Happy October! To those celebrating the high holidays: g’mar hatima tova — may you be inscribed in the Book of Life! I had a great month (see pics below) and hope you did too. Scroll down for book recs, our next Literary Modiin events, a recipe and more!
Brief writing update: This month I was fortunate to take two excellent writing classes. The first was a flash fiction workshop with Kathy Fish (together with some of my dearest writing friends). This was immediately followed by an excellent class on lyrical writing with Matt Kendrick. The lyrical writing class gave me a much greater understanding of tempo, rhythm, sound and motif and I’m going to keep those notes handy as I revise my stories and essays. Both classes were generative, meaning I started some new pieces while taking a break from my current story-in-progress. As a bonus - one of the exercises in Kathy’s class helped me figure out a potential ending for said story-in-progress - hooray! - and one of the exercises in Matt’s class allowed me to explore a potential idea for a new, longer story I might want to include in the larger project (new book)! If you’re an aspiring writer, I highly recommend getting on the mailing lists of Kathy and Matt and taking their classes.
ICYMI: My most recent publications, in case you missed them, are Abbaye de Valloires (essay) in Hinterland Magazine (available in print but sadly not online); Or Best Offer (flash fiction) in Ruby Magazine; and Czarna, Reimagined (creative non-fiction) in Jewish Women’s Archive.
I’m up to 62 books for the year, two behind schedule for my self-imposed Goodreads challenge. (I’m behind because I’m reading The Books of Jacob by Nobel-prize winner Olga Tokarczuk — at 965 pages it’s a rather monumental task)!
Who By Fire by Matti Friedman: Matti Friedman’s latest book explores Leonard Cohen’s visit to the Israeli troops during the Yom Kippur War, until now a footnote in the life of the Canadian musician and poet. Maybe because I have a son going into the IDF soon, or maybe due to learning more about those terrible few weeks in 1973, I listened to the audiobook with my heart in my throat. From interviews with the soldiers who heard him perform, Cohen’s own writings (published and unpublished), and accounts of specific bases in the Sinai, Friedman does a masterful job weaving together Cohen’s journey with that of the young nation in crisis. It’s a compelling, intense read (particularly on the eve of Yom Kippur) with excellent narration by the author. One phrase that will stay with me is the soldier who said Cohen gave off an “aura of good-heartedness and unusual humanity.” PS One doesn’t need to be a huge Leonard Cohen to enjoy this book!
Like Never Before by Ehud Havazelet: I’m not sure I would have read this book of interconnected stories, which came out almost 25 years ago, had someone in my book club not lent it to me. I’m so glad she did, though, because the stories were wonderful and felt very familiar. The book, which today might be called a novel-in-stories, captures the Birnbaum family — parents Max and Ruth and children David and Rachel — struggling between the new world and old. Max, an immigrant who escaped the Nazis at a terrible cost, remains committed to Orthodox Judaism, while his children, coming of age in 1960s New York, chafe against tradition and parental expectations. The Publishers’ Weekly review says it well: “The moods in these stories range from broadly comedic (echoes of Malamud) to nightmarishly tragic; each contains small detonations of surprise that turn commonplace events into milestones of loss, bitterness or tentative healing. Common to all of them is the elegant simplicity of Havazelet's prose, the grace and precision with which he captures the currents of love, misunderstanding, anger and yearning that reflect complex interior lives.” If you’ve read and enjoyed my own The Book of Jeremiah, I think you’ll like this one too — it is probably the most similar book in terms of content that I’ve come across. My publisher Kevin Watson of Press 53 likes to say that books have a long shelf life, and that was definitely true of this one.
See all 100+ books I’ve recommended since starting this newsletter in April 2020 (a few, like Like Never Before above are not available through Bookshop, so I’ve given you the link for Amazon).
I don’t have any events of my own this month, but I’m very excited for the October Literary Modiin event on Sunday, October 23, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern! Join me to hear from Sara Lippmann (Lech); Martha Anne Toll (Three Muses); and Diana Bletter (A Remarkable Kindness). Register here.
Missed any of our Literary Modiin events? Watch them here.
As always, 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!
Two Stories of the Month and an Essay
We read and analyzed many great flash fiction pieces in both classes, but my two favorite were From the Diary of Your Unlived Life (SmokeLong Quarterly) by Andrew Ridker and The Diamond Factory (Matchbox) by Helen Rye. These were both in the tempo chapter…have a read - can you see why?
I also enjoyed Mara Sandroff’s essay “Am I Ukranian? A Study in Eight Parts (The Audacity)
Recipe of the Month: Sheet-Pan Chicken With Shallots and Grapes
With so much going on this month, I was all about easy recipes, especially as I’d gotten out of the habit of cooking this summer. Thankfully the NYT Cooking section sends me copious emails with new recipes all the time, including this easy one. It can be whipped up in five minutes for a weeknight, and it’s also good enough to serve at a special meal (as I did on Rosh Hashana):
2½ to 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, patted dry
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon za’atar
Kosher salt and black pepper
6 medium to large shallots, peeled and quartered root to stem
~1-2 cups of seedless red or green grapes, broken into small clusters
4 to 5 thyme sprigs, plus 2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together the chicken with 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic and za’atar. Season well with salt and pepper. Place the shallots and the grapes on the sheet pan and gently toss with the remaining olive oil and season well with salt. Nestle the chicken skin-side up in between the shallots and grapes and lay the thyme sprigs on top of the mixture. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the shallots and grapes at the edges of the pan begin to soften and caramelize. If you’d like, at this point you can turn the oven to broil and move the oven rack to sit right below it (I haven’t). Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and broil the chicken for 1 to 2 minutes until the skin of the chicken is crispy and golden. Scatter with chopped thyme and season with flaky salt.
I’ll leave you with a few unrelated pictures/highlights of my month.
My “minhag” this month was to go to the beach on Wednesday evenings and catch the sunset, a streak that will end this week with Yom Kippur. The only cool flower that’s out now is the sea squill (bottom left), which Meir Shalev writes beautifully about in My Wild Garden. My daughter came home after six months in South and Central America, so I had all four kids together for Rosh Hashana, hooray! Lastly, another highlight of my month was the RH davening at my shul, but no picture of that, so here’s one from a recent ride to Park Canada.
See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!