August 2021: thousands of words, summer of Maine, and three novels featuring professors

Dear friends,

I hope you’ve been having a splendid summer. I’m spending most of the month visiting family in the US while working remotely, plus a week of vacation in Maine coming up later in August. Naturally, when I head home, it will be with a suitcase full of books (a good thing, considering it looks like I’ll be quarantining for a week). Scroll down for book recs, a new Lit Modiin event, some nice writing news, a recipe and more!


Brief writing update: I’m nearly done with a draft of my current story-in-progress. I’ve probably written an upwards of 20,000 words for this story, which is now around 9,000 words and will ultimately be pared down to 5,000-6,000. At the moment, I’ve gone down a research rabbit hole (again) to uncover some details for the final scene, which takes place at Tanglewood, circa 1986. I have no idea how much of Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade (a five-movement concerto for violin, strings and percussion) will make it into the final story, but I’ve been enjoying learning about it.


Some nice news: One of my flash fiction pieces - written about two years ago, a fun riff on life at a high tech company - was accepted by The Maine Review! I’m looking forward to sharing the link here when the story is published.


Recommended Reads


Here’s a list of all 46 books I’ve read so far in 2021. This month’s recommendations:


Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin - This is a terrific, very readable novel about a long and happy marriage, in which the wife, Pru, has given up her career for her brilliant professor husband, Spence, Columbia’s “golden boy.” Tragically, Spence develops early onset Alzheimer’s in his mid-50s, and Pru must face the reality of Spence’s illness and its ensuing indignities. As the author mentioned in his talk at Literary Modiin, one should never write a novel about a ball rolling down a hill because there’s no suspense; when writing about a character with Alzheimer’s, the tension must come from elsewhere. We meet Sarah, Pru and Spence’s daughter, Arlo, Spence’s son from his first marriage, and Ginny, Spence’s caretaker. Part of the novel’s mastery is that we empathize with and feel the heartbreak of each character (including Spence himself) as they face his inevitable decline. I also loved the tender depictions of New York City and the trip down memory lane vis-à-vis Morningside Heights. I listened to the audio version of this book, and the narrator does an excellent job, even with the occasional Yiddish and Hebrew pronunciations. All in all, one of my favorite reads of 2021.


Afterlife by Julia Alvarez - I loved Julia Alvarez’s In The Time of the Butterflies, and I was excited to read her latest. Afterlife tells the story of Antonia Vega, a newly retired professor, newly widowed, and now facing complications with her sisters and a pregnant, undocumented teenager who shows up on her doorstep. This is a compact book that asks the question what we owe to those in crisis. This blurb from Library Journal resonated with me: “Alvarez’s prose is magnetic as she delves into the intricacies of sisterhood, immigration, and grief, once again proving her mastery as a storyteller. This stirring novel reminds readers that actions (big and small) have a lasting impact—so they should always act with love.”


The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen - This is a brilliantly-executed fictional account of (as the novel’s subtitle calls it) “An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family.” Before the world knew the names of Yoni Netanyahu, a national hero, and Bibi Netanyahu, their father Benzion was a minor historian and a proponent of Revisionist Zionism. Inspired by a true story of Benzion showing up to a college interview with his family in tow, in the fictionalized version the visit wreaks havoc for our protagonist, Ruben Blum, who, as the college’s only Jewish professor, has been asked to host Benzion. If you’re like me, you’ll find many cringeworthy scenes and characters, but you’ll also find the novel hilarious and rather serious. I think Taffy Brodesser-Akner nailed it in the first paragraph of her New York Times review when she called The Netanyahus “a generational campus novel, an unyielding academic lecture, a rigorous meditation on Jewish identity, an exhaustive meditation on Jewish-American identity, a polemic on Zionism, a history lesson. It is an infuriating, frustrating, pretentious piece of work — and also absorbing, delightful, hilarious, breathtaking and the best and most relevant novel I’ve read in what feels like forever.” Listen to Joshua Cohen read from The Netanyahus at last month’s Literary Modiin event.


See all the books I’ve recommended in this newsletter.


Story of the Month: Shell

Shell (Prime Number Magazine) by Jolene McIlwain. I love this tender story about Tiller Shanty and his wife Mai, who navigate their lives reading markings on birds’ eggshells, and other natural findings. I’m a sucker for stories about nature, and all the better when it’s written by my uber-talented friend, Jolene!


Events

I’m excited to announce this month’s Literary Modiin event, coming up on Sunday, August 29, at 20:00 Israel time / 1:00 pm Eastern! We’ll hear from Haim Watzman (Necessary Stories), Judy Bolton-Fasman (Asylum: A Memoir of Family Secrets) and Alice Kaltman (Dawg Towne). Register here.



Missed any of our Literary Modiin events? Watch all of them here!


I don’t have any of my own events scheduled for August or September…as always, if you’re in a book club or know someone who is, I’d be happy to discuss The Book of Jeremiah with your group!


Prompt of the Month: Time of My Life

On Tu B’Av, the Hebrew version of Valentine’s Day, I attended a super-fun concert by Rockville, an Israeli tribute band that performs a wide range of artists. (They do an amazing Queen show, for example). The playlist this time love songs circa the 70s & 80s, and my friends and I were pumped to hear some greatest hits from our youth such as (I’ve Had) the Time of My Life, Take My Breath Away; All Out of Love; etc. etc. Ergo this month’s prompt: pick three songs from three different periods in your life, and write a story incorporating all three.


Recipe of the Month: Zucchini Carpaccio

Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. Earlier this month, my kids and I went out for brunch on my birthday at a cool café in the Jerusalem hills located in an orchid nursery. My daughter and I ordered the zucchini carpaccio as an appetizer. It was quite delicious and I was able to replicate it at home.


2-3 large zucchini - shaved very thin using a peeler or the long blade of a grater

4-5 radishes - sliced very thin

Handful of rocket

Handful of nana (spearmint)

2-3 scallions

1 c. parmesan cheese, grated

Olive oil

Kosher salt & pepper to taste


Mix the shaved zucchini with the sliced radishes, add pieces of rocket, nana, chopped scallions. Toss with olive oil and add the parmesan, salt & pepper to taste. Enjoy!

I actually skipped the rocket and it tasted fine without. I bet toasted pine nuts would be a good addition.



I’ll leave you with two pics from the second summer of my pandemic victory garden.



Among my tomatoes, three watermelon are growing! And the bottom image shows the eight mangos from my tree. Sadly, both the watermelon and the mangos will ripen while I’m away!


See you next month with book recommendations, writing notes, recipes & more!