Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reading List: Contemporary Jewish Life and Culture

Welcome to this week's installment of our newest feature here at The Blue Bookcase: Reading Lists. Every week one of us (or a guest blogger) will post on one of his or her favorite topics and provide a list of books he or she is familiar with on that topic. At the end of each post we will invite you to throw out any suggestions of books, fiction or non-fiction, that you have read or know about on that topic and we will add them to the list on that post.
These lists are not comprehensive by any means, but may be useful in helping you find your next read. Enjoy!

This week, Christina is compiling a list of books about Contemporary Jewish Life and Culture.

This week's reading list post happens to fall on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, so I thought Judaism might be an appropriate topic for our Reading List.

I've been interested in Judaism for the past few years, ever since attending a Reform Shabbat service with a friend. I love learning about the holidays and traditions, and Hebrew and Yiddish. I think I'm a little jealous of my Jewish friends' connection to an ancient shared history.

Since Rosh Hashanah is a happy, forward-facing holiday, I'd like to focus on nowadays Jewish life rather than, say, biblical Judaism (The Red Tent) or the holocaust (The Pianist). This will help narrow things down a bit, and we can save those topics for another list. BUT let's include books that connect the past with the present (Everything is Illuminated). Sound good? Ok!

My List

The Instructions - Adam Levin
"Beginning with a chance encounter with the beautiful Eliza June Watermark and ending, four days and 900 pages later, with the Events of November 17, this is the story of Gurion Maccabee, age ten: a lover, a fighter, a scholar, and a truly spectacular talker. Ejected from three Jewish day-schools for acts of violence and messianic tendencies, Gurion ends up in the Cage, a special lockdown program for the most hopeless cases of Aptakisic Junior High. Separated from his scholarly followers, Gurion becomes a leader of a very different sort, with righteous aims building to a revolution of troubling intensity." (goodreads)

The Last Jewish Virgin - Janice Eidus
"Lilith Zeremba, a young woman rebelling against her intellectually complex, feminist Jewish mother, is The Last Jewish Virgin. In this playful and provocative, sensual and suspenseful novel, Janice Eidus merges the timeless, romantic myth of the vampire with contemporary life in volatile New York City —and beyond. Determined to make her own way —on her own terms —as a successful Jewish woman in the world of fashion, Lilith finds herself in a place where mythology and sexuality collide. She meets two men to whom she is drawn in ways that feel dangerous and yet inevitable: the much older, wildly mercurial and mesmerizing Baron Rock, and Colin Abel, a young, radiant artist determined to make the world a better place, one socially progressive painting at a time." (goodreads)

Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods - Michael Wex
(yeah, this one is mainly historical. But I still think it works in this category because it ties that history into contemporary Jewish life.)
"Yiddish doesn't need apologies. Once dismissed as a derivative vernacular language, the lingua franca of millions of Jews has recently gained just recognition for its richness and strikingly apt idioms, phrases, and metaphors. Michael Wex's Born to Kvetch combines the lively accessibility of Leo Rosten's The New Joys of Yiddish with the insightfulness of a serious inquiry into Yiddish culture. Anyone who loves wordplay or enjoys Jewish humor will appreciate this book." (goodreads)

Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer
"With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man - also named Jonathan Safran Foer - sets out to find the woman who might or might not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war, an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past. As their adventure unfolds, Jonathan imagines the history of his grandfather's village, conjuring a magical fable of startling symmetries that unite generations across time. Lit by passion, fear, guilt, memory, and hope, the characters in Everything Is Illuminated mine the black holes of history. As the search moves back in time, the fantastical history moves forward, until reality collides with fiction in a heart-stopping scene of extraordinary power." (goodreads)

The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
"Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he's still alive, drawing attention to himself at the milk counter of Starbucks. But life wasn't always like this: sixty years ago, in the Polish village where he was born, Leo fell in love and wrote a book. And although he doesn't know it, that book also survived: it crossed oceans and generations, and changed lives. Fourteen-year-old Alma was named after a character in that book. She has her hands full keeping track of her little brother Bird (who thinks he might be the Messiah) and taking copious notes in her book, How to Survive in the Wild Volume Three. But when a mysterious letter arrives in the mail she undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family." (goodreads)

Your Recommendations:
Tell me in the comments. And please provide links to your own reviews!
Chaim Potok's novels - recommended by Connie at The Blue Bookcase
Kosher Nation by Sue Fishkoff - recommended by Suzanne at Bibliosue
The Ladies Auxilliary by Tova Mirvis - recommended by Emily (Christina's mom)
Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor's Son by Sholem Aleichem - recommended by Emma at Words and Peace

Do you consider yourself particularly well-read on a certain topic? Or maybe you find yourself drawn to books about specific people, places, or things? We would love to have you write a Reading List post for us! If you are interested please email us at