Happy December! I hope you’ve had a great month, as I did. I had many wonderful things in November for which to give thanks: a half-marathon last Friday, a table full of family and good friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, quality time with a close friend visiting from abroad, plus my “usual:” writing, biking and reading amazing books. Scroll down for book recs, our next Literary Modiin events, a recipe and more.
Brief writing update: I finally finished the first draft of a story I’ve been working on since the summer, hooray! I spent a week cheating on my collection-in-progress to polish one of the flash fiction pieces I composed in one of my September classes. Since that was fun, I went on to another piece from that class, whereupon I decided to take the general idea and use it as a new story for the collection. It’s an idea inspired by true events, one that’s been simmering for a while. I’m about 1,100 words in, and trying something new (four different POVs). I know two of the characters very well, and the other two I’ve just invented. Wish me luck!
Some happy news: Three and a half years after The Book of Jeremiah was published, I’m happy to report that it is still getting discussed in book clubs. Both the Barnard of Book Club of Washington DC and the Sisterhood of Congregation Beth El of Fairfield, CT will be discussing my book in January and I’ll be Zooming in. 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!
I’m now up to 75 books for the year, a bit behind on my self-imposed Goodreads challenge. My top recommendations for this month are:
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin - When I first heard about this book, about two video game developers, I thought, “nah” but thankfully I revisited my decision and bought the book. The novel follows Sadie Green and Sam Masur for 30 years: from a childhood friendship forged in a hospital to their reunion in college, their wildly successful gaming company and their complicated lives beyond. This is one of those unique books in which you come to adore every character, major and minor (think: Amor Towles). The novel goes deep on themes of friendship, disability, the need for connection and the redemptive power of play. I especially like this blurb from The New Yorker: “Woven throughout [Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow] are meditations on originality, appropriation, the similarities between video games and other forms of art, the liberating possibilities of inhabiting a virtual world, and the ways in which platonic love can be deeper and more rewarding—especially in the context of a creative partnership—than romance.” Spoiler alert: this will be in one of my personal top 5 for the year. In short, read this book!!
One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World by Michael Frank - At Literary Modiin’s November event, Michael Frank described his book as an encounter with Stella Levi, now a 99-year-old woman, a survivor of the Sephardic Jewish community of Rhodes. Over the course of six years, he visited Stella weekly in her Greenwich Village apartment to hear about her childhood, her community, and her coming of age under Italian rule. (Italy conquered the Aegean island in 1912 and continued to administer after the Germans seized control in September 1943). Gradually, Michael earned Stella’s trust, and as the book unfolds she opens up to him about her life during the war, including the painful deprivation of her education and the deportation of her entire community to Auschwitz. Of the 1,700 Rhodesian Jews deported, 90 percent were murdered on arrival. Reading this book, I think you’ll come to see, as I did, that Stella is a “intensely captivating and a woman with remarkable insight” (Library Journal). I also liked this quote from Hey Alma: “A poignant and absolutely necessary addition to the canon of Holocaust literature. Through Michael’s questions, which showcase trust and friendship that grows between interviewer and interviewee, and gorgeous illustrations from artist Maira Kalman, One Hundred Saturdays paints remarkable dual portraits. The first is of a vibrant Sephardic community which was decimated by the Nazis and is still often omitted from Holocaust histories. And the second is, of course, of Stella Levi and the chapters of her life: child, prisoner, survivor, wanderer, wife and mother and, now, storyteller.” What a gift Michael and Stella have given us in this book. Listen to Michael discuss One Hundred Saturdays at the November Literary Modiin event.
Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber - I loved this collection of interrelated stories, each one told by different character, as if the stories are riffing off each other. In the first story, we meet Ethan, a New York-based lawyer whose ideas about his father and his parents’ marriage come crashing down when he learns of his father’s secret family in Queens. With each story, the interwoven fates of these two households unfurls to encompass a woman rallying to help an ill brother with an unreliable lover, a filmmaker with a girlhood spent in Nepal, and many others. I like this blurb from Ron Charles at the Washington Post: "Secrets of Happiness looks like a series of linked stories, but it’s more like a roulette wheel in print: Each chapter spins to some other character in a large circle of possibilities. It takes only a moment to get your bearings, and the disappointment of leaving one narrator behind is instantly replaced by the delight of meeting a new one . . . These stories unfurl with such verbal verisimilitude that they’re like late-night phone calls from old friends.” This was the first time I’ve read a Joan Silber book, and now I’m looking forward to discovering her earlier books.
See all 100+ books I’ve recommended since starting this newsletter in April 2020.
Story/CNF of the Month: Modeh Ani
Modeh Ani (Barren Magazine) by Diane Gottlieb: When I came across this story on Twitter, naturally I clicked on the title. (Modeh ani is the first prayer said upon waking up in the morning, meaning “I give thanks” and for me, and probably thousands of people who have gone to Jewish summer camps, it immediately conjures a tune, memories of damp benches, and bleary-eyed campers and counselors singing/praying together). In this short creative nonfiction piece, the author explores the power of this simple prayer and the gifts of camp amid a heartbreaking loss. Give this a read, especially if you are a camp person.
I’m very excited for the December Literary Modiin event on Sunday, December 11, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern! Join me to hear from Alyson Richman and Shaunna J. Edwards (The Thread Collectors), Anca L. Szilágyi (Dreams Under Glass) and Ellen Meeropol (The Lost Women of Azalea Court). Register here.
Coming up: Save the date for Literary Modiin’s January event on Monday, January 9 — in-person and via Zoom! I’m excited to partner with the Modiin Library to hear from Dara Barnat (The City I Run From), Yosef Halper (The Bibliomaniacs) and Michelle Cameron (Beyond the Ghetto Gates). Stay tuned for registration details.
2022 Readers’ Survey
I’m always looking for good book recommendations, as I’m sure many of you are. Last year I inaugurated the annual Readers’ Choice survey, to great response. Many of the books I read this year were a direct result of that survey…so let’s do it again. Please fill out this quick, 2-minute Readers’ Choice survey and list your five favorite books of the year. Note: the books do not need to have been published in 2022, just your five favorite reads. Look for the results in my January newsletter.
Recipe of the Month: Poke Bowl with Tofu, Avocado & Mango
Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. My daughter first made this for me last year and I waited a long time for avocado and mango to be in season again at the same time. This is another easy recipe that ticks all the boxes: vegan, Gluten-free, and most importantly, delicious.
Sesame oil (or other neutral oil)
Any vegetables you’d like…I used:
Soy or teriyaki sauce for drizzling
Cook the sushi rice according to package directions (approximately double the water for the amount of rice, ie 1 cup of rice, 2 cups of water). Pat dry the tofu and cut into cubes. Dust the tofu cubes with corn flour and sauté until golden brown in the oil. While the rice and tofu are cooking, sauté other vegetables, each one separately. Slice the mango and avocado. When everything is ready, assemble individual bowls: rice on the bottom, vegetables, avocado and mango around the sides, tofu on top. Drizzle with soy/teriyaki or your sauce of choice. Delicious!
There’s not much in bloom these days but I’ll leave you with one picture from a recent bike ride.
This is Sitvanit aka Meadow Saffron. Check out my friend Jo’s blog post to learn why the Sitvanit has the nickname “naked ladies” and other interesting facts.
See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!