Summer Reading

Summertime means different things to different people. Some like to go to the beach, some prefer the air conditioned indoors. Some like to grill outdoors, and others prefer lighter meals consisting of salads.

To me summer means a tall cool drink and a big fat book to read. Since I get sunburnt very easily (I can be in the sun without serious sunscreen for about five minutes before turning red) I am not a big fan of the beach or the pool. So my reading usually happens on my very own couch, with the air conditioner humming in the background.

My reading taste have changed a bit too. My first reading love is mysteries, and I still prefer them to most other books. But I have branched out in the past few years to reading fantasy novels and historical fiction.

My first foray into fantasy was with Terry Goodkind (my brother lent me his series). I thought it was interesting and entertaining. I then went on to read Robin Hobb (Soldier’s Son trilogy which was just so-so, and then the Assasin books which were wonderful). I then tried A Song of Ice and Fire by Martin, and was hooked like almost every fantasy reader out there. I started the series “blindly” though, and did not know that the 7 book series was only partially finished. The first books were very strong, but as things progressed I felt that there were too many story lines. I am waiting for the latest installment (although I do have the patience to wait until the paperback comes out).

I tried some historical fiction for many reasons. One, it was available at my local library (I work in a place with a lot of English speakers, so the library is pretty well stocked). Two, I remember my mother reading these, in addition to the mysteries which were her first love too. So I decided to dip my toes into the pool. I started with Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series (a used bookstore had most of the series in very old paperbacks – the fonts used in the 1960′s were pretty small!!!). I then went on to Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The books straddle the line between historical fiction and romance, but I find that every once in a while they appeal to me. I am up to The Fiery Cross, which is waiting for my attention. The latest historical fiction book I picked up is Sovereign by C.J. Sansom. Since it is a library book I will get to it soon.

For those of you who are not familiar with it, the website Goodreads is a great place to get recommendations for good books, write your own reviews, discuss your favorite authors and books and keep a list of what you have read. You can also ask friends to join, and you can compare your reading tastes.

What is on your summer reading list?

Jewish Food

I rarely read non-fiction, but when westbankpapa came home with The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden, I picked it up to leaf through it.

I ended up reading the whole thing. Ms. Roden gives a thorough overview of all types of Jewish cooking, both Ashkenazi and Sepharadi, with historical background for each separate culture and wonderful recipes, of course.

I learned some interesting facts too. I never knew that the Jews in northern countries were known to breed geese, and this is where the Ashkenazim developed their love of chopped liver. They needed the geese for the rendered fat – as lard is not kosher and they did not have the oil crops plentiful in southern and warmer climates.

Another, more sobering fact, was that many crypto-Jews (those who converted to Christianity but would practice Jewish law in secret) were caught because of their cooking habits. Although many of these Jews would hang a ham outside of their door to try and fool the Inquisition, they were caught because they would not cook on the Sabbath. Those houses without smoke coming out of the chimney on Saturday would be raided.

Even if you are not a “foodie” – this book is highly recommended.

Speaking of Jewish food – go on over to the Kosher Cooking Carnival at Beneath the Wings.

Book Swap!

The two things I love to do most in the world is eating chocolate and reading, and I usually do the two together! That is why I was very happy to be introduced to the website goodreads. I quickly joined in and have found great recommendations for books.

One of the groups on the website is called Israeli book exchange, and Yael is calling for a book swap in Tel-Aviv. She rightly wants to wait until we have about 100 members in the group, so that the book swap will be successful.

If this sounds good to you, go on over and join up!

Nearing the Finish Line…

My crazy season at work is almost over. I hope to finish up the middle of next week, and then take some much deserved time off.

I am dreaming of getting myself a thick book and some chocolate and spending a day consuming both.

Any recommendations? (I love mysteries and good historical fiction…..)

Once in a Blue Moon Book Review

I absolutely love reading, and can’t get through the day without at least a few minutes of “escape”. Before Passover I had very little time to read – but I made up for it over the intermediate days of the holiday.

I received the book Sondra’s Search, written by Ester Silvers, after I agreed to read and review it for her on my blog.

Sondra Apfelbaum thinks she is a regular American kid, until one day when she is eleven she discovers that her family is different. Asked to do a family tree for an assignment at school, she innocently asks her mother why there are no pictures of the maternal side of the family. Her mother cannot bring herself to explain, but her father breaks the news that Sondra’s mother’s whole family was killed by the Nazis during World War II. This leads Sondra to learn what she can about the Holocaust, and it starts her on her path to learn what Judaism means to her.

Throughout the book Silvers contrasts Sondra’s attitude towards her Jewishness and that of her cousin Howie, who is very drawn to the social group in their town. Living in Lincoln, Kansas, the number of Jews is understandably small, so in order to fit in both Sondra and Howie have many Christian friends. As they grow up the question of dating non-Jews inevitably comes up, along with the family’s reaction to the intermarriage of an older cousin. The story sensitively explores how each cousin reacts differently and makes different decisions.

Overall I enjoyed the book, although I found that it was a bit heavy on the plot and light on the characterization. Perhaps it is because I too went through a similar “search” to Sondra’s – as did many of my friends in NCSY in high school – and the story line was too familiar to me. I felt that I wanted a deeper look at what Sondra was feeling, and I also wanted to understand Helga, Sondra’s mother better.

Sondra’s Search, by Ester Katz Silvers, is published by Devorah Publishing.

“Mikimi”

I don’t usually read Hebrew books for pleasure. I read the Makor Rishon newspaper every week for the news, but until now I always thought that reading a novel in Hebrew would be too difficult, and that I wouldn’t enjoy it.

That was until our yishuv librarian came over and recommended “Mikimi” by Noah Yaron Dayan. I told her that the book had to be “meod moshech” (“very engrossing” in slang) for me to enjoy it in my second language. She assured me that it was – and she was right.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Dayan was a very popular radio show host on IDF radio, and she also had a tv show (I am not sure on which station since we don’t own a tv). In short she was a very secular celebrity – with all of the trappings that go with this, including interviews in the papers, people asking her for autographs, etc.

In addition, as she tells it, her life was excruciatingly superficial. She describes how she was constantly surrounded by lies. One example is the five page magazine spread on “the real Noa” – where the author brings a whole wardrobe for the photo shoot, and then claims in the article that the clothes belong to Dayan.

As luck would have it, she meets up with a boyfriend who is just as unhappy in this superficial life as she is. At one point a mutual friend barges into their apartment with a small book by Rabbi Nachman of Breslav. He then takes them to the window to gaze at the stars – at “einsof” (“infinity”). They think he has completely lost his mind. He describes this great Torah class he has started to attend, and makes himself such a pain in the neck that Noa’s boyfriend, Ben, makes a deal with him. “If I go to one of these Torah classes with you, will you promise never to mention Rabbi Nachman ever again?” Their mutual friend agrees. Unknowingly the couple has started on a journey that will turn their lives upside down.

Noa waits anxiously in their apartment the next week for Ben to come home from this class. She expects him back in an hour, and after six hours pass she is frantic. Ben comes home a changed man – and he finds it difficult to explain why. Noa almost loses her mind when he insists that he will go back the next week to hear Daniel, the Rabbi who is both down to earth and extremely charismatic.

As you can probably guess Noa ends up attending the class too – and is very touched. She is both attracted to what the Breslaver is teaching her – and scared to death. She is so scared, as a matter of fact, that she tries to run away. She convinces Ben to go with her to Holland, and freaks out when Ben wants to light Chanukah candles. Thinking that she can run even farther from her Jewishness, she suggests they go to a remote little village in the boonies of Holland. After showing up there, they find the one and only bed and breakfast run by none other than Jacob. You guessed it, Jacob is Jewish, and proudly shows off his little sefer Tehillim (book of Psalms).

Accepting the fact that she can’t run away from it – Noa starts slowly to become observant. What is so wonderful about the book is her honesty about the way there. Most people who know b’aalei teshuva (those who become observant Jews by choice) know that they were once secular, and now they are Orthodox. A lot of b’aalei teshuva are ashamed of their past, and do not want to describe the details of their transition. Dayan gets over this embarrassment (which almost leads her to lose the love of her life) and writes it all in the book. She talks about the emotional highs and lows – the fear of not knowing what to do, the fear that she is changing too much, and the sadness that comes with causing her parents and sister pain – along with the tremendous joy at finding her path in life.

I enjoyed the book immensely. I do not follow the Breslav derech (“way of life”) myself, but I very much admire those who do. Their honesty and unabashed love of G-d and other Jews is an example for all of us. If I daven (pray) with 1/10th of their kavana (“intention”) I am doing well!!

If you want to read first hand about how one very sad and lost person found meaning in her life – go out and get the book. It is worth the time – even if Hebrew is your second language.

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