I hope your February was a healthy, safe and productive one. Here in Modiin, the kalaniot (anemone), rakefot (rock cyclamen), and shkeydiot (almond trees) are in full bloom and seeing those vibrant colors set against the lush greenery was a highlight of my month.
Naturally, my attention has also been on the situation in Ukraine for the last week. For those looking for a Ukrainian Jewish perspective, I found this essay, “Prayer for those who stayed,” to be particularly moving and insightful.
Brief writing update: I’ve made good progress on my new “man on the moon” Jeremiah story, though I’m still noodling around for an appropriate (and hopefully entertaining) ending. Once again, if you are old enough to remember the moon landing and would like to share your memories, please do so via this quick form. Perhaps one or more of your details will make it into my story!
Two pieces of nice news: 1) I was interviewed by Meryl Ain for her new podcast, People of the Book. We chatted about the origins of Literary Modiin, The Book of Jeremiah, and more. Meryl (author of The Takeaway Men) is a force in the Jewish book world! If you’re on Facebook, join her Jews Love to Read and People of the Book groups. 2) I was honored to see The Book of Jeremiah on Bill Wolfe’s “Ten Impressive Short Story Collections You May Have Missed,” featured on his Read Her Like an Open Book blog and Substack newsletter.
I’m up to 18 books for the year, five ahead of my self-imposed Goodreads challenge. This month’s recommendations:
How to Find Your Way in the Dark by Derek B. Miller - I’m grateful to the National Jewish Book Awards for pointing me to this book, which was a finalist in the fiction and book club categories. Within an hour of starting the audiobook, I was already recommending it to friends. Written as a prequel to the author’s earlier novel, Norwegian by Night (which I haven’t read yet), the book centers on a young Sheldon Horowitz, who is recovering from the tragic loss of his mother when a suspicious traffic accident kills his father. The year is 1938, the Nazi threat looming in Europe, and Sheldon, consumed by thoughts of revenge, moves in with his uncle and teenage cousins in Hartford. I adored Sheldon, his cousins Abe and Mirabelle, his best friend Lenny Bernstein (not that Lenny Bernstein), and I was rooting for them even as they make questionable choices. Sheldon’s story - and that of the American Jewish community circa late 1930s and 1940s - is captured with insight, pathos, humor, and complexity. The historical details are another aspect that make this book shine. The storytelling is propulsive, and if you’re an audiobook fan, this was a great listen. This is one of those books that I didn’t want to end, though the good news for me is that I have another Sheldon Horowitz book waiting to be read. The other good news is that Derek Miller is appearing at Literary Modiin’s March event! Read this book!
Matrix by Lauren Groff - I've read all six of Lauren Groff’s excellent books and this is now my new favorite. It’s an impressive novel about women and power that takes place during the Middle Ages. The novel centers on Marie de France, the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, who is sent to be the prioress of an impoverished abbey. Groff expertly makes the language and terms of the Middle Ages come alive for the modern reader. Even though there were sentences in which I had never seen several of the words, I was able to understand everything from the context. As Vulture put it, Matrix is "the medieval nun drama you didn’t know you needed."
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead - Another propulsive read (or listen, in my case). Ray Carney is a furniture salesman trying to make a decent life for himself and his family in Harlem, circa 1960s, but he can’t seem rid himself of his ne’er-do-well cousin, Freddie. Freddie is always dragging Ray into his schemes and getting him entangled with shady cops, vicious local gangsters, and other lowlifes. As the description put it: “It's a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.” The writer in me appreciated many aspects of this novel, in particular the research and the detail that went into the knowledge of furniture and the way Whitehead captures Ray’s voice.
City of Skypapers by Marcela Sulak - I’m the first to admit that I don’t know much about poetry, but this beautiful volume by Marcela Sulak (who appeared at our December Literary Modiin event) contains poems I’ve already read a few times - and will keep coming back to - for their language and imagery. She offers gorgeous snippets of life in Tel Aviv, describes the natural beauty of Israel, writes of mother-daughter relationships and more. I was glad to see this was a finalist in the poetry category for the National Jewish Book Awards.
See all the books I’ve recommended in this newsletter.
Story of the Month: Playing Chicken
Playing Chicken (Pangyrus) by Scott Gould. This short story, about a male nurse and an eventful home healthcare visit, grabbed me from the start.
Unrelated…The best thing I watched this month was the documentary Amos Oz: Through the Fourth Window. I attended a talk by the director, Yair Qedar, sponsored by Jerusalism and The Tel Aviv Review of Books, which you can see here. The documentary doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics in Oz’s life. If you get a chance to see the film, I highly recommend it. (And I also recommend getting on Jerusalism’s mailing list for additional events).
I’m VERY excited to take part in Women’s League Reads, a project of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, on Sunday, March 13, at 2 pm ET. (Membership in Women’s League Reads is open to members of Women’s League-affiliated sisterhoods or to individual members who have paid dues directly to Women’s League…if you’re a member or are eligible to join, I hope to “see” you there)!
I’m also super-excited for our March Literary Modiin author event, featuring Derek Miller (How to Find Your Way in the Dark - see my enthusiastic review above); Ben Sharafski (Returning to Carthage - see my enthusiastic review in last month’s newsletter), and Pamela Braun Cohen (Hidden Heroes - a memoir from the front lines of the struggle for Soviet Jewry). Register here
Prompt of the Month: Wacky Whatsapps
Sometimes inspiration can come from a whatsapp thread. In the space of an hour or so the other week, a few of my friends relayed some wacky details about their travels that I thought would make a fun prompt. Write a story that contains the following elements: pig statues, rowing race, Dolomites, a 1988 Corvette, Moonstruck, a cucumber, and a suitcase that fails to reach its destination.
Recipe of the Month: Chicken with Crispy, Lemony Croutons
This is a delicious, easy chicken recipe adapted from the NY Times.
Baguette, sliced ~1/2-inch thick
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more as needed
1 whole chicken, patted dry
1 garlic head, sliced in half horizontally, through the cloves
handful of thyme sprigs, rosemary, scallions, or any other herbs
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lay the baguette slices in a thick, heavy-duty metal roasting pan in one layer, drizzle with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the head of garlic, the lemon and the spices. Rub the outside of chicken with the olive oil and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. Place it breast side up on bread. Roast the chicken until it is deeply browned and juices run clear when thigh is pricked with a knife, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Serve the chicken with bread from pan. Yum!
I’ll leave you with these pictures, snapped on a recent bike ride and run. Gorgeous, right? Come visit!
See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!