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July 2021: A summer bounty, the sphinx, and a new Lit Modiin event

Dear friends,

To those still celebrating the long weekend - happy July 4th! Here in Israel, yesterday and today are regular work days. Sigh. I hope that however you spent the weekend, part of it was with a good book in hand. Scroll down for book recs, a new Lit Modiin event, an update on my victory garden, a recipe and more!

Brief writing update: I’ve been plugging away at a short story. It’s about 3/4 written. Hopefully by the time my August newsletter goes out I’ll be able to report that I have a complete draft. No new “good writing news” to report, but in case you missed these last month, please have a look at my recent essay, Lessons from Our Backyard Bat Mitzvah (Jewish Women’s Archive) or my first-ever book review of Jane Bernstein’s The Face Tells the Secret (Reading Jewish Fiction).

Recommended Reads

It felt like a slow reading month, but I’m up to 40 books for the year, three ahead of my Goodreads challenge.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam - This was an eerie, suspenseful novel about parenthood, race and class, and it had me nodding in agreement with / recognition of the main characters. Clay and Amanda head out of the City with their teenage son and preteen daughter for a week away on a remote part of Long Island. Two days into their trip, the owners of the vacation home, Ruth and GH, an older couple, show up in a panic and the two families are thrown together. As the Washington Post put it, the book “opens with the promise of utopia and travels as far from that dream as our worst fears might take us. It is the rarest of books: a genuine thriller, a brilliant distillation of our anxious age, and a work of high literary merit.”

Meiselman: The Lean Years by Avner Landes - Meiselman, an assistant librarian in a suburban Chicago library, is a perennial underdog, despite playing by the rules and living a fairly standard Modern Orthodox Jewish life. When his boss asks him to moderate an event with a famous author (who happens to be his former, detested schoolmate), Meiselman is determined to stand up for himself, convinced that this is his moment. Publisher’s Weekly calls it a “darkly funny debut…Meiselman’s delusions of grandeur repeatedly collide with reality, to tragic and hilarious effect.” Our antihero gives the reader some cringeworthy moments, but also many, many entertaining ones (“full-on screwball” is how I saw one interviewer refer to the book). It’s precisely these moments that cause the reader to sit up and think, which is the highest praise I can give a book. Listen to Avner Landes discuss Meiselman at Literary Modiin’s March author event.

Outside Looking In by T.C. Boyle - T.C. Boyle is a rock star; every book I’ve ever read by him is excellent. In Outside Looking In, he takes us back to the 1960s, to Timothy Leary’s LSD experiments with his psychology students at Harvard. Fitz, one of Leary’s grad students, and his wife, Joanie, are lured into this inner circle, where “the ‘research’ becomes less a matter of clinical trials and academic papers and instead turns into a free-wheeling exploration of mind expansion, group dynamics, and communal living.” As Kirkus Reviews puts it: “Few novelists have benefited more from the freedom unleashed by the psychedelic revolution than the prolific Boyle, . . . but here he shows a buttoned-down control over his material, a deadpan innocence in the face of seismic changes to come.”

Story of the Month: A Mermaid Has No Tears

A Mermaid Has No Tears (The Arkansas International) by Kathryne David Gargano: When I scrolled through the journal’s table of contents and clicked on a link in the fiction section, I had no inkling that I’d stumble upon a story about young woman named Mayim about to go into the Israeli army. It’s about origin stories and water, love and friendship, and letting go. After I read it, I saw that this is the author’s first published short story. And she clearly knows her stuff about Israel. Impressive!


I’m excited for this month’s Literary Modiin event, coming up on Sunday, July 25, at 20:00 Israel time / 1:00 pm Eastern. Featuring Joshua Cohen (The Netanyahus), Sari Rosenblatt (Father Guards the Sheep - one of my recommended reads in April) and Tzippi Moss (Angels & Tahina). Register for the event here.

Missed any of our Literary Modiin events? Watch all of them here!

As for my own events, June was busy but the coming months are wide open, so 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. If the timing is right, I’d love to squeeze in an in-person event or two while I’m in the States.

Prompt of the Month: The Sphinx

This crazy-looking critter - a sphinx moth (also called a hawk moth) - is currently in my living room! And a sphinx, as we know, is a mythological creature with a lion's body and a human head. Write something either about a creature that is half one thing, half the other; or write about the riddle of the sphinx; or write a story about a cool-looking moth.

Recipes of the Month: Tomatoes, Two Ways

Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. Two this time. For those who remember my pandemic victory garden essay last summer (Seeds of Sustenance, published by Jewish Women’s Archives), I’m happy to report that my tinkering has continued, and this summer I’ve been rewarded with an amazing bounty of cherry tomatoes. Ergo, two quick and easy cherry tomato recipes:

Summer Tomato Salad

2 cups of cherry tomatoes (we love the tiny yellow date tomatoes here, but any kind will do)

1 cup mini (fresh) mozzarella balls

Fresh basil

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar



Voila - a perfect summer salad!

Slow Roasted Tomatoes (from Kosher by Design) - a great pareve side dish

2-3 cups of cherry tomatoes (a mixture of yellow, red, and orange, if you can)

2-3 gloves of garlic

a handful of fresh oregano

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Mix everything and bake at around 400 F / 200 C for 30-40 minutes, until the tomatoes look wrinkly and starting to brown. Serve warm.

Tomatoes galore! What should I make next?

See you next month with book recommendations, writing notes, recipes & more!


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