Happy February! I hope your 2023 is off to a great start. It’s been a whirlwind month for me that included three events, lots of reading and writing, and other adventures. Scroll down for book recs, an exciting Literary Modiin event, a story of the month, a recipe, and more on said adventures.
Brief writing update: I’ve finished the first draft of my story that is told from four distinct points of view. Can such a thing work in a short story? Future readers will judge, but for now I’m happy with it, so, yay! I also started a new story in which Ruthie (Jeremiah’s younger sister) finally gets a say of her own. All told, I’m up to eight new stories for this collection-in-progress, or around 66,000 words, which is longer than the original book. Of course, awaiting me at the other end of all these first drafts are hundreds of hours of revision…Fun!
I’m up to seven books so far in 2023, one ahead of schedule according to Goodreads. A lot of what I’ll read this year will come from the 320 books recommended in my annual Readers’ Choice survey. Thank you again to those who participated! My top recs this month:
Lessons by Ian McEwan: If you’ve read anything else by Ian McEwan, you know he’s a phenomenal storyteller, and his latest novel cements him as a master. His subject is the life of the fictional Roland Baines from childhood through his later years, a life that might be considered ordinary, but in McEwan’s capable hands Roland’s story is quite compelling. As a young teen living far from home, Roland’s relationship with his piano teacher “rewires his brain” as his wife later puts it. This is shortly before his wife abandons their marriage (and newborn son), causing poor Roland terrible suffering. He seeks solace through music, literature, friends, politics, sex and other pursuits. I was trying to understand the mechanics of what makes McEwan’s storytelling so compelling, and I came across this quote from the Washington Post that perfectly captured the feeling I had while reading: “McEwan’s new novel is a profound demonstration of his remarkable skill. Lessons progresses in time the way a rising tide takes the beach: a cycle of forward surges and seeping retreats, giving us a clearer and fuller sense of Roland’s life.” The novel also explores themes of envy, ambition, and what constitutes a life well-lived — a great choice for book clubs!
The Bibliomaniacs by JC (Yosef) Halper: I savored this collection, laughing out loud at some points, easily imagining the cast of quirky characters and their shenanigans, many of which are set in and around a used bookstore in Tel Aviv (largely inspired by the author’s own used bookstore, Halper’s Books, which has been around for over 30 years). We meet an out-of-print author who searches for copies of his books in the store, a prestigious lawyer on a secret mission to save Tel Aviv from its waste, bottle by bottle, a group of ex-pats who come together to mourn a friend, and watch as the bookseller does battle with mysterious spittle that appears each day on his display case. Yosef’s presentation at Literary Modiin’s January event was as entertaining as his collection. (The link in the title refers to the Kindle edition; if you’re in Israel, the paperback version is available at Halper’s in Tel Aviv and at independent bookstores all over Israel).
Almost Deadly Almost Good by Alice Kaltman: This is a delightful collection of 14 interlinked short stories, with each of the seven sins and seven virtues getting its “own” story. The characters could be people we know — a wannabe actress housesitting for her more successful friend, a middle-aged woman lusting after her daughter’s boyfriend, a mother longing for escape on a family vacation, a tech whiz who finally gets in shape, a bar mitzvah boy who must play the role expected of him. Their worlds feel very familiar, their conflicts a reminder that we all have the capacity for sin and for virtue. I particularly liked this blurb from Julie Innis: “With passion and wit, Alice Kaltman nails what it means to be human…These stories crackle with energy.” I wholeheartedly agree!
Worth mentioning: several other books I enjoyed this month. Perhaps I’ll go into more detail on some of these next time: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi, which follows a high-in-demand henna artist for the upper class women of Jaipur, India; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, a delightful little tale in which the protagonist sets off by foot on a journey from one end of England to the other in the hopes that his walk will stave off an old friend’s death; and Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid, in which a world champion tennis player comes out of retirement to reclaim her record.
Book club reading: Thought I’d share what my local book club has selected for our 2023 reads. Each year, we read four general fiction/nonfiction books, one book by an Israeli author, and one classic. What is your book club reading this year?
P.S. Speaking of book clubs: I had a great time speaking to the Barnard Book Club of Washington DC and the Congregation Beth El Sisterhood book club this month. If your book club would like to discuss The Book of Jeremiah, I’d be happy to Zoom in (or meet in person if feasible)!
Story of the Month: Banana
Banana (Flash Frog) by Laila Amado: Short (and a bit too familiar). What mother among us has not been there? Thanks to Matt Kendrick’s new Substack, Mondettes, in which he’s recommending a new piece of flash fiction for every day of the month, for pointing me to this one.
I’m very excited for the February Literary Modiin event on Sunday, February 12, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern! Join me to hear from Jean Hanff Korelitz (The Latecomer — which I recommended in last month’s newsletter), Jonathan Wilson (The Red Balcony), and Steve Stern (The Village Idiot). Register here.
Recipe of the Month: Mauna avocado sandwich
Welcome to the end of the newsletter (almost), where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. On my way down to Eilat last week (see below), we stopped at the new(ish) rest area in Mitzpeh Ramon. There’s a cute little vegan restaurant called Mauna that makes yummy sandwiches. Though I adore both avocado and sweet potato, I never thought to put them together in a sandwich before. Simple and delish.
Whole-grain/rustic roll or gabetta, lightly toasted
1 ripe avocado
1 slices of roasted sweet potato
1/4 c freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Salt & pepper to taste
Slice up a whole sweet potato, drizzle it with olive oil and kosher salt, roast at a high temperature until soft. Mash the avocado in a bowl and mix with lemon juice and salt. Spread the avocado on the roll, add the sweet potato slices, and assemble the rest of the ingredients!
My various other adventures this month included: 1) attending a massive demonstration in Tel Aviv over the proposed judicial reforms (in the pouring rain)! and 2) participating in the Israman race in Eilat last Friday. I was part of a relay team doing the half-Ironman distance (1.9KM swim, 90KM bike, 21.1KM run), and my part was to do the swim. My husband has done this race for 14 years, the last several of which I’ve gone to cheer him on, and though it’s been several years since I did a (much shorter) triathlon myself, I thought it would be a fun challenge. Well. Was my swim fun? It was decidedly not. Was it a challenge? Indeed it was, one I won’t be repeating. That being said, all of the training and trips to the beach and hanging out with my teammates and our larger group WAS fun, so I’m still glad I did it. Many thanks to my friend Allison for getting me into this (when we’re not swimming, we’re talking about books, of course), to my husband who is an inspiration, and last but not least, to the Israeli dude whose name I never got but who kept watch over me from his speedboat until I made it safely back onto dry land. He looks like an Udi, so henceforth I’m going to call him that. Thanks, Udi.
I’ll leave you with a collage of my month in pictures.
January and February are the best months for Israeli wildflowers! Can’t wait for the rain to stop so I can get out on my bike again!
See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more! In the meantime, happy reading and Go Birds! (Much excitement in my household over the Eagles in the Super Bowl).