chanaleh: (mandala)
[personal profile] chanaleh
Some weeks ago, [livejournal.com profile] msmidge was asking about recommendations for Jewish fiction. So I started putting together a list. (I also started annotating it with links, but I got tired of that, so it's not as thorough as it might be. Check the usual places: your local library, Google Books, or Amazon, depending on your political leanings.)

As a jumping-off point, I found some published lists of the best Jewish books of 2011 and 2010, re[tro]spectively:
http://www.jewishideasdaily.com/content/module/2012/1/2/main-feature/1/2011-a-year-in-books
http://www.jewishideasdaily.com/content/module/2010/12/23/main-feature/1/a-year-in-books

And it's not hard to find lists of "Great Jewish Books", but as a rule, I have almost never read anything on them. The only Philip Roth I've actually ever read was Portnoy's Complaint, which I would probably read very differently now than I did in high school ;-) or was it freshman year of college? I distinctly remember taking it out of the Valparaiso Public Library. In any case, I should probably read Goodbye, Columbus.

In terms of Chaim Potok, I actually liked The Promise better than The Chosen, but I'm also a big fan of Davita's Harp. I should probably re-read My Name Is Asher Lev.

On the topic of the Holocaust, the classic accessible-yet-powerful work is Art Spiegelman's Maus (and Maus II, now available packaged together as The Complete Maus). Hmm, I haven't read those either. *adds to NYPL reserve list*

And for a lighter perspective, Judy Blume's Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, which she says is her most autobiographical book, shows life in Jewish Miami in the mid-1940s -- the book starts as WWII is ending -- from the perspective of 10-year-old Sally. There's a fair amount of plot about losing relatives in Europe, religious identity, etc.

Filed under "women's historical fiction, medieval", there's the Rashi's Daughters series by Maggie Anton, which smacks of the Shown Their Work TV Trope, but is nevertheless enjoyable (or maybe all the more so, if daily life in medieval France is your thing). Plus: Hot hot co-ed naked Talmud study action! For serious! What's not to love?

I am in general a sucker for Biblical fiction, preferably of the Jewish kind -- noting that most "Biblical fiction" is heavily Christian in tone even when it's focusing on the Old Testament, such as Orson Scott Card's three-volume Women of Genesis series. But anyway, here are some I found worth reading:
  • The Son of Laughter - Frederick Buechner (the story of Jacob, son of Yitzchak, whose name means "laughter"; he glosses Jacob and Esav as "Heels" and "Hairy", which stuck with me)
  • The Red Tent - Anita Diamant (its working title was The Book of Dinah; more fiction than historical, and maybe not really a good introduction to mainstream Judaism, but possibly still of academic interest)
  • Reading Ruth - Judith A. Kates & Gail Twersky Reimer, eds. (includes some good fictionalized and poetic bits as well as essays)
  • Many Waters - Madeleine L'Engle (the Noah story, natch; falls into the Christianized category, but still deserves to be on the list)

I have a couple favorite works on the theme of the golem (not Gollum!), if that's of interest:
  • He, She and It - Marge Piercy
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon
  • (the lesser known) Snow In August - Pete Hamill

See also Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union (set in alternate-universe Alaska!, just for you, [livejournal.com profile] msmidge!)

I quite enjoyed Faye Kellerman's The Ritual Bath, which is a police-procedural mystery, and when the cop marries the Orthodox Jewish protagonist (the mikveh lady), it sets up an entire subsequent detective series around their frum household. I love detective stories -- it's kind of my genre of choice -- but the Jewish content is more incidental to all her later books, whereas this one it's integral. (I actually think Faye's husband Jonathan Kellerman has a much more literate writing style, but his mysteries have usually no Jewish content at all, barring an occasional character cameo in the frum neighborhoods of LA.)

In general, I highly recommend all of Howard Schwartz's collections of Jewish folklore: Tree of Souls,  Lilith's Cave, Gabriel's Palace, etc.

In terms of nonfiction, my single favorite reference book is Blu Greenberg's How to Run A Traditional Jewish Household. Lots of practical explanations about kashrut, Shabbat, holidays, etc. And my favorite Bible translation to date is Everett Fox's The Five Books of Moses.

What are your favorites?

Shabbat shalom, y'all.

April 2018

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