What a month November was! In the literary realm: a dynamite Literary Modiin event, a brand new Jeremiah story published, and lots of reading. On the personal front: I had a fab Thanksgiving and got to spend QT with a close friend visiting Israel, who made it here and back before our borders closed again to tourists. Sigh. And now it’s Chanukah! I hope you are doing well, staying healthy, and cozying up with a good book. Scroll down for book recs, events, a recipe and more!
New Jeremiah story! I’m over the moon that JewishFiction.net has published “Rock of Ages.” It’s about Chanukah and baseball and more. I hope you like it!
Brief writing update: I’m plugging along at my new story, and it is finally taking shape. I’ve used a variety of different prompts to spark writing different snippets of dialogue and scene. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words (current count is around 8,200) and I will probably write a few thousand more before paring it back down to a manageable (publishable?) length.
Speaking of Chanukah, there are still four nights left…plenty of time to buy gifts! I created this collage of books written by members of a group of Jewish women writers I'm privileged to be in, and there’s something for everyone. Many of the authors have appeared at Literary Modiin, and others are old and new friends. Check out these titles!
It’s been another good month of reading. I’m up to 74 books for the year, six ahead of my self-imposed Goodreads challenge. Here’s a list of all the books I’ve read thus far in 2021. This month’s recommendations:
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen - What can I say? Jonathan Franzen is a modern-day master. His characters are so richly developed that it feels like we can spot even the tiniest speck of grime in their fingernails. Crossroads follows the Hildebrandt family - patriarch and associate pastor Russ, his not-so-happy wife Marion, and their four children - through a Christmas season that threatens to upend everything in their lives. The novel deals with big issues like religion, drugs, Vietnam, and social responsibility, but where it really shines is in the interpersonal relationships and the interiority of the characters. As the reviewer in Vogue put it: "[A] pleasure bomb of a novel . . . New prospects are what keep [Crossroads] so engrossing, each section expanding on and deepening the poignancy of what has come before . . . . Few [writers] can take human contradiction and make it half as entertaining and intimate as Franzen does .” Apparently this is the first in a trilogy, hooray!
Rites by Savannah Johnson - Perhaps more than any other book I’ve read in recent memory, this story collection about the modern-day experiences of indigenous people living in Oklahoma took me farther away from my own experience. Stories about a newly released “convict” who’s served nine years for marijuana possession, a sex worker, a single mother trying to feed her kids while figuring out her next move, an eight-year-old girl whose drunk father decides it’s time for her to learn how to drive, etc. I found this book through a review on Small Press Picks (great site by Beth Castrodale, check it out!) and I’m so glad I did. As Beth writes, “the characters in Rites are connected by the hard realities they face, even though they may bear their burdens privately. I’m going to be thinking about all of them for a long time.” Ditto!
Bewilderment by Richard Powers - I listened to this heartrending story, which has been longlisted for several awards. If you’ve read The Overstory, you know Richard Powers cares deeply about the fate of our planet. In Bewilderment, Theo Byrne is an widowed astrobiologist searching for life throughout the cosmos while single-parenting his nine-year-old son Robin. Robin is sensitive, gifted, and inquisitive, an unusual kid who may or may not be on the spectrum. As one review in the Boston Globe put it, “In a year of unprecedented worldwide drought, fire, and flooding, [Bewilderment] couldn’t be timelier.... Whether concerning family or nature, this heart-rending tale warns us to take nothing for granted."
Story of the Month: Zochreini
Zochreini (Catapult) by Allison Darcy. This is a knockout of a story, one that feels all too real/common. It’s powerful, haunting, and exceptionally crafted. Kudos to the author, from whom I expect we’ll be seeing more. (TW: assault)
Omicrom-permitting, I have an in-person event this month at the Palace in Modiin, a local assisted living facility. I don’t have anything else scheduled until March, so if you're in a book club or know someone who is, please consider The Book of Jeremiah for a future selection. I'd be happy to Zoom in!
Literary Modiin’s December author event: Join me on Sunday, December 12, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern, to hear from Kathleen Alcalá, who will be speaking about her recently re-issued novel about Crypto-Jews, Spirits of the Ordinary (which I also learned of on Small Press Picks); Marcela Sulak, who will be speaking about her new poetry collection, City of Skypapers; and Sidura Ludwig, who will be speaking about her story collection (which just won an award for Canadian Jewish literature!) You Are Not What We Expected. Can’t wait! Register here!
Missed a Literary Modiin events? Watch any of them here.
Writing Tip of the Month: Forth and Back, Back and Forth
Instead of a prompt this month, I’m sharing this interesting approach to revision. Steve Adams, a writer and writing coach who has a regular writing advice column at jmww (an online literary journal), discusses a technique used by Francis Ford Coppola: Once you have an ending for your draft, go back through each plot turn and determine if it leads towards the conclusion. If not, it should probably come out. When I get back to my novel revision, I will definitely try this, though I suspect it can work for a longish short story as well. Read the whole column here.
Recipe of the Month: Homemade Granola
Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. No Chanukah recipe, sorry! But here’s one you can use all year round, and I can’t believe I haven’t shared it yet. It comes courtesy of the dates I’ve been picking on my recent bike rides (which are delicious right off the tree, btw)! The recipe is from a family friend, and I’ve been making it for years:
6 cups rolled oats
2 cups whole almonds or mixed nuts (not salted or roasted)
¾ cup hazelnuts
½ cup flax seeds
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup pumpkin seeds
1 TBSP brown sugar
3 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
¾ cup olive oil
4 TBSP honey
2 cups pitted dates, chopped
1 cup dried unsweetened cranberries
Mix the first ten ingredients in a large bowl. Heat olive oil and honey in a saucepan over low heat, then pour it over the granola mixture and stir well. Spread mixture over 1-2 baking sheets, bake at 300 F / 160 C for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Stir in the dried fruit and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container. Delicious with yogurt and fresh fruit!
See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!