Everything feels like it’s in limbo now, with the entire world waiting to see what will happen in the United States. I’m also in limbo on a number of personal fronts, but one thing that keeps me grounded is the constant companion of books, literature and nature. However anxious you’re feeling today*, I hope this newsletter provides a welcome distraction. Read, write, bake cookies, have a drink**, practice yoga, watch the sunrise or sunset, take nature walks or bike rides or whatever you need to do. Here’s hoping for a peaceful, healthy November.
Brief writing update: I took a “Big Picture” novel workshop*** that was extremely helpful in giving me direction on my novel revisions. I’ve been writing new scenes and enjoying giving my protagonist more interactions with her family, among other changes. I also spent a few days in October revisiting and polishing a new Jeremiah story (written last winter), and I’ve sent it to a few dream publications. Fingers crossed!
Other nice news: My victory garden essay, originally published by the Jewish Women’s Archive, was included in a new anthology, “When We Turned Within: Volume II (Reflections on COVID-19)” edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor and Sarah Tuttle-Singer. All proceeds from the sale of this book go towards UJA-Federation of New York’s COVID-19 relief work. Get your copy on Amazon!
Quick request: While we’re on the subject of Amazon, if you’ve read and enjoyed The Book of Jeremiah, please write a brief review! Reader reviews are the #1 way people make decisions on whether to read a book, and a review doesn’t have to be more than a sentence or two. My everlasting gratitude if you’ve already done this!
I was lucky enough to be in Tel Aviv/Jaffa to see the sunset today, Nov. 3, 2020
I’m up to 66 books for 2020, surpassing my self-imposed Goodreads challenge of 60 books. Should I up it to 80? There, I just did! Here are this month’s recommendations:
To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie - Each of the 10 stories in this beautiful, powerful collection takes us into a complete world. The stories tackle loss, anger, abandonment, love, and resilience between siblings, parents and children, childhood friends, roommates and more. Place feels central in this collection (many of the stories are set in the Midwest). I savored the elegant prose and didn’t want the stories to end. P.S.: Good news, Summie has a new novel coming out in January 2022)!
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar - An inventive, eye-opening novel about what it means to be a Muslim in America a post-9/11 (and current administration) world. Written in the style of a memoir (the main character shares the author’s name, profession, and background), I had to remind myself constantly that this is a novel. As one reviewer put it: “Akhtar deftly weaves politics, family, friendship, capitalism, work and the eternal existential crisis of being American into a tapestry…that includes essay, lyric passages and dialogue…” P.S.: This would be a great read for book clubs.
Nirvana is Here by Aaron Hamburger - The novel centers on Ari Silverman, weaving between the present and his high school years in the 1990s, and I was immediately drawn in to his story. Despite the trauma of a sexual assault, the reaction of Ari's family to his coming out, and Ari's own awakening to racial issues, the author succeeds in creating a complex, highly-engaging story filled with moments of grace. (If you’re a Jewish Gen X-er you’ll find much that’s familiar here; i.e. I appreciated the reference to siddurim with she lo asani isha taped over). P.S.: If you missed the Literary Modiin October event with Ari Hamburger, catch the recording here.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli - I listened to the audio version of this book and I’m glad I did. It’s the story of a family on a road trip from New York to the southwestern border against the backdrop of the current immigration crisis. But it’s also about loss, marriage, memory, family, siblings, and what can truly be captured about a place or a moment in time. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while.
Here’s the full list of all the books I’ve recommended in these newsletters.
Story of the Month
A Bird in the Hand (Fictive Dream) by Jude Higgins centers on a mother who finds comfort in birds and what this means for her daughter. Jude is a master of flash fiction, and her story is complex and layered. My mother and I share a love a birds, though unlike the mother in this story, mine has never tried to tame robins. (Fun fact: the American Robin is the state bird of Connecticut).
I’ve got several events coming up in December, so this is no-event November! Do you belong to a book club? A Hadassah chapter? A synagogue or a sisterhood? The Book of Jeremiah makes for a great discussion, or so I’m told, and I’d love to Zoom with your group.
One of my December events will be a live Facebook chat on December 8 at 7 pm Eastern through Renee’s Reading Group, a massive FB group for book recommendations and discussions. More details to come, but if you’re on FB, you can join the group here.
In addition, check out these resources:
Recordings of all Literary Modiin’s virtual author events
The National Library of Israel offers dozens of online lectures, many of which are in English. I attended a terrific lecture on Agnon last week by Rabbi Jeffrey Saks.
The Jewish Journal’s weekly streaming guide features dozens of online literary events and lectures.
Monthly Writing Prompt
With Thanksgiving coming up in a few weeks, make a list of 10 things for which you’re grateful. Then imagine the inverse of those 10 things. Pick one or two items from each list and incorporate them into a story.
Recipe: Burnt Eggplant with Tahina, Pomegranate & Feta
Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe! Two this time. The eggplants in my victory garden are flourishing, and I’ve been cooking up several eggplant-focused recipes. This one is adapted from Yoram Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook, with a twist from one of my favorite appetizers (eggplant carpaccio) at Peppino, a local restaurant in Modiin.
2 large eggplants
1/3 cup organic tahini paste
1/4 cup water
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 TBSP chopped parsley
sea salt and black pepper
seeds from 1 pomegranate
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
sprinkling of feta cheese (optional)
Roast or char the eggplant. If you have a gas stovetop, as I do, put the eggplant directly on a moderate flame and roast for 12-15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. I suggest lining the stovetop with foil. (Alternatively, broil the eggplants by piercing the skin all over with a sharp knife, and then place the eggplant in a foil-lined tray directly under a hot broiler for 1 full hour, turning it every 15 minutes or so).
When it's cool enough to handle, cut the eggplant open, scoop out the flesh, and let it drain for at least 30 minutes. Once most of the water has drained from the eggplant, chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add tahina, lemon juice, water, garlic, parsley, cherry tomatoes and salt and pepper. Mix well, then top with pomegranate seed and feta. Delicious!
I’ve gotten 11 beautiful eggplants from my garden thus far.
Bonus recipe: Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies
I’m sorely tempted to make these - my ALL-TIME FAVORITE cookies - while awaiting election results. Naturally these cookies found their way into my very first Jeremiah story. I decided to put this one in a graphic. If you’ve been making any of these recipes, let me know if you prefer the image or the text version!
* If you’re curious as to how this American-Israeli is feeling about the US elections from a distance, Ilana Blumberg captured my sentiments exactly in this Times of Israel blog.
** If cookies aren’t enough to get you through the next few days, may I recommend a cucumber elderflower gimlet? It’s become the cocktail of choice among my friends here in Modiin.
***Here’s a link to the Big Picture novel workshop I referenced above.
See you next month with book recommendations, writing notes, recipes & more!