Happy 2023! I hope that you’ve had a great month and that you’re keeping warm and cozy with some good books (there’s a crazy wind in Modiin as I write this). My month included some good quality time with my parents, two swims in the Red Sea, bike rides, and of course, reading and writing. Scroll down for the winners of the 2022 readers’ survey, book recs, our first hybrid (in person and on Zoom) Literary Modiin event, a recipe and more.
Brief writing update: I’m nearly finished with a first draft of my current story-in-progress. It’s told from four different points of view and there’s a plot element that is loosely inspired by my recent family news (see my essay Czarna, Reimagined), though the characters are entirely fictional. I’m planning to take a generative writing class this month through One Story, so perhaps my next story will start there.
Readers’ Choice 2022
The results are in! Thank you to the 65 people who responded, listing nearly 320 books. We had a clear winner, followed by ties for second, third, fourth and fifth place, 21 runners-up and another 200+ books recommended. Many of the top picks were published prior to 2022, which proves the saying that books have long shelf lives. Some of these books have made the list two years in a row, and Amor Towles has the distinction of having three different books among the favorites and runners-up. See the full results here
I'm thrilled to see many books by authors who have appeared at Literary Modiin: One Hundred Saturdays by Michael Frank and The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen were in the top five; How to Find Your Way in the Dark by Derek B. Miller was a runner-up, and Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum, Lech by Sara Lippmann, The Guest Book by Sarah Blake, and Plunder by Menachem Kaiser were also recommended by readers. See the full results here. I know I’ll be checking out the ones here that I haven’t read yet. Thanks to all who participated!
I completed 80 books in 2022 (alas, five less than my Goodreads challenge, but that’s why it was a challenge). I “blame” it on reading the mammoth The Books of Jacob and a book in Hebrew, both of which slowed down my reading considerably, but I’m not sorry I read either :-). Time will tell if I’ll do that again in 2023. Here are this month’s recommendations:
The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz: This is the first book I’ve read by Jean Hanff Korelitz and I loved this book so much that I immediately wrote to invite the author to the February Literary Modiin event. I’m pleased to say she accepted, so save the date - Sunday, February 12! The novel follows the story of the wealthy, NY-based Oppenheimer family including parents Salo and Johanna, their triplets Harrison, Lewyn and Sally who seem to detest each other from the moment they’re born, and latecomer Phoebe, born 18 years after her older siblings. The story touches on themes of guilt, grief, privilege and race, religion and family. As a reader, I found this novel very fulfilling, and I appreciated the way the author gives us a wide sweep of the time period, along with depth of characters, plot twists, social awareness, politics and more. Once more people read this book, I suspect we’ll see this high up on next year’s readers’ choice survey. I liked this blurb from the NYT Book Review: “If this novel is funny, it is also cutting, a nearly forensic study of family conflict. Husband and wife are at odds; children pull away not only from their parents but from one another. Nimbly, Korelitz juggles the stories of each parent and child, weaving a tapestry of secrets, antipathies and private quests...It’s testament to Korelitz’s achievement that her novel leaves us wanting more.”
Now is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson: Fans of Wilson’s previous novel, Nothing to See Here, will again appreciate the quirky characters that people his new novel. Frankie and Zeke are 16-year-old outsiders trying to make it through a summer in a small Tennessee town. Frankie is an aspiring writer and Zeke is an aspiring artist. What starts as a prank — an unsigned posted with an enigmatic phrase — becomes something viral (before viral was a thing), the townspeople are in a panic, and rumors abound. I listened to the audio version of this book and it is just as delightful as Nothing to See Here. I liked this blurb from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Wilson occupies a unique niche in literature. He is a master of creating indelibly peculiar characters with odd passions and traits…..All those peccadillos have a purpose, though. They give shape to the characters’ humanity and fuel narrative arcs that tell evocative tragicomic stories about family, friendship, love and art that end on a note of cautious optimism. And honestly, isn’t that the best we can reasonably hope for in life?”
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So: This award-winning collection of brilliant stories illuminates the lives of Cambodian-American youth in California. They are the children of refugees, growing up in the shadow of the Khmer Rouge genocide. The theme of intergenerational trauma may be familiar to many of us from the Holocaust, and here were are exposed to a different immigrant community as they grapple with complexities of race, sexuality, friendship and family. Unfortunately the author passed away before his collection came out, and as one reviewer put it, the book is “a bittersweet triumph for a fresh voice silenced too soon.” I also like this blurb from the Washington Post: “Afterparties insists on a prismatic understanding of Cambodian American diaspora through stories that burst with as much compassion as comedy, making us laugh just when we’re on the verge of crying.”
Story of the Month: Florida Girl Kidnaps Girl from Hospital Waiting Room
Florida Girl Kidnaps Girl from Hospital Waiting Room (TriQuarterly) by Kelly Magee. I came across this story on Twitter; it’s hard to describe beyond saying that young girls can be very wise. Give it a read.
Lots of events this month! Two of my own, with the Barnard Book Club of Washington DC (Jan 8) and the Congregation Beth El Sisterhood Book Club (Jan 29), and our first in-person/online Literary Modiin event on Monday, January 9, in partnership with the Modiin Public Library.
If you’re local, come in person to the Kramim Branch of the Modiin Library (Emek Harod 9 — exact driving directions in the confirmation email). Doors open/reception begins at 19:30
If you’ll be joining on Zoom, the program will begin at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern.
Save the date: February 12 at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern for Literary Modiin’s February event, featuring Jean Hanff Korelitz (The Latecomer), Jonathan Wilson (The Red Balcony), and Steve Stern (The Village Idiot). More details to come soon!
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!
Recipe of the Month: Pumpkin, Leek, Corn Soup with Hazelnuts
My friend Rachel and I happened upon a tiny vegetarian restaurant on a cold day where we had a delicious soup that hit the spot. I was able to (more or less) recreate it successfully at home. I eyeballed it, so I can’t tell you exact quantities, but this should make enough soup for 6-8 servings.
Large hunk of pumpkin, cut into chunks
2-3 leeks, chopped
Either fresh corn from 1-2 ears of corn, or a can of corn
Olive oil (or butter)
1 c. hazelnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
~5 c of vegetable broth (enough to cover the vegetables)
Sautee leeks in olive oil or butter until they are soft. Add the chunks of pumpkin, corn, and broth. If the soup seems to thin, add a potato or two…Cook until the pumpkin is soft. In the meantime, lay the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast them lightly, and then chop when cooled. Use an immersion blender to blend until the soup is smooth. In each bowl, drizzle a swirl of heavy cream and top with the chopped hazelnuts. Enjoy this (gluten-free, and potentially vegan) cozy soup for winter!
I’ll leave you with this pretty sunset over the Red Sea, snapped by my daughter in Eilat. I’ll be back there by the end of the month, doing a long swim as part of a relay team in the Israman triathlon (the half Ironman distance…the swim is 1.9KM or ~1.2 miles). Wish me luck!
See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!