Happy November! I hope the past month has been good to you and that November will bring more joy. Personally, I’m excited for my daughter’s return from the States, the November Literary Modiin event, and Thanksgiving (which yes, many of us do celebrate in Israel). Scroll down for book recs, events, a recipe and more!
Brief writing update: I’ve started a new story with some familiar characters. I’ve got the first scene down and now I’m trying to figure out what comes next. I’ve scribbled the beginnings of many potential scenes, which is part of the the fun. Stay tuned!
Two excellent pieces of news: I got word (on the same day, no less) that two of my stories were accepted for publication! One of them is a brand new Jeremiah story, which will be published by JewishFiction.net, and the other is flash fiction piece. I’ll share the links when they come out, and in case you missed my new story in The Maine Review last month, here’s the link to Growth Hacking again.
It’s been another good month of reading. And book buying. I was a bit down when the Jewish holidays were over and it was time to return to a full 5-day work week, so I solved that with a book-buying spree (buying 10 books in two days)! I’m up to 69 books for the year, seven ahead of my self-imposed Goodreads challenge. Here’s a list of all the books I’ve read thus far in 2021. This month’s recommendations:
The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton: I listened to the audio version of this one, and it is now hands-down my favorite listen of the year, and definitely in my top five audiobooks of all times. In one sentence, it’s about “the meteoric rise of an iconic interracial rock duo in the 1970s, their sensational breakup, and the dark secrets unearthed when they try to reunite decades later for one last tour.” It’s fiction but it feels extremely real, and relevant for our times, or as one reviewer put it: “The author is clearly well-versed in music, history, racial and gender struggles and she brings them all together in such a believable way that you want to search the internet for the music and pictures.” The story is told in the innovative form of an oral history, with dozens of memorable characters, which the full-cast audio performance enhances. Listen to this book!
Jerusalem Beach by Iddo Gefen: A grandfather who joins a geriatric brigade in the IDF. An elderly couple in search of the wife’s first memory of a beach in Jerusalem. Soldiers at an outpost so far from civilization it’s called Neptune. This brilliant short story collection was recently translated to English from Hebrew, and the author weaves playfulness and serious issues into each story, along with a bit of surrealism. Fans of Etgar Keret will enjoy this collection, though the stories are longer in length, allowing us to become more immersed in the worlds of these characters. As one reviewer put it - the writing is “wise and sophisticated” and I couldn’t agree more! Come hear Iddo Gefen at Literary Modiin’s November 14 event!
Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher: This is a coming-of-age story that follows Yonatan, a young Israeli-American about to enter the IDF, and his friendship with two Palestinian twins, Nimreen and Laith. Somehow I was expecting a more one-sided story but the author has done an admirable job of “capturing the intensity of feeling on both sides of the conflict,” as Kirkus Reviews puts it. The writing is also beautiful, nuanced, and the characters and situations feel authentic. The review in the Jerusalem Post had this to say: “Rothman-Zecher has shown a fearlessness and vulnerability on these pages that speak to his ability to explore difficult terrain without feeling the need to draw any neat or concise conclusions. That is the gray matter of great fiction. It shuns certainty and is open, nuanced, inconclusive and often contradictory." The novel is unsettling, though not in the ways I was expecting. I’m so glad I read this book, and I think it would make a great choice for book clubs.
Story of the Month
The Jackal (Conjunctions) by Joy Baglio: Terrific flash fiction story which kept me at the edge of my seat and then cheering at the last line.
I don’t have any events of my own this month, but I’m super-excited for the all-star lineup we have for the next Literary Modiin event. Join me on Sunday, November 14 at 20:00 Israel time / 1:00 pm Eastern to hear from Iddo Gefen (Jerusalem Beach), Aviya Kushner (WOLF LAMB BOMB) and Hilma Wolitzer (Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket). Register here.
In October, I added two states to my “Jeremiah map” (thank you, ORT Cactus chapter in Phoenix and Darchei Noam in Minneapolis), bringing my total to about 45 events across 15 states (and Canada and Israel). Like my kids and nieces and nephews who count the states they've been in, I'd love to get that number up to at least 25 states. Looking at you Maryland, Maine, Rhode Island, N. Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Delaware, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, (to name a few)! If you're in a book club or know someone who is, please consider The Book of Jeremiah for a future selection and I'd be happy to Zoom in. Thanks to everyone who has hosted/helped me thus far!
Prompt of the month: Hooked on history
My new work-in-progress takes place over bicentennial weekend in 1976, which many readers here will remember as significant for a few reasons. Thus I arrived at this month’s prompt: Pick a historical event — from your lifetime or from 2000 years ago — and weave it into your current work in progress (or into a brand new story/poem/CNF). It can be a minor mention or a central part of the work. How do your characters react to the event? Include two or three true historical details.
Recipe of the Month: Vegan Shepherd’s Pie
Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. I adapted this recipe from the Minimalist Baker and served it on Rosh Hashana. It was a big hit with the vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, so I’m planning on serving it again for Thanksgiving.
3 lbs golden potatoes
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 1/2 c. uncooked green lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 10 oz bag frozen mixed veggies (peas, carrots, etc.)
Preheat oven to 425 F / 220 C. Slice the potatoes in half and boil them for about 20-30 minutes. Drain, and then mash until smooth, adding some olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. While the potatoes are cooking, sauté the onions and garlic in more olive oil, until lightly browned (~5 min), and then add the tomato paste, salt, pepper, lentils, stock, and thyme. Bring to a low boil and reduce heat to simmer, cooking until the lentils are tender (~35 minutes). Once tender, remove the lid and continue simmering until the excess liquid has boiled out. In the last 10 minutes, add the frozen vegetables and stir. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
Transfer the lentil mixture to a large baking dish (2 quart or 9 x 13 pan). Top with mashed potato mixture and smooth down with a spoon or a fork. Add another crack of pepper and sea salt on the top. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly brown on top. (Note, most recipes call for peeling the potatoes, but I prefer to keep the skin on).
I’ll leave you with this picture of sunrise over the Ayalon valley, which I took last week during a quick bike ride to the southern hills of Modiin-Maccabim-Reut.
See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!