Happy 2021! I hope you are hanging in there, health-wise and sanity-wise. Here in Israel, we’re in our third lockdown and the government is racing to get the vaccine out (as of this writing, over 11% of the population has received its first dose)! Wherever you are, I hope that your reading - to paraphrase Amos Oz, z”l - is “opening a third eye in the middle of your forehead.” Scroll down for book recommendations, a new Literary Modiin event, a recipe and more!
Last week was the second yarzheit (anniversary) of Amos Oz’s passing. I’ve loved all his books, but my favorite is his memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness.
Brief writing update: For the first time ever, I took myself off to an Airbnb to get away from all distractions for five days and write. It was heavenly! I am deep into the third draft of my novel. I have much, much more work ahead of me before I complete the draft, but I was able to figure out a few critical things about some early chapters that had been niggling at me for a while.
Some nice news: The Book of Jeremiah came out in 2019, but plenty of people read it in 2020. Huge thanks to Book Nation by Jen and Cliff Garstang for including Jeremiah in their “best books read in 2020” lists. And on a personal note, more nice news: 1) My daughter’s bat mitzvah is coming up on Jan. 16! We’re grateful/hopeful that we can have services outside and celebrate with a limited number of friends, though it will be bittersweet without our parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, all of whom are in the US. Fingers crossed for decent weather! 2) I’m starting a new day job at an educational technology company the day after the bat mitzvah. Wish me luck!
I managed to read 81 books this year, definitely a new record! That’s 23,558 pages, according to Goodreads. Here are my top three recs this month:
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell: A gorgeous, gorgeous historical novel that centers around Agnes and Hamnet Shakespeare, wife and son of our most famous playwright. Agnes is dauntless and eccentric, a skilled healer, but powerless to stop her worst nightmare. As one reviewer put it, “Love, grief, hope, resilience - the world of this novel is so vivid I could nearly smell the grass in the fields, hear the rain in the gutters. In moments where the story shoots up to heaven I was there, grieving with these characters, feeling how lucky we all are to be alive, understanding how desperately we want the people we love to be remembered.” For audiobook lovers, the narration was exquisite, a perfect complement to the prose. One of my favorites of the year!
The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen: This was a terrific read about a misunderstanding that becomes a lie. Nofar is an average teenage girl who feels invisible until the lie she unleashes takes on a life of its own. Gundar-Goshen is a master at creating empathy, revealing the inner psyche of her characters, and portraying human relationships between mothers and daughters, sisters, fathers and sons, strangers, boyfriends and girlfriends, abuser and abused, school friends and more. As one reviewer put it, “A moral mystery for the thinking reader...It makes an art of probing moral questions while sacrificing neither narrative propulsion nor complex storytelling.” Highly recommended for book clubs - we had a great discussion in mine!
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook: A Booker Prize finalist and debut novel, The New Wilderness is an engaging tale of a mother's battle to save her daughter in a world ravaged by climate change. The relationships raise questions of how far people will go to survive, and what sacrifices they’ll make for their loved ones. As one reviewer put it, “Cook writes about desperate people in a world of ever shrinking livable space and increasingly questionable resources like air and water but also about the resilience of children who adapt, even enjoying circumstances that overwhelm the adults around them.” It’s speculative fiction, but the author has expertly created a reality that feels like it could easily be our own. Highly recommended!
I’m not one to list my top five or ten reads of the year; there are simply too many. But a good indication of my favorites are all the books I’ve recommended in these newsletters, or all 81 books I read in 2020.
Story of the Month: After
After (Blackbird) by Rachel Hall. I heard Rachel read this chilling story at a Hidden Timber Books event in May, where I learned that she’s at work on a collection about gun violence. The story was published online recently and equally powerful on the second read.
I don’t have any book events of my own this month, but I’m excited for our January Literary Modiin event! As always, if your book club would like to discuss The Book of Jeremiah, I’d love to Zoom in.
Literary Modiin’s January Author Event will be held on Sunday, January 24 at 20:00 Israel / 1:00 pm Eastern / 12:00 pm Central. Join me hear from Sarah Ansbacher, whose book, Passage from Aden: Stories from a Little Museum in Tel Aviv, came out recently; David Hopen, whose debut novel, The Orchard, came out in November; and Amy Shearn, whose third novel, Unseen City, came out in the fall (and was recommended in last month’s newsletter). Register here to get the Zoom link.
Monthly Writing Prompt: A Proposal Gone Awry
After spending two straight days at my computer during the writing retreat, it was time to get out for a bit. The Airbnb came with an old bike, so I pedaled over to the beach, ~10 minutes away, where I happened upon a sunset proposal! This month’s prompt: write about a proposal that goes horribly off the rails.
Recipe: Bri’ut Sandwich
Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. For my writing retreat, I brought most of my food with me. I don’t need much; I’m generally happy with cottage cheese and fruit for breakfast, a veggie burger and red pepper for lunch, and the Shabbat leftovers for dinner. By the end of the week, though, I’d finished the leftovers and biked over to a nearby shopping area, where I discovered a perfect sandwich, the “bri’ut.” Not only was it delicious, but I appreciated the double entendre: it’s filled with slices of brie, and bri’ut means health in Hebrew. (When someone sneezes, you say “la’bri’ut,” meaning, to your health).
1 gabetta (whole wheat or white)
3 thick slices of brie
2-3 slices of beets
thin layer of butter
thin layer of jam (you can leave this out and it still tastes delicious)
Handful of rocket/baby leaves (or any greens)
1-2 TBSPs chopped walnuts
1 TBSP of red onion, thinly sliced and marinated in vinegar
Spread the butter and jam on opposite sides of the gabetta, and then assemble all the other ingredients. I recommend putting this in the toaster for a few minutes to get the bread nice and toasty, allowing the brie to melt a tad. Voila, the perfect sandwich!
Hope your 2021 is off to a good start, and see you next month with book recommendations, writing notes, recipes & more!
Request: If you’ve read (and liked) The Book of Jeremiah, please help me out by writing a brief review on Amazon or wherever you purchase books online. It can be as simple as one or two lines. Thank you!
Check out this infographic that I made for fun, covering my 2020 adventures in reading, writing and publishing.