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!
There are two books I can recommend:
Now Everyone Will Know: The Perfect Husband, His Shattering Secret, My Rediscovered Life by Maggie Kneip. It is a gripping narrative of how a nice Jewish girl from Philadelphia finds a love that forces her to confront a set of lethal dangers she never imagined could shape rather than destroy her life. Maggie is a gifted writer and has an important story to tell.
As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner. This is a story about Connecticut, about Jews, and about Judaism.
Recently read and enjoyed very much:
All Who Go Do Not Return by Shulem Deen
The Bridal Chair by Gloria Goldreich — an historical fiction novel about Marc Chagall told by his daughter Ida Chagall.
Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese Ameican Family Caught Between Two Worlds
by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto.
Hope to read soon:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,
Saving Sophie by Ronald H. Balson,
Euphoria by Lily King,
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith.
Lost Comforts by Ellen Rand. A new book, highly-readable, that brings together the inspiring and also the practical considerations when one is presented with end-of-life situations. Rand is a hospice volunteer and journalist.
Russian Dance by Andrée Aelion Brooks. An award-winning romantic thriller that recreates – in a fictional, page-turning genre – the amazing story of a Jewish Bolshevik spy and the woman he loved. Set in the ballet and opera world of Manhattan and later to Moscow during the late 1920s.
Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life by Harold S. Kushner
I have been on a Chris Bohjalian kick. I read The Sandcastle Girls — which is about the Armenian genocide — a few months ago and thought it was amazing. I have recommended it to everyone. I just read Bohjalian’s book The Night Strangers and now am reading The Light in the Ruins. I hope to read The Guest Room next.
After that, I want to read Notorious RBG by Carmen and Shana Knizhnik about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I’d recommend the award-winning memoir, Questioning Protocol by Fairfield author Randi Redmond Oster. The story of how one woman navigated the world of healthcare during her son’s serious illness. It’s readable and touching and so very wise.
Rabbi Paul shared with the Ledger this excerpt from his recent address to JCSC graduates: One of my favorite books is The Last Lecture by Dr. Randy Pausch. At Carnegie Mellon University elite professors are invited to give “a last lecture” to students.
This lecture is supposed to consist of what teachers would tell students if it was the last lecture they were ever able to give them. Tragically, Prof. Pausch was diagnosed with a terminal illness shortly after being asked to give this lecture. What started out as a theoretical academic scenario became deathly real and Dr. Pausch documented what would be one of his actual last lectures in life that he would ever give to students. He discusses many things in his last lecture about how to go about realizing and achieving one’s childhood dreams. His childhood dream that he fulfilled was to become an imagineer working at Disney Studios. During his last lecture, Dr. Pausch asked the question of “What is the secret of realizing one’s childhood dreams?” Dr. Pausch maintains that the secret to realizing one’s childhood dreams is living a life of virtue.
I highly recommend reading Daniel Silva’s books featuring Gabriel Allon as their protagonist — beginning with the first novel in which Allon appears, The Kill Artist. Allon is a member of Israel’s intelligence service who has adventures all over the world. He is a very believable character with whom we, as Jewish readers, can easily identify. There is a wonderful group of reoccurring characters who further enhance each story. Silva is a pleasant and engaging storyteller.
This year I read: Lincoln and the Jews by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell. An excellent book about America’s 16th president and his relationship with American Jews, who viewed him as an advocate and a friend.
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks. Although this wasn’t my favorite book by the author of the wonderful People of the Book, her retelling of the life of King David, narrated by the prophet Natan, was interesting.
The Late Starters Orchestra by Ari Goldman. This slight, entertaining read by Hartford native Ari Goldman will make you want to dust off the old instrument you once played and give it a go again.
Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons. The former magazine writer has written a funny and true story about his foray into the high-tech world, where he is out of his element and everyone is trying to hang on long enough to reach an IPO and cash out. You’ll laugh, but you’ll also learn quite a bit about the start-up universe.
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. I very much enjoyed this book set in St. Thomas about a strong-willed Jewish woman who gives birth to a son who will become the famous Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. The novel takes place during World War II and is a harrowing tale of two non-Jewish sisters and what they each endure in order to survive in Nazi-occupied France. Two books in the same genre that I enjoyed are Henna House by Nomi Eve, which is set in 1920s Yemen, and The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan, which takes place in early 20th-century Iran. Both books shed light on Yemenite and Persian Jewish traditions and culture.
Sailor and Fiddler by Herman Wouk. The famous author, now age 100, has written a memoir, which was enjoyable and a quick read, but he remains a private person.
Try The Black Widow, Daniel Silva’s 16th book about Gabriel Alon, Israeli master spy and art restorer. It’s out July 12 when it downloads to my Kindle and two copies arrive at Congregation Beth Israel’s Ellen Jeanne Goldfarb Community Learning Center.
Other recommendations: Yale Jewish Lives series, concise and well-researched biographies about Jewish heroes and celebrities from [Matriarch] Sarah to Sarah Bernhardt to Barbra Streisand. The latest addition is the superb Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet by Jeffrey Rosen. Others worth a look include Lillian Hellman: An Imperious Life by Dorothy Gallagher, Groucho Marx: The Comedy of Existence by Lee Siegel, and Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution by Yehudah Mirsky. An important new book that, while not Jewish, will inform the social justice agenda: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond. His close investigation of real families in terrible circumstances pulls you in and doesn’t let go.
Two strong fiction recommendations, holdovers from 2015, and still on best-seller lists: Pulitzer Prize – winning All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah. If you missed them last summer, dive into the deeply personal stories now.
Roz and Betsy talk about The Bridge Ladies (and, yes, they do love each other)
By Paul Bass
Radio interviewer: Roz, do you remember saying you love Betsy?
Roz: I may not have said it. But I certainly felt it. I adore my three girls.
Radio interviewer: So you love Betsy?
Radio interviewer: Betsy, do you want to start telling your mom that now?
Betsy: No. It’s like a game of chicken.
Betsy Lerner loves her mother Roz. She just wrote a book that, amid hundreds of pages worth of fact-finding and card-playing and memories of loss and pain, makes that clear.
But she doesn’t tell her mother, “I love you.”
Roz loves her daughter Betsy. She hasn’t made a practice of telling her that, either.
Asked on the record, on an episode of WNHH’s “Dateline New Haven,” Roz confirmed the other day that she has always loved Betsy and been proud of her.
Betsy didn’t say the same in return about her mom. But she did read aloud the following excerpt from her new book, The Bridge Ladies. The excerpt describes a conversation they had decades after Betsy’s younger sister Barbara died as a baby, a subject they never discussed much until Betsy worked on the new book.
Recently in a rare and unexpected moment driving past our synagogue, taking my mother home, she told me that she loves Thanksgiving but that it’s always tinged in sadness. At first I can’t think why and look at her for a reason. “Barbara died in November,” she says. The utterance of her name on my mother’s lips is startling. I want to reach out, reach out to her, but I stay on my side. They say you’re supposed to tell the people you love that you love them every day. My mother and I never say those words. Sometimes, when she stalls for a moment before getting out of the car, I think she’s going to say it, but it never comes. And I’m relieved. Saying it at this point feels scarier than not saying it. I always watch as she punches in the code to her garage, turns to wave, and disappears inside the house. I see the light in the front hall pop on. “Mom,” I’ve often asked, “why don’t you leave lights on?” “Why should I leave lights burning?” “So you can see.” “I can see plenty.” I’ve always imagined that my mother doesn’t say ‘I love you’ as a hedge against further tragedy, the same way the Israelites marked their front doors to keep their firstborns from being slaughtered in the Passover story. With their doors marked, their houses would be passed over. Our house had not been passed over. The Jewish practices surrounding death are specifically designed to help a person gradually move through the stages of grief. Instead, she went it alone: driving herself to yahrtzeit on a cold, dark November night.
Roz spoke about how back in the 1960s and 1970s, when she raised Betsy, parents thought they should protect their children from difficult truths. It never occurred to her to tell Betsy about her debilitating depression following Barbara’s death, about her own mother’s traumatic background.
The five Jewish women in Roz’s bridge club had the same approach, with their children and with each other. They played bridge together every Monday for over 50 years. They were close, but they tended not to share their difficult personal and family experiences, or talk about, say, sex or drugs or alcohol use, the way that peers began to in Betsy’s generation.
Betsy never had much interest in that bridge club when she grew up in Woodbridge. Now a successful literary agent and author, Betsy moved back to New Haven in her 40s and found herself helping care for Roz while Roz recovered from surgery. She saw Roz’s bridge buddies bring over meals every day.
“Wow,” Betsy thought to herself, “if I get to my 80s and I get sick, I wonder if anyone would bring me a pot roast. Probably I’ll just get a bunch of texts with emojis.”
She began to see the bridge ladies in a new way. She asked to sit in on their games and to interview them individually about their lives. She gained an appreciation for bridge. (She now has her own local bridge club.) And she gained a new appreciation for the bridge ladies themselves. Especially her mom, with whom she had had a difficult relationship.
So The Bridge Ladies is a memoir about, yes, the game of bridge, but also about the relationships between moms and daughters.
Radio interviewer: How did you like the book?
Roz: I loved it. I loved it because it was a lot of work for Betsy.
Radio interviewer: How did you feel reading about yourself?
Roz: It doesn’t matter. I’m moving to Canada.
As a rebellious teen during fast-changing times, Betsy said, she saw the bridge ladies as “very square, very traditional, not role models for me. And probably even kind of boring. Once I started to interview them, all of those thoughts fell away immediately. Once I started to see them as individuals, just hearing about them as little girls blew me away. I tell people, ‘Now I have five Jewish mothers.’”
In the book, Betsy doesn’t romanticize the bridge ladies. She rues the freedoms they were denied as stay-at-home moms who put aside career dreams, who could have been closer to each other if they could have spoken more openly about their personal lives.
Betsy: Opening up and sharing what’s going on in your life with people, you have a chance to be more intimate, closer, to help each other, instead of being private, almost ashamed of certain issues.… Take away the stigma of mental illness. Take away the stigma of alcoholism. I think each of the ladies probably took their kids to psychiatrists and never talked about it.
Radio interviewer: Roz, Were you aware of what was happening in their lives anyway?
Roz: Yes, we shared, happy events, unfortunate events. But only to a point.
Radio interviewer: So you think Betsy’s right [about the benefits of being more open]?
Roz: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Betsy: Oh, I love hearing my mother say I’m right!
Radio interviewer: When did that last happen?
Betsy: I don’t know. I can’t remember.
Bridge Ladies shows how — if you’re lucky enough to have parents who are still alive — it’s never too late to break through a lifetime of emotional barriers and get closer, get to know each other. The WNHH interview with Roz and Betsy revealed that more memories remain to be mined even after you write a book about it.
Roz: When [Betsy] was about 15 she wrote a short story that absolutely blew me away.
Radio interviewer: Did you tell her, “I love that story”?
Roz: Yes. I think I did.
Radio interviewer: Betsy, do you remember her telling you, “You wrote a great story,” when you were 15 years old?
Betsy: I don’t even remember writing a story.
Roz: The story was about an older sister who comes home from college vacation, and how Betsy felt about her arriving home from vacation.
Betsy: It sounds ghastly.
Roz: I think though it was a difficult story, it was a wonderfully written story. … Don’t you recall when you won a prize for poetry in the Connecticut Poetry Association? And you were only in high school? And we all went to a beautiful library in Hartford to receive the prize? She didn’t want to go. We had to drag her practically kicking and screaming to accept this award.
Betsy: I didn’t want to go with them. I feel terrible now thinking about it. I was just very angry with my parents. I don’t think I wanted them to share in anything positive with me. Did we wind up going?
Roz: Oh yes.
Betsy: I don’t even remember. I remember not wanting to.
This article is reprinted with permission of The New Haven Independent (www.newhavenindependent.com)
Summer Reading for Young People
By Karen Beyard
Congregation Beth Israel’s Ellen Jeanne Goldfarb Community Learning Center is encouraging young people to put Jewish books on their summer lists!
Good choices include graphic novels like Lily René, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer by Trina Robbins (ages 10-14) and Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem by Steve Niles, Dave Wachter, and Matt Santoro (ages 10-adult). Both are heroic Jewish stories.
The Hired Girl by Laura Ann Schlitz, a National Jewish Book Award winner for young adult fiction, will engage good readers from 12 on who like a longer, more literary book. If your young adult doesn’t love it, you will.
For the middle grades, we suggest a series with meaningful Jewish characters: Monica Brown’s Lola Levine series for ages 6-9 (Lola comes from an interesting multi-cultural family); the Hereville series by Barry Deutsch for ages 8-12 (about Mirka, a time-travelling Orthodox girl; in graphic novel format); the Imaginary Veterinary series by Suzanne Selfors (10-year-old city kid Ben Silverman is “banished” to the Catskills and meets the unexpected); and the Qwikpik series by Tom Angleberger (for ages 9-13 with plenty of harmless grossness balanced by attention to important issues; a cool Jewish kid leads the pack).
Finally, try some recent illustrated books about interesting Jews like Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson by Lesa Cline-Ransome (age 6-9), The Boy who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heligman (age 5-9), Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (age 5-9) by Michele Markel, and Ketzel The Cat Who Composed (3-8) by Lesléa Newman, a Sidney Taylor award winner for its portrayal of composer Moshe Cotel.
For booklists and information about participating in Beth Israel’s summer reading program, go to cbict.org and click on “Read All About It: Sefer Summer Reading Program for K-6 Kids”, or email KBeyard@cbict.org.