It’s September 1st! Happy first day of school to those of us in Israel, and happy 26th anniversary to my husband and me. (If you’re on FB, check out his adorable post). I’ve had a great month (see bottom of the email) and hope you did too. Scroll down for book recs, our next Literary Modiin events, a recipe and more!
Brief writing update: I didn’t get much writing done last month. Happens sometimes, particularly when I’m traveling (and even now that I’m back at home, still battling jetlag). My current story-in-progress is coming along slowly, but that’s okay. I started it using this prompt from Matt Bell. (I’m at about 7,000 words and I haven’t gotten to scene three yet…so, yeah, major revision ahead).
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 finished eight (!) books in August, and I’m now up to 57 books for the year, one ahead of schedule for my self-imposed Goodreads challenge.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez - I loved this story, the characters, and the audiobook narrators! The novel revolves around Olga and her brother Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, successful Brooklynites raised by a loving Latinx grandmother and family. Olga is a wedding planner and Prieto a popular congressman, but clouding their success is the enigma of their mother, who abandoned them to fight as a Puerto Rican independence activist. I’m so impressed by this debut novel, which manages to tackle the serious themes of cultural identity, family secrets, grief, and self-preservation with humor and poise, and on top of that, includes a satisfying love story. Here’s the NYT: “Liberation is at the heart of Olga Dies Dreaming. The story’s driving tension derives from questions of how to break free...The book’s title is an allusion to the poem “Puerto Rican Obituary,” by Pedro Pietri, which contains the lines “Olga / dies dreaming of a five dollar raise.” But Gonzalez’s Olga will not go meekly to such a fate. Sometimes we must free ourselves ― even from dreams." If you’re an audiobook listener, definitely get the audiobook!
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki - Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Book of Form and Emptiness is an inventive novel, dealing with a boy named Benny who hears the voices of objects all around him and a mother drowning in her possessions, both grieving over the sudden loss of their beloved father/spouse. Benny tries to ignore the voices but they follow him outside the house and he seeks refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There he meets his very own Book, who narrates his life and the playful part of this novel are the exchanges between Benny and his Book. There’s a lot of Zen Buddhism going on (Ozeki herself is a Zen Buddhist priest) which was interesting.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger - I enjoyed this coming-of-age story of four orphans who travel the Mississippi River on a life-changing odyssey. Forced to flee the joyless, abusive school for orphans, Odie and his brother, Albert, their best friend, Mose, and a little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the Mississippi and the hope of finding a distant aunt in St. Louis. This was an easy, pleasurable read. I particularly agreed with this blurb from The Minneapolis Star Tribune: “A picaresque tale of adventure…Part Grapes of Wrath, part Huckleberry Finn, Krueger’s novel is a journey over inner and outer terrain toward wisdom and freedom.”
Stories of the Month: Truth or Death and The Writer Tries to Address Her Origins
Two stories I enjoyed this month were both published in Janus Literary. Truth or Death by Lori Sambol Brody, about a high school theater kid that weaves in the story of the golem. Then I came across The Writer Tries to Address Her Origins by Deborah Zafer, a hybrid piece that takes place in London’s East End (and does what the title says it does). Given that my own great grandparents were married and lived for a time in the East End (and my own imaginings about long gone relatives), this one also spoke to me!
Literary Modiin is back from its vacation! Our September event is coming up on Sunday, September 18, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern. Join me to hear from Marcus Pactor (Begat Who Begat Who Begat); Zibby Owens (Bookends); and Hila Ratzabi (There Are Still Woods). Register here.
If you want to get a jump on registering for the October event - Sunday, October 23, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern with Sara Lippmann (Lech), Martha Toll (Three Muses) and Diana Bletter (A Remarkable Kindness), register 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!
Recipe of the Month: Moroccan Chicken Tagine
This is a delicious, healthy recipe that I haven’t made in a while but I think I’ll make it for Rosh Hashana…the dried apricots do the job to usher in a sweet new year. There is a long list of ingredients but it’s not difficult to make. Serve over rice or couscous. Delish!
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp coriander
1 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp, divided olive oil
4 c. diced (with peel) eggplants
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, cut in thin strips
2 c. onions
2 c. yellow/orange pepper
1 Tbsp, minced garlic
1 Tbsp, minced ginger
15 oz, canned diced tomatoes
15 oz, canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
14 dried apricot halves, chopped
1 c. tomato sauce
¼ c. fresh mint leaves, chopped
Combine cumin, coriander, paprika, and salt in a small bowl. Toss eggplant with 1 tsp oil and 1 tsp spice mix.
Preheat an oven to 425°F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Roast eggplant, stirring once halfway through, until browned, 30-35 minutes.
While eggplant roasts, heat 1 tsp oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with 1 tsp spice mix and add to pan; cook until browned and cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate; set aside. Heat remaining 1 tsp oil in same pan and add onion and pepper; cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger, and remaining spice mix; cook, stirring a few times, 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, chickpeas, apricots and tomato sauce.
Add reserved chicken and roasted eggplant to sauce; cover and simmer for 5 minutes for flavors to blend. Serve garnished with chopped mint.
I’ll leave you with pictures from my fantastic trip to Colorado and Utah. (Now you see why I didn’t get much writing done in August. But it was worth it.)
In between the national parks, we spent a wonderful Shabbat in Boulder, CO, and on Sunday I had a great time meeting with the Hadassah of Boulder book club.
See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more, and shana tova to all who are celebrating!