading is my absolute favorite activity and, sprinkled with reading the classics and best sellers, I feel most fulfilled reading books that increase my understanding and connection to God, Torah and the world.
Toward a Meaningful Life by Simon Jacobson is a book I keep with me and read and reread all the time because it gives very powerful insights and perspectives on every aspect of life and there is so much interesting information I can use from my Women’s Torah Circle class — from birth to death, youth to old age; marriage, love, intimacy, and family; the persistent issues of career, health, pain, and suffering; and education, faith, science, and government. The book is based on the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and written by my older brother Simon.
Books I am planning to read this summer:
The Feminine Soul, which explores the essence of feminine spirituality, and The Crown of Creation, about the lives of Biblical heroines. Both written by Chana Weisberg.
A Letter in the Scroll by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
President of Hadassah CT Region
My sister just gave me The Outermost House by Henry Beston. Originally published in 1928, the subtitle is A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod, and the back cover says: “The Outermost House, a chronicle of a solitary year spent on a Cape Cod beach, has long been recognized as a classic of American nature writing. Henry Beston had originally planned to spend just two weeks in his seaside home, but was so possessed by the mysterious beauty of his surroundings that he found he ‘could not go,’ and spent his time writing in longhand on his kitchen table.”
I assume the person meant “at his kitchen table” not “on.” Regardless, I am looking
forward to it.
Sara Darer Littman
Author of books for young people.
Political columnist for CTNewsJunkie.com,
Creative writing teacher at Western CT State College and WritopiaLab.
Member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I loved this book the way I loved Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, for its depiction of both the depths and the heights of the human character in wartime. A compelling, beautifully written story where two narratives entwine with results that you will think about long after you have read the last page.
They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson. After seeing my weekly Facebook posts about clearing out our late mother’s apartment after her sudden and unexpected passing in March, my friend Ellen Wittlinger told me I should read this, and I’m so glad she did. Johnson’s witty, humorous and loving memoir about the process of cleaning out the family home of over half a century is a must read for anyone who has become an “orphan” and is undergoing the painful, yet alternately healing and even humorous process of cleaning out the parental home. As Johnson observes, we often don’t truly know our parents until after they are gone and we are sifting through a lifetime’s accumulation of “stuff.” We learn so much about our parents by what they chose to save.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. A post-apocalyptic novel for those of us who believe in the Star Trek quote “Survival is insufficient.”
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. This came out in 2013, but I hadn’t got around to reading it until recently. So much good stuff to enjoy – good historical fiction, a golem, a jinni, and explorations of love, faith and ethics.
For young adults:
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Beautiful prose, magical realism and real issues, all in one incredibly moving book that’s not just for teen readers.
Office Manager, Connecticut Jewish Ledger
I just finished reading Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, a fictionalized story about the migrant worker pictured in Dorothea Lange’s iconic photo. The story intersects their three lives from the past to the present.
Great beach reading are the Hamish Macbeth Scottish murder mysteries. Each is a quick read loaded with quirky characters.
Two good books by Bill Bryson are A Walk in the Woods, an account of the author’s attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail and what he observes and discovers is just plain pleasant reading, and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir about Bryson’s life growing up in Des Moines, Iowa during the 1950s – a heartwarming story for anyone who grew up during that time.
Manager, Berkshire Hathaway (Avon)
A few recommendations:
Me Before You and The Girl You Left Behind, both by JoJo Moyes
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Educator and Community
Troublemaker/Activist; Teacher of Holocaust Literature and Facing History’s “Choosing to Participate”
All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr
Driftless David Rhodes
Euphoria Lily King
Disclaimer Renee Knight
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, Woodbridge
I put aside books all year to read during the summer as if warm weather, the attractions of the beach and bay, the pool and the bike path, and the ingathering of the Perry clan — with the shopping, cooking, clean-up and mountains of towels — leaves a lot of leisure. But I will definitely look through Thoreau’s Walden again and Emerson’s essays.
As it is the 100th birthday of Saul Bellow, I plucked out old copies of Henderson, the Rain King and The Adventures of Augie March, to see if I still find them as interesting as I once did.
I have saved Jonathan Sarna’s Lincoln and the Jews, and plan to look at sections and try to plow through Princeton Professor Peter Singer’s latest book, The Most Good You Can Do, about altruism and living ethically.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, always prolific, has a new book about confronting violence done by religious fervor, entitled Not in God’s Name which will probably be eminently readable and quotable.
Purely for enjoyment — and why not! — I’m going to read Judy Blume’s latest, In the Unlikely Event.
A favorite author of mine, Kate Atkinson, has a new book out, A God in Ruins. I probably should have purchased that as an audio book, and “read” it while driving to Cape Cod and trying to cross the Bourne Bridge. That way, I might get through some of the other books when I finally arrive and lie down in the hammock.
Former executive director of UJF in Stamford, her home community.
Currently assisting the Jewish High School of Connecticut with institutional advancement.
Last fall Eric A. Goldman, who has written extensively on the Jewish experience in film, co-hosted a series with Robert Osborne on the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable channel. I’ve heard him speak a couple of times and found his presentations just fascinating. I’m currently reading his most recent book, The American Jewish Story Through Cinema. For those who love both history and cinema, it’s perfect.
Jeffrey Shoulson, Ph.D.
Doris and Simon Konover Chair of Judaic Studies; Director, Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life; Professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages and Professor of English
Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure: A Memoir
Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger, Jews and Words
Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible
Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence
Media analyst and freelance journalist; Recently retired from a long career in the financial services industry
All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir by Shulem Deen. A memoir about Deen’s life growing up as a member of one of the most insular chasidic sects of all, the Skwerer chasidim, and his religious questioning that led him to take the difficult step of leaving his chasidic group. He is an unusually gifted writer. His book is one of a growing genre by authors who have left the chasidic world. Theirs is one side of the story; but there are also many secular Jews who are becoming Baalei Teshuvah (returnees). In today’s secular and relatively barrier-free society, back-and-forth migrations within the Jewish world are likely to become even more pronounced. Deen’s memoir provides great insight into one of the ways Orthodox Judaism is changing and I highly recommend it.
Catch The Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom. Currently the #1 best-selling book in Israel. Reminiscent of Borat’s (the Sasha Baron Cohen character) hilarious “Throw the Jew down the well” sing-along, it answers the question: what do they say about us (the Jews) when they don’t think we’re listening? And, what do we say about each other? Tenenbom tells the story of his seven-month trek around Israel and the Palestinian Authority, seeking the answer to that question.
He takes on various personas and wanders around Israel and the Palestinian territories
interacting with the locals. Among the people he speaks with are members of the Knesset, the radical Jewish left, Palestinian activists, Jewish settlers, black-clad haredim, soldiers, cab drivers, rabbis, foreign diplomats, foreign human rights activists, Christian tourists, Jerusalem monks, other journalists, waiters, even prostitutes. The book has been described as poignant, enraging, hilarious, and “a must for anyone who wants to formulate an independent opinion on the reality in this region” (Israel Hayom).
Author of A Kosher Dating Odyssey: One Former Texas Baptist’s Quest for a Naughty & Nice Jewish Girl
I’m reading The Frozen Rabbi now, by Steve Stern. I like it and the concept, although I don’t know where he’s going with it. The style reminds me of Michael Chabon, but not so convoluted. I’ve read two Michael Connelly novels, The Lincoln Lawyer and The Reversal, and really liked both of them.
Accounting Manager, Connecticut Jewish Ledger
The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz
The unexpected news that, 55 years after publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, 88-year-old Harper Lee would be publishing a second book prompted me to re-read her first (and until now only) novel. It’s still a winner and, if you read it as a teenager, as I did – reading it in adulthood gives this classic a renewed and more mature perspective. I’m looking forward to digging into Go Set a Watchman when it’s released in mid-July. Watchman, which follows Scout, the little girl of Mockingbird, as an adult, was actually completed in the 1950s and then set aside in favor of Mockingbird. The manuscript was rediscovered last year.
Now that I’ve discovered the pleasures of re-reading books first read so long ago, I’m thinking of giving a second go-round to my all-time childhood favorite, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. As a young girl growing up on the streets of New York’s largest borough, the story of Francie Nolan’s coming of age in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn left an enduring and indelible mark – though, of course, our experiences were vastly different.
Also among the books in my beach bag this summer are In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
If I had to choose a favorite from among the books I read this year, certainly 2 a.m. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino would be at or close to the top. A sharp, wry and sometimes sad debut novel that focuses on one Christmas Eve in the life of three characters – most especially Madeleine, a sassy nine-year-old, bullied by her classmates, who doggedly searches for a legendary Philadelphia jazz club, where she’s determined to make her stage debut.
Some of my other favorites this year:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I’m Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman