Books-of-the-tribe--a summer reading list
Summer's on its way! For many of us, that means more time for leisure reading. Over the years between being a fan of books-of-the-tribe and working for a Jewish magazine, I've added a ton of titles to my Jewish bookshelf. What follows, in no particular order, are 10 of my favorites. My reading list includes fiction, non-fiction, a couple children's stories, and something for your taste buds too! So grab your shades, your 70 SPF, and a stack of these reads, and head out to the nearest hammock to start your literary Jewish adventure.
- The Chosen - By Chaim Potok. 1967. Set in Brooklyn against the backdrop of World War II and emerging Israeli statehood, the novel follows two 15-year-old baseball players-Danny, a Hasidic Jew, and Reuven, a Orthodox boy. At first, Danny is suspicious of Rueven, unable to relate to him religiously. But after an accident on the ball field, the boys come together and a friendship blooms.
- The Year of Living Biblically - One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible - By A.J. Jacobs. 2007. Journalist A.J. Jacobs, a secular Jew, dives head first into his research for his books by acting as a journalistic guinea pig. In this one, the hilarious Jacobs follows every precept in the Bible for a year, from the one about not murdering anyone on down to the one about playing a 10-string harp.
- Can't Believe Its Kosher! Jewish Tradition for Today's Lifestyle - Edited by Congregation Beth Israel Sisterhood (in Milwaukee) under the direction of Beverly Feiges. 2001. This cookbook has easy-to-follow recipes that are kosher, but don't taste like they are. The guide helped me christen--if a kosher cookbook is allowed to do that--my first kitchen when I moved out on my own after college. (Full disclosure: Feiges is a close friend of my aunt's, which is how I first heard about the book.)
- When Bad Things Happen to Good People - By Rabbi Harold S. Kushner. 1981. Confronting his own child's fatal illness, Kushner, exercising a lot of rabbinical wisdom and compassion, guides his readers through understanding the most difficult question we face in life--"Why me?"
- The All-of-a-Kind Family - By Sydney Taylor and Helen John. 1984. This children's book, for ages 8+, follows a Jewish family on their adventures in New York City at the turn of the 20th century.
- Sarah's Key - By Tatiana de Rosnay. 2007. The novel cuts back and forth between stories of different eras. First, Sarah, a 10-year-old girl, is rounded up with her family by French police during the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup of 1942. Before they come for her, she tries to save her little brother by locking him away in the cupboard. The book transitions to Paris of 2002, on the 60th anniversary of the French roundup, where journalist Julia Jarmond writes an article about this dark time in French history. Through her research, she uncovers a family secret that links her to Sarah.
- Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson - By Mitch Albom. 2002. In this slim bestseller, Jewish author and sports journalist Albom has lost track of his favorite college professor, Morrie Schwartz. Twenty years later, the author rediscovers Schwartz in the last years of his life. Knowing Schwartz is dying, Albom visits his mentor every Tuesday to once again learn lessons from him--this time on life outside the classroom.
- Being Jewish - By Ari L. Goldman. 2001. The author, a Columbia professor and a former religion reporter for The New York Times, describes the umpteen idiosyncracies of American Jews. Jews, he says, are "reaching for the holy" in all kinds of quirky ways. "There are six million Jews and six million Judaisms," Goldman writes, quoting the late historian of American Jewry, Jacob Rader Marcus. Less a book about how Jews are supposed to practice Judaism, the book examines how different Jews actually live their lives Jewishly in the 21st century.
- It Could Always be Worse - By Margot Zemach. 1976. This children's book is a Yiddish folktale I loved as a kid and adult alike about a poor shtetl man who thinks life can't get any harder living in his tiny one room hut with his wife and many children. At the advice of his rabbi, he gradually adds farm animals to his home. When his rabbi finally tells the man to release the animals, his home feels peaceful, roomy, and quiet. The man learns a lesson about appreciating blessings in life.
- The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt - By Ruth Andrew Ellenson. 2005. The witty anthology explores all the types of guilt that Jewish women struggle with today, and the complications of being Jewish and female in today's world. The essays are written by a diverse pool of Jewish women authors, from Orthodox writer Tova Mirvis to Rebecca Walker, the half-black Jewish Buddhist daughter of writer Alice Walker. Despite the authors' range of experiences, the struggle is the same, according to Ellenson. "Diverse as these essays are," she says, "there is really a common experience in that push and pull of where do I end and my people begin."