By now June is bustin’ out all over (to quote Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel). I hope you are healthy and finding ways to venture back out into the world, whether to see loved ones and resume some normal activities, or to make your voice heard for justice. Read on for book recommendations, reviews, a story of the month, a writing prompt, a recipe and more.
Quick writing update: I’m working on two stories at the moment, though progress is (still) slow-going. On one, I’d written about 6,300 words before concluding the story needs to go in a new direction, so now I’ve started a new file, using some of the same sentences and characters, but most likely I’ll be discarding the vast majority of those words. But it’s all part of the process, and I trust in the process.
A few happy notes:
A year after publication, I wasn’t expecting more reviews of The Book of Jeremiah, so it was especially thrilling to find this beautiful new review from f(r)iction, calling the book “a captivating tapestry of family.” Yeah!
A week later, I was floored to find another new gorgeous review from SFWP (Santa Fe Writers Project) (one of my favorite small presses) that calls The Book of Jeremiah “a fascinating and artful portrayal of life in all its patterns and paradoxes, its beauties and grievances.” Double yay!
As part of my high tech company’s efforts to keep us connected during COVID-19, we’ve been holding social sessions given by our colleagues (i.e. how to make challah, how to beatbox, dog training, etc.). My “Creative Writing 101” session went well and now all sorts of colleagues who have MFAs / have written books / have always wanted to write, etc. are coming forward, so that’s cool.
In non-writing news, my Corona victory garden is doing well. Look at this gorgeous cucumber plant, and all those tiny tomato plants I’ve grown from seeds! The question remains as to whether actual zucchini, cucumbers, etc. will grow, but in the meantime I have sampled the zucchini and cucumber flowers. Yum!
I’m at 29 books for the year, three ahead of schedule according to Goodreads. I seem to be reading a lot of memoirs and non-fiction lately. Here are two memoirs and one novel I highly recommend, all of which are good for book club discussions.
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano - I’ve known this novel was coming for the last two years, when I met Ann at the One Story summer conference in 2018. She was full of insight, wisdom, and encouragement. But none of that is why you should read this book. At age 12, Edward Adler is the sole survivor of a plane crash and must learn to navigate the world without his parents and his beloved older brother. She does a fantastic job of capturing Edward’s emotional paralysis and the beautiful cast of characters who help him heal and move forward in his life. Considering the subject matter, it’s actually quite uplifting!
Pumpkinflowers by Matti Friedman - Though I was living in Israel for most of the 1990s, I was unaware of so much of what was going on, particularly among our soldiers serving in Lebanon. Matti Friedman covers his own service and that of the small band of soldiers charged with holding the small hill dubbed Pumpkin. It’s part reportage, part history, and part memoir, and I can see why the NYT called this thoughtful portrayal the “Israeli analog” to Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
The Spiral Shell: A French Village Reveals its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in World War II by Sandell Morse - I read Sandell’s memoir ahead of the Literary Modiin event I hosted on May 31 (see below for the recording). Her journey to uncover the stories of individuals living in and around the village of Auvillar in southern France during World War II, while discovering truths about her own life, spoke deeply to me. Not only because I, too, have traveled to a remote part of France to pay tribute to the abbey where my cousin was hidden (my essay about this is still looking for a home!), but because I was reminded of the Talmudic saying “Whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the whole world” (Sanhedrin). So many “entire worlds” were taken from us during the Holocaust; through their stories, Sandell has restored some of them to us.
Moby-Dick update: I’m making progress, up to about page 315 (~65%), and I hope to finish before Melville’s birthday in July. I’ll admit the chapters on whale physiology don’t interest me all that much, but even so, I’m finding many sentences and thoughts that are gems.
Story/poem of the month
Jellyfish in Gaza: I was perusing The Baltimore Review website, and naturally the title caught my eye. It’s a powerful story by Omer Friedlander, and I was pleased to become acquainted with the work of this (new to me) Israeli writer.
I’ve only got one event scheduled for June, on the 21st, when I’ll be discussing The Book of Jeremiah with Rabbi Brad Tecktiel and his Midbar Kodesh summer book club. Maybe some day I’ll make it to Las Vegas, but for now we’ll be on Zoom. As always, I’d love to meet with more book clubs!
Two past events you may have missed:
My May 3 online book talk through Hidden Timber Books. Catch the recording here, and sign up for more upcoming author talks. I’ve attended a few others and they are fab.
On May 31, Literary Modiin hosted Erika Dreifus, Sandell Morse, and Ellen Meeropol. I’m biased, of course, but it was a great evening! Here’s the recording if you missed it. Watch this space for upcoming events - virtual and (hopefully soon) in person!
Monthly writing prompt
Take any two pictures with people in them. These could be personal photos or any picture you find on the Internet. Write a scene in which a person from the first picture interacts with a person from the second picture.
Recipe: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you are rewarded with a yummy recipe. In my aforementioned 6,300-word work-in-progress, the main character is making oatmeal raisin cookies. Whether this will end up in the final version of the story, I have no idea, but here’s her (my) recipe (with thanks to The Kosher Palette):
1 cup raisins
3/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 large egg
2 TBSP water
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups quick oats
6 ounces chocolate chips
Soak raisins in water to cover in a small bowl. Let stand 10 minutes, then drain. Beat the butter at a medium speed until fluffy, gradually add sugars, beating well. Add egg, water, and vanilla, beating until well blended. Add the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda to the mixture, and then fold the oats, chocolate chips and raisins into the batter. Use a teaspoon to place cookies onto the baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes at 375 F / 185 C until the edges are lightly browned. These are a bit dense but very yummy!