It’s been a while since I’ve shared what I’m reading. I’m still on pace for my annual goal of 100 books each year. These are the books that are bringing me pleasure as a reader and challenging me in my perceptions, right now, and I’m excited to share them with you.
People Love Dead Jews, by Dara Horn
Dara Horn writes amazing novels, deeply rooted in Jewish images and ideas. I’m consumed by them. This, however, is her first work of non-fiction, and it does not disappoint. Some of these essays may be familiar to you; as Horn herself notes, after events like Pittsburgh, Poway, or Jersey City, she’s become something of the go-to writer for op-eds in national papers to lend clarity and a Jewish voice, about what is happening to our world. Through her travels around the world, to places where we once lived and are now memorialized – like Harbin, China – or in the stories, we tell ourselves – say, about how we came to have Americanized names – Horn grapples with memory; of Jews and of those who persecuted us. It’s a remarkable collection, that challenges us to think and talk with new eyes about our own narratives.
Heartbeats: The Insider's Guide to Israel, by Yishay Shavit, Ya’acov Friend & Gilad Peleg
How did you spend your pandemic? Well, JCRC friend and study tour educator Yishay Shavit got together with some colleagues and wrote an anthology. For those of you who’ve been on the bus with us, these are the voices of Israel’s most talented experiential educators, sharing the perspectives, narratives, dilemmas, and questions they invite us to consider when we are with them. At a time when fewer of us can travel, this is an invitation to see a place through the diversity of its own people’s experiences. In addition to Yishay’s editing and contributions, we also get to hear from Michael Hollander, JCRC’s other (and equally beloved) tour educator.
p.s. I’m delighted to announce that we’ll be hosting a book talk with Yishay on November 17th at 12pm!
Nazis of Copley Square: The Forgotten Story of the Christian Front, by Charles Gallagher
Father Charles Gallagher, S.J., teaches history at Boston College, with a focus on the Catholic Church and the Holocaust. His new book examines the history and legacy of the Christian Front, a far-right group active from 1938-1940 in Boston. When rave reviews started appearing a few weeks ago, I commented on Twitter that I was excited for this book, but that I wouldn’t characterize this history as entirely “forgotten.” In fact, it was part of my onboarding ten years ago, when, upon arriving here, community elders told me about this dark period in our city’s past. The bigotry they experienced in the 1940’s informed the creation of JCRC, as a catalyst for the Jewish community to compel government, media, and the church to address antisemitism in Boston. I soon heard from friends who recounted stories of Boston’s antisemitic history they heard from their own Jewish family members who had grown up in our city. For the victims of this era, the memory lives on, in how we organized our community. It’s great that this period is now being documented and presented to a broader audience.
American Poets Project: Selected Poems, by Kenneth Koch
By now you may know my passion for poetry, and for reading at least a few selections every morning. Kenneth Koch was part of the New York School, publishing from the 1950’s until his death in 2002, while also teaching at Columbia University. His witty and surreal work is part of a great tradition of Jewish-American poetry. In his own words: “The comic element is just something that, it seems to me, enables me to be lyrical." His work invites us to reimagine the way in which we see the world around us. This short anthology is part of the Library of America’s American Poets Project (full disclosure, I am a patron of this organization). It includes his piece “To Jewishness”, a modern classic.
All the Marvels, by Douglas Wolk
The Forward promoted their interview with this author by saying: “He read every Marvel comic so you don’t have to.” Wolk took on the project of reading all 27,000 Marvel comic books printed over the last sixty years, a vast epic story in a world often like our own – and examining the themes and characters, and what they say about the moments in which they were published, and about us. It is a portrait of America in the modern era, a feat of cultural analysis, and a treat for us Marvel fans). Somewhere out there in the Marvel multiverse, there’s a version of me that ends up being like him.
These are the books I’m enjoying and appreciating right now. What are you recommending to readers these days?