All the books we must read

I’m about to say the most suburban, stereotypical, adult thing I have ever said, but… well… here goes: In my book club this month,

Ok, that wasn’t so bad.

In my book club this month, we read All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I had never heard of it before, being as out of it as I am, but it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015. So it’s kind of a big deal. I didn’t even realize that before opening the book, even though it’s right there on the front cover.

I started reading it and within pages, could not stop. This is the type of book you start reading because you saw it on the table, knew book club meeting is in a few days, need to procrastinate everything else, and forget you had a miles-long to-do list before you reach page 265 and realize you’ve forgotten you have a life outside of an orphanage in World World II Germany.

Anyway.

This book couldn’t have come at a weirder or more appropriate time. Donald Trump has made an entire first world country crazy. Brexit was literally happening while I read about the demise of Europe. Things in Israel are heating up again. Elie Weisel passed away at 87.

I absolutely adore this book – Doerr treats language like fine cooking… just enough this, not too much that. The language was beautiful – in the way I actually stopped in my tracks every 50 pages or so when I came across a line so perfect I had to stop and read it again and again. The characters are well-developed, imperfect, unexpected and I can’t help caring about each one.

And the plot lent itself to a healthy dose of good, classic storytelling.

There are so many themes and metaphors and philosophical musings displayed throughout the novel. Light. Technology. Awareness. Belonging. Mental health. Here are some of the book’s themes that have been stuck in my mind since:

Parenting during war:

“Isn’t life a kind of corruption? A child is born, and the world sets in upon it. Taking things from it, stuffing things into it.”

“There is a humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That’s how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.”

“This, she realizes, is the basis of all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.”

Communication:

“Radio: it ties a million ears to a single mouth. Out of loudspeakers all around Zollverein, the staccato voice of the Reich grows like some imperturbable tree; its subjects lean toward its branches as if towards the lips of God. And when God stops whispering, they become desperate for someone who can put things right.”

“To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.”

Standing up:

“How do you ever know for certain that you are doing the right thing?”

“All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?”

“Seventy-six years old, and I can still feel like this? Like a little girl with stars in my eyes?”

Fear-stoking, other-blaming:

“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.”

“Is it right to do something only because everyone else is doing it?”

“Sometimes the eye of a hurricane is the safest place to be.”

“What the war did to dreamers.”

With Elie Wiesel’s death occurring just days after I finished… with all the talk of war and horror and hate in the world today… this line perhaps is what we’re left with if we plan to take heed:

“Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world.”

Book Review: Hot Mamalah is chicken soup and cocktails for the Jewess soul

It’s amazing how after nearly eight years of living outside Jew York, I’ve kinda forgotten my roots. My New Yawka bagel-and-lox-don’t-kvetch-Fran-Drescher-would-want-it-this-way roots.

But then, Lisa Alcalay Klug is here to remind me, there’s no chance I could ever fully get away from what I suppose most of us really are (even those of us halfbreed Ashkenazis) – Hot Mamalahs.

With Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe, a hot pink display of over 180 pages of playful kitsch and chatty chutzpah, Alcalay yentas across entertaining word play for her guide to the modern social scenes for the Jewish princess-and-proud crowd.

I was never really such a princess, but as a light read with more than a few cocktail recipes (Ein Gedi Mocktail, anyone?) who can resist indulging in some I-Am-Jewish-Woman-Hear-Me-Kvell.

So if you’re feeling the urge to shun social Friday night dinners on the Upper West Side and prefer to get cozy as a Person of the Book on the weekend, you can get Hot Mamalah on Amazon or enter the Hot Mamalah giveaway (valued at $350)… and shep some nachas for Lisa, clearly a fellow tribe member.

Disclaimer: This is not a paid post; I was given the book to review by the author. I’d love to review your book, too! Get in touch.

 

Twilight: The highlights. But mostly the lowlights.

If I don’t get this off my chest soon, it’s going to haunt me forever and then I may need therapy and that will just make it all worse.

Disclaimer: I’m an avid reader. And I read anything. And when I say anything, I mean, I spent an entire Shabbat a month ago deeply engrossed in my brother’s copy of The Power Broker, a 1,000+ page text book about the rise and fall of New York City’s greatest and most controversial urban planner, Robert Moses. It was all I had in the house that I hadn’t yet read (fascinating, by the way).

So, yes, I read all four books of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. It was peer pressure at first, which is how these things usually come to be. I’m a fantasy fan, though, and a major Harry Potter nut. And I felt the same skepticism about Harry Potter before I actually read it in 2000. So, teen-girl-screaming associations aside, it felt logical to give it a chance.

Here’s my problem with the story: There is so much potential there. So much. I suppose that’s the highlight – the potential. I so badly wanted to lean over to Stephenie and say, wait, why’d you stop here? Why not explain this? Why not go further here? Why keep it so simple there? So much potential to be a way more engaging, heart-wrenching, painfully delicious story.

But, it fell flat. Unfortunately for me, having sat through it all. What kept me going was hoping there’s be more somewhere. Even with fifty pages left to the series, knowing it was the last book she’d do, I hoped. I really hoped. Somehow, the pages would extend themselves. Somehow, this wouldn’t remain a cheap read.

But it did. The lowlights – well, they were everywhere.

The writing was sub-par. Yes, you can write a seemingly young-adult novel and not have it be sub-par. Harry Potter isn’t the best writing in the world – it’s the creative elements of the story that keep it engaging – but it still lived up to a certain level of expectation.

The characters were flat. 2D. Too perfect or too imperfect. Too simple or too fake-complex. No one had any real problems. Everything was a neat package, even if it was packed with vampire venom.

And, like I said, the story could have gone a lot deeper, carried us further, given us real joy and harsh pain. I don’t know why she left it so surface-level. I don’t know her as a writer other than here. But it sounded like a publisher said, here, do this, so she did it. Maybe that’s even what happened. What a shame.

It would be cool to have Robert Jordan (rest his soul) or Orson Scott Card or even JK Rowling take a shot at the same story and characters. Give it that oomph I expect out of fantasy.

I guess I assumed way too much going into it.

Well, in any case, I’d like to thank the people who lent me books one, two and four, and the airport Steimatsky clerk who didn’t seem to judge me when I bought book three in a fit of desperation (I don’t have to explain myself).