Happy December! I hope you’re staying well and tucking in with some good books as the weather gets colder. Here in Israel, we’ve (partially) come out of lockdown, my kids are back in school for part of the week, and I’m spending non-writing time out on my bike and at the beach (latest non-book purchase: a floaty thing for open-water swimming). Scroll down for book recommendations, gift suggestions, events and more!
Quick writing update: I’ve written several new scenes for my novel and am now trying to figure out where (and if) they belong. I’ve also found a way for one of the key characters to have a more direct relationship with my protagonist, so I’ll have a good deal of rewriting around that change. Slowly, slowly. But it’s all good.
Some nice news: I received word that the Barnard book club of Jerusalem will be reading and discussing The Book of Jeremiah in May 2021. As a Barnard alum, this news was particularly welcome. Fingers crossed that the group will be back to meeting in-person by May!
I’m up to 73 books for the year, on track to meet my revised 2020 goal of reading 80 books. Here are my top recommended reads for this month, all of which would be great for book clubs:
Unseen City by Amy Shearn - What’s not to love about Meg Rhys? She’s a librarian who’s happiest in the company of books, rides her bike all over Brooklyn, loves research and history, and has sworn off love (but becomes becomes obsessed over a library patron who needs her help to research his family’s haunted house). The history buff in me loved the parts of this novel that dealt with 1860s NYC and Weeksville, a historic village founded by free African-Americans in the 1830s (now part of Brooklyn), and the former NYer in me loved the modern, witty tale. Thinking about the hundreds of stories contained in any NYC apartment building brought to mind Israeli “tels” (artificial hills created over centuries, successive layers of civilization built one over the other), and how understanding history can help us contextualize our lives today.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi - This beautiful, powerful novel follows the descendants of two half-sisters from Ghana, one sold into slavery and one who marries an Englishman and leads a life of comfort. Through eight generations we witness the lives of their descendants, from the Gold Coast of Africa to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. The NYT blurb captured my sentiments: “Thanks to Ms. Gyasi’s instinctive storytelling gifts, the book leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of both the savage realities of slavery and the emotional damage that is handed down, over the centuries. . . . By its conclusion, the characters’ tales of loss and resilience have acquired an inexorable and cumulative emotional weight.”
Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine - This debut story collection was a National Book Award finalist last year and it’s easy to see why. The stories depict the lives of Latina women of indigenous descent living in the American West - women defined by inner strength and grace as they deal with harsh truths. As one reviewer put it, “Fajardo-Anstine writes a love letter to the Chicanas of her homeland—women as unbreakable as the mountains that run through Colorado and as resilient as the arid deserts that surround it.”
Here’s the full list of all the books I’ve recommended in these newsletters. To see all 73 books I’ve read in 2020, check out my reading challenge on Goodreads.
Two Chanukah gift guides: 1) I was very happy to see that The Book of Jeremiah was included in Heidi Slowinski’s gift guide for the holiday: 18 Books with a Jewish Voice. 2) I’m also thrilled to share the collage below, with something for everyone on your Chanukah gift list. It features books written by members of the Jewish Binder, a fantastic FB group of Jewish women writers, of which I am fortunate to be a part.
Essay of the month: Long Hard Day
Long Hard Day (Witness) by Eli Jacobs. Normally in this section I share a short story or a poem, but the most powerful thing I’ve read in the last month is this beautiful piece of creative nonfiction, in which author finds his way back to his brother.
Lots of events in December! I hope you’ll join me for one or both of these.
Sun, Dec 6 at 8 pm Israel / 1 pm EST - Literary Modiin’s December Author Event - We’re hosting best-selling author Nicole Krauss, whose new story collection, To Be a Man, came out in November, and Max Gross, whose debut novel, The Lost Shtetl, came out in October. It’s going to be a fantastic event! Register here to get the Zoom link.
Tues, Dec 8 at 7 pm EST - Renee’s Reading Club - I’m doing a Facebook Live event for Renee’s Reading Club, a massive FB group of readers who share book recs with one another. Even if you can’t make it to my event, I highly recommend joining this group. Here’s the link to the group and then simply tune in at the appointed time.
Later in December, I’m looking forward to meeting with two sisterhood book clubs - Shomrei Torah Synagogue of West Hills, CA, and Temple Beth David of Westwood, MA. If your book club would like to discuss The Book of Jeremiah, I’d love to Zoom in!
Monthly writing prompt: A sense of place
The American West plays an essential role in Sabrina & Corina (above). Describe a place using as many sensory details as possible (sight, smells, textures, noises, etc). What emotion does your character feel when encountering this place?
Recipe: Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe! This is one of my tried and true pareve (nondairy) dessert recipes which came to me many years ago via my friend Grace. I refuse to use margarine so I’m always on the lookout for good desserts to serve with meat meals. I know some people have strong (negative) feelings about bananas, but luckily that’s not the case in my house.
1 cup of mashed bananas (about 3 very ripe bananas)
2 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Mix everything together and bake in a loaf pan. Voila! A delicious, non-dairy dessert.
(For those following my gardening escapades, the eggplants are almost finished but the broccoli is coming up nicely. Stay tuned for some healthier recipes coming your way once the broccoli harvest begins).
L: I’ve got about 20 broccoli plants coming up, all from seeds. I’m very proud of myself :-). R: From today’s bike ride: A steep climb from the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem up to Yad Kennedy (a memorial to JFK), but well worth it!
Have a happy and healthy holiday season, and see you next month with book recommendations, writing notes, recipes & more!