July 18, 2019

Seven Books to Keep on Your Summer Reading Radar

Still working on your summer-reading list? Here are just a few forthcoming books of Jewish interest that you may want to look out for.

“Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein”
by Jamie Bernstein (Harper)

In this centennial year of Leonard Bernstein’s birth — and a year in which Jewish American Heritage Month (May) has spotlighted Jewish contributions to American music — this memoir by the eminent composer/conductor’s eldest daughter is likely to hold wide appeal. (Consider reading it before Aug. 25, when Lenny would have celebrated his 100th birthday.)

“Gershom Scholem: Master of the Kabbalah”
by David Biale (Yale University Press)

I’m a fan of the “Jewish Lives” biography series, so this new entry caught my attention. Biale’s book will acquaint readers with Scholem (1897-1982), whom the Press describes as “the seminal twentieth-century historian and thinker who pioneered the study of Jewish mysticism and profoundly influenced the Zionist movement.”

“The Lost Family”
by Jenna Blum (Harper)

The Holocaust suffused Blum’s first novel — the best-selling book-club favorite “Those Who Save Us”; the cataclysm’s lasting effects hover over this one, too. Here, readers will encounter a New York chef who also happens to be an Auschwitz survivor. And they’ll meet the family he builds in New York while he continues to grieve those whom he lost in Europe.

“A Terrible Country”
by Keith Gessen (Viking)

Perhaps your interest in this novel, like mine, has been piqued already by a recent excerpt in The New Yorker. Perhaps you have yet to learn anything about protagonist Andrei Kaplan — a Jewish, Moscow-born American 30-something (who shares certain biographical similarities with author Gessen). Regardless, the tale of family and politics that unfolds as Andrei returns to his native Russia — now Putin’s Russia — to care for his ailing grandmother, may well be one you’ll want to spend some quality summertime with.

“The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies”
by Dawn Raffel (Blue Rider)

Born in 1869 as Michael Cohn in Krotoschin, Prussia (now Poland), “Dr. Martin Arthur Couney” saved thousands of premature American infants by placing them in incubators in sideshows and hiring skilled nurses to care for them (he funded treatment by charging the public admission). By 1937, he was also signing affidavits to help rescue Jews from Europe. Significantly, his hometown was known as the site of a famous publisher of the Jerusalem Talmud. Through Raffel’s account, readers may well come to see his story as an atypical but worthy embodiment of Sanhedrin 4:5: If one saves a single life, it is as if one has saved the whole world.

“Historical Atlas of Hasidism”
by Marcin Wodzinski (Princeton University Press)

Want to brush up on your knowledge of Chasidism? Definitely not a beach read, this one is being billed as “the very first cartographic reference book on one of the modern era’s most vibrant and important mystical movements. Featuring 74 large format maps and a wealth of illustrations, charts and tables, this one-of-a-kind atlas charts Chasidism’s emergence and expansion; its dynasties, courts and prayer houses; its spread to the New World; the crisis of the two world wars and the Holocaust; and Chasidism’s remarkable postwar rebirth.” Cartography by Waldemar Spallek

“For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors”
by Laura Esther Wolfson (University of Iowa Press)

If essays are your reading jam — and they’re often mine — you should check out this collection, which was selected by Meghan Daum for the Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction. Within its pages, the publisher promises, you’ll read about the author’s “years of immersion in the Russian and French languages; her struggles to gain a basic understanding of Judaism, its history, and her place in it; and her search for a form to hold the stories that emerge from what she has lived, observed, overheard, and misremembered.”


Erika Dreifus is a New York-based writer and book publicist (although she is not representing any of the books/authors cited here). Visit her online at www.ErikaDreifus.com and follow her on Twitter at @ErikaDreifus, where she tweets “on matters bookish and/or Jewish.”

Five books you should read this summer

Among the most emblematic figures to emerge in Southern California in the 1960s was Sister Mary Corita, a “rebel nun” whose exuberant artwork captured the spirit of that lively era. Her story is told with both compassion and critical skill by biographer April Dammann in “Corita Kent. Art and Soul. The Biography.” (Angel City Press), a sumptuous but scholarly book that allows us to see in glorious detail how Kent’s artwork served her spiritual calling and, at the same time, “shook up an art establishment that didn’t quite know what to do with a nun’s bold interpretation of her society.”  Perhaps best known for her iconic “LOVE” stamp, Kent continued to make and teach art long after leaving her religious order and “evolved to represent a subversive homage to mass media.” April Dammann will present her new book at 6:30 p.m. on June 2 at Diesel, A Bookstore, at the Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St., Suite 33, Santa Monica.

 

books@jewishjournal.com.

Eclectic Fare Reflects L.A.’s Vibrant Lit Scene

Author tours are not what the used to be, and bookstore closings are reducing the number of venues where you can meet writers face to face. But the offerings for this fall season turn out to be remarkably rich, diverse and likely to prove memorable — an encouraging sign of the sheer vigor of the literary scene in Southern California.

When Kathryn Bolkovac, a police officer and single mother, signed up with a private military contractor to serve as a human rights investigator in Sarajevo, she thought she would be paid well to do good in a place where help was badly needed. As Bolkovac and her co-author Cari Lynn write in “The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman’s Fight for Justice” (Palgrave Macmillan: $16), she found herself in an underworld of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, and when she courageously revealed the truth, she was fired and physically threatened. Her account of wrongdoing implicates the United Nations and the U.S. State Department and paints a heartbreaking picture of how young women can be victimized by their supposed protectors. Cari Lynn will discuss “The Whistleblower” at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15, at Barnes & Noble at The Grove at Farmers Market, 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles.

Janet Reitman has gone where others fear to tread in “Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: $28), a critical history of the controversial organization and its founder, the former science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.  She calls it “America’s least understood new faith,” and she shows in colorful and sometimes shocking detail how Scientology was transformed from a self-help movement into a world religion and a cultural powerhouse, all thanks to its founder and his no-less-willful successor. Tom Cruise figures prominently in the book, of course, but there are plenty of other shocks and sensations. Reitman will discuss and sign her book at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16, at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz.

Scott Wannberg.  Photo by Sheree Rose

If you ever shopped at the beloved, late Dutton’s Brentwood Books, then you knew the late Scott Wannberg, even if you were not aware of his reputation as a post-Beat poet of renown. Scott worked as a bookseller at Dutton’s and dispensed sage, if sometimes idiosyncratic, advice to thousands of us over the years. His oeuvre as a poet is considerable, if also slightly obscure: “It was a stream-of-consciousness kind of Chick Hearn-meets-Charles Bukowski narrative,” writer Rip Rense said, “about friends and current events, heavily laced with references to Sam Peckinpah movies and neighborhood dogs.” And Wannberg’s death last month came as a shock and a heartbreak. But I am confident in predicting that the memorial to be held at Beyond Baroque promises to be a suitable send-off — “a wild and wooly party to share memories, console, grieve, drink, dance and generally raise the roof in memory of the amazing Mr. Mumps” — and a memorable event in the literary history of Los Angeles. The party starts at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, at Beyond Baroque, 681 N. Venice Blvd., Venice.

You can lend your own voice to a marathon reading of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” at the Westside outpost of Libros Schmibros that has opened at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. The event is linked to a current Hammer exhibition of artwork by Ed Ruscha on the theme of Kerouac’s classic, and a new iPad application based on the famous book that has been released by its publisher, Viking Press. Libros Schmibros, a bookstore and lending library founded by literary impresario David Kipen, is headquartered in Boyle Heights, but the reading of “On the Road” starts at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood.

England in the 19th century had the Bronte sisters, but we’ve got the Ephrons. Amy Ephron, for example, is a novelist (“One Sunday Morning” and “A Cup of Tea”), a digital publishing entrepreneur (oneforthetable.com) and a widely published magazine journalist. Her latest book is “Loose Diamonds … and other things I’ve lost (and found) along the way” (William Morrow: $19.99), a collection of vignettes that trace her life experiences from childhood and adolescence through marriage, parenthood, divorce and remarriage. The tales are variously charming, funny, poignant and even hair-raising, as when she finds herself spending an afternoon with Manson family alumna Squeaky Fromme. Ephron will speak about her book at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22, at Diesel, A Bookstore, at the Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St., Brentwood.

Turner Classic Movies was running a Cary Grant mini-festival not long ago, and that’s all it took to remind me of his iconic role in American movies. Now we can hear about him from someone who knew him intimately. Dyan Cannon recalls her fairytale courtship and rocky marriage in “Dear Cary: My Life With Cary Grant” (It Books: $25.99), and the book is richly populated with other members of the Hollywood aristocracy of the golden age, ranging from Noël Coward to Audrey Hepburn. Cannon will make a personal appearance to present and autograph her memoir at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26, at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs on books at jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at books@jewishjournal.com.

Books to remember this summer by

Our summers have markers, memories that trigger a specific time: The summer of the walk on the moon, Hurricane Bob or the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles; personal events like a high school prom, a kitchen renovation or a houseguest who long overstays.

“It was that summer,” begins the first story in Lesley Dormen’s engaging novel of linked stories, “The Best Place to Be” (Simon & Schuster), “the summer we were 50 and the little Cuban boy went home to no mother, not the first West Nile virus summer but the second, the Hillary and ‘Survivor’ summer, you know that summer.”

Grace Hanford, the narrator of the stories, is a New York woman who’s “50 and holding” and thinks and talks a lot about relationships, aging, dining, finding a place in the world. This first book from the 60-year-old author is written in an appealing conversational style that makes for great summer reading, with prose that’s smart and sophisticated and humor that’s subtle and memorable.

Books are also summer markers. There’s the summer of discovering Philip Roth, or rereading Chekhov or Mark Twain. This summer, much-awaited novels from Michael Chabon (“The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”) and Nathan Englander (“The Ministry of Special Cases”) are available, as are other absorbing new works of fiction and nonfiction, memoirs, historical fiction and mysteries.

“People only find out what you what them to find out,” Roberta, the woman at the center of Patricia Volk’s charming and funny new novel, “To My Dearest Friends” (Knopf), was known to say. When she dies of cancer, a deep secret is revealed to two of her closest friends, who are brought together only by her death. These are women in their 50s, who have, as they know, the gift of perspective. Volk, author of a very funny memoir about her restaurant family, “Stuffed,” writes knowingly about women and friendship, in all its mystery, with a wink and a big heart.

A first novel, “Petropolis” by Anya Ulinich (Viking) is an outstanding coming-of-age story, beginning in a mining town in post-glasnost Russia and moving from suburban Arizona to Brooklyn. Sasha Goldberg is a young, awkward, overweight Jewish girl with a demanding mother who’s a Russian beauty and a father who left them behind when he made his way to America. Sasha, too, makes her way to America, as a mail-order bride, and then abandons her fiancé and searches across America for her father. Sasha’s adventures, including a stint as maid for an Orthodox family, are very funny, providing an outsider’s keen perspective on America. The author, who was 17 when her family immigrated to the United States, received an master’s of fine arts in painting from UC Davis.

Another debut, Lauren Fox’s “Still Life With Husband” (Knopf), is a bittersweet story of marriage, friendship and loyalty. Meg is married to her college sweetheart; at 30 she’s not so sure she wants to have children but he keeps letting her know that he’s ready. The kind of person who has always played by the rules for all of her life, Meg decides she’s going to break some.

Joyce Carol Oates’s latest book, “The Gravedigger’s Daughter” (Ecco), is set in the years following World War II, in the part of upstate New York where the award-winning author grew up. In her 36th novel — dedicated to her grandmother, “the gravedigger’s daughter” — Oates tells of an immigrant Jewish family who escapes Nazi Germany; their daughter, Rebecca, is born on the boat in New York harbor. The father, who was a high school teacher in Munich, finds work as a gravedigger, and the family lives in squalor. This is the story of Rebecca and her journey in America through violent times and personal reinvention.

“Charity Girl” (Houghton Mifflin), by Michael Lowenthal, is a novel based on a little-known and disgraceful episode in American history: During World War I, 15,000 American women suspected of having venereal disease were imprisoned. While some were prostitutes, others were charity girls, young working-class women who dated soldiers and sailors, trading companionship for a night out.

Lowenthal creates an unforgettable character in Frieda Mintz, the 17-year-old daughter of Jewish immigrants who runs away after her religious, widowed mother tries to marry her off to an older man. While working as a wrapper in a Boston department store, Frieda meets a soldier from a wealthy Boston family. Once he is found to have venereal disease, she is sent to a detention home in a former brothel, where she suffers but also finds real friendship while still pining for her soldier. Lowenthal, who teaches writing at Boston College and is the author of two previous novels, beautifully evokes an earlier era. Raising provocative questions about freedom, the novel is powerful and timely.

Set in medieval England, “Mistress of the Art of Death” by Ariana Franklin (Putnam) is an intriguing historical novel and forensic mystery. When four children are murdered in Cambridge, Catholic townspeople blame their Jewish neighbors, who are then placed under the protection of King Henry. The king asks his cousin, the King of Sicily, to send the best expert to help them, and he sends an unlikely but highly trained and brilliant Italian doctor — a “mistress of the art of death” named Adelia — accompanied by a Jew and Muslim. The first murder mentioned is based on actual events surrounding the 1144 death of William of Norwich, which prompted the accusation of ritual murder. Ariana Franklin is the pseudonym of British writer Diana Norman, a former journalist who has written biographies and historical novels. This book is the first in a series featuring Adelia.

L.A. resident Mindy Schneider transports readers back to the summer camps of their youth in a hilarious memoir, “Not a Happy Camper” (Grove Press). Conned into attending Camp Kin-A-Hurra in the backwoods of Maine by the owner, who promised a sunny, activity-filled paradise, Mindy instead finds a rainy spot where the bathrooms usually don’t work and the schedule is “do anything you want any time you want, unless you just want to do nothing.” But she doesn’t mind: Her goal is to find a boyfriend and to be kissed before the last night of camp. Her bunkmates in 1974 are a mix of the bookish, boy-crazy, guitar-playing and quirky, including one who calls herself Autumn Evening Schwartz. Rich in atmosphere, the book might be read after curfew, by flashlight.


Sandee Brawarsky is book critic for The Jewish Week.

Briefs: Espere la Luz in Mojave, Alonim campers step up to help, kids library returns

Israeli Firm Plans to Construct World’s Largest Solar Power Park in Mojave Desert

An Israeli company will build the world’s largest solar energy park in Southern California’s Mojave Desert to supply enough electricity to power 400,000 homes in Central and Northern California.

The massive $2 billion project was announced last week, following the signing of a 25-year contract between Israel’s Solel Solar Systems and California’s Pacific Gas and Electric public utility.

David Saul, project leader for the Mojave Solar Park, described the venture as “a landmark” and “the largest solar project built to date” in a phone interview during a brief visit to San Francisco.

When completed in 2011, following two years of construction, the solar park will stretch over 6,000 acres or 9 square miles, use 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to harness the power of the desert sun and deliver 553 megawatts of clean energy.

The American-born Saul, a UC Berkeley graduate, got his start in Silicon Valley, moved to Israel in 1983 and is now Solel’s chief operating officer.

He said his company will design and manufacture the components at its plant in Bet Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, and will be responsible for the development of the park, in cooperation with a number of American firms. Solel’s primary development office will be in Los Angeles.

Solel will use its patented solar thermal parabolic trough technology, in which rows of trough-like mirrors will heat a special fluid that generates steam. The steam will power turbines that will generate electricity for transmission to PG & E’s electric grid. The technology was developed by another Israeli company, Luz, which built nine solar power plants in the Mojave Desert between 1984-1991.

Luz went bankrupt in the early 1990s, due to a denial of tax breaks by the state of California, Luz officials charged at the time. However, the plants are still operational and have been recently upgraded by Solel.

As the world’s largest solar thermal company, Solel is also building a large solar park in southern Spain.

In Israel, the installation of solar water heating systems on practically all homes and buildings is mandatory. Surprisingly, though, there are no solar parks on a scale of the Mojave project in Israel, a failure critics blame on bureaucratic roadblocks. However, the government recently announced plans for a solar plant near Dimona in the Negev Desert.

State agencies must still approve the Mojave Solar Park, but PG & E and Solel spokespersons said they were confident of a go-ahead, because of the state’s own clean-energy projections. State regulations mandate that at least 20 percent of electricity provided by public utilities must be based on renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind, by 2010.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Alonim Campers Bring With Them School Supplies for Needy Youngsters

This summer, kids packing up for Camp Alonim began to fill their trunks and duffel bags with the requisite flashlights, cans of bug spray, sleeping bags and … spiral notebooks?

Over the summer, 850 campers, ranging from second-graders to high schoolers, have been asked to bring school supplies to camp — from crayons to calculators — to serve as donations to Tools for School, a new program instituted by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA). Backpacks full of school supplies will be distributed to children in need through three SOVA food pantries, the Gramercy Homeless Shelter and two domestic violence shelters.

“We want to help children start the school year off on a positive note,” said Sheri Kadovitz, JFSLA special projects coordinator.

Tools for School was inspired by JFSLA’s Adopt-a-Family program, which provides holiday gifts to low-income families.

“We realized that it must be very difficult to provide essential school supplies for your children when it’s a struggle just to cover your basic living expenses,” Kadovitz said.

She also wanted to involve the Jewish community.

“A camp is a great place to get a message to hundreds of kids, because you don’t have to compete with television and video games,” Kadovitz said. “This project is a way of making children aware of how they can help others.”

Although Camp Alonim is the only camp undertaking the project this year, Kadovitz hopes to include other camps in the future.

She has visited Alonim several times this summer to educate campers about the program. “We discussed the importance of mitzvot, gemilut hassadim [acts of lovingkindness] and tikkun olam [repairing the world],” Kadovitz said. “The kids have been exceptionally excited about what they are doing.”

At the end of three Alonim sessions, JFSLA hopes to have filled 800 backpacks. Campers from the first two sessions already have brought enough for 600.

Alonim director Jordanna Flores said she is awed by the generosity of the campers. “I imagined that each of them would bring a package of pencils, but many have brought backpacks, the most expensive item on the list, and packs of notebooks, not to mention the markers, colored chalk and erasers,” she said. “The piles on collection day have been heartwarming.”

For more information, visit http://www.jfsla.org or http://www.alonim.com.

— Derek Schlom, Contributing Writer

Jewish Community Library’s Summer Reading Club for Kids Back Again

In an effort to promote Jewish literature for children, the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA) has launched its sixth annual Summer Reading Club for Kids. Amy Muscoplat and Sylvia Lowe, the children’s librarians at JCLLA, are encouraging kids of all ages to read six grade-appropriate books with Jewish themes over the course of the summer, with the added incentive of a certificate and prizes for their effort.

More than 300 families worldwide participated last summer from as far away as Canada and Israel. This year, the JCLLA, led by director Abigail Yasgur, expects an even higher turnout and has sent out more than 400 participation packets.

Yasgur credited the increase in club membership over the years to parental motivation.

“Parents want their kids to read during what is traditional summer downtime,” she said. “Parents are savvy enough to know that reading is the key to all things great, and our program packs a double punch by providing an essential component of Jewishness. Children’s Jewish literature is a great vehicle for educating and transferring knowledge of tradition and folktales, and it is just good fun.”

For more information, visit http://www.jclla.org.

— DS

Off the page, holidays not on the calendar, cool quiz

Off the Page

It’s coming up on summer vacation, and do you know what that means? It’s a great time to catch up on your reading! Our picks this month are for anyone ages 6 to 10 and come from “Jewish Heirloom Stories” ($12.95, Gefen Publishing) by Tami Lahman-Wilzig with illustrations by Ksenia Topaz. Girls will enjoy “Lotty’s Lace Tablecloth” and guys will get a kick out of “Mayer Aaron Levi and His Lemon Tree.” Both stories are told via kids, Nina and Joshua, respectively, who are descendants of each books’ main character. Plus in the back of each book is room to create your own family stories.

Will Empress Elizabeth take Lotty’s tablecloth away from her? Will Mayer Aaron’s generosity backfire on him? Yeah, like we’d spill the beans….

Happy Father’s Day

Sure Mother’s Day came first, but we can’t forget to thank Dad, Grandpa, Zayde, Papa, Saba and Uncle on June 17 for all they do.

Since dads aren’t really into flowers the way moms are, why not make a card and then head to the park to play some ball or curl up and watch a movie together. Of course, you could also buy a tie, socks or something fun from the hardware or electronic store (we call those grown-up toys).

Holidays NOT on the Calendar

June 6: National Yo-Yo Day. Walk the dog or shoot the moon today in honor of Donald F. Duncan Sr., the creator of the yo-yo.

June 10: National Iced Tea Day. What better way to cool off during the hot months of summer than with a tall glass of iced tea. The drink became popular at the very hot 1904 World’s fair in St. Louis. L’chayim!

The Screening Room Quiz

There are so many awesome movies coming out this summer that YeLAdim is planning to spend a lot of time at the theater in the next few months. Tip: Daytime showings cost less than nighttime ones, and a lot of theaters give discounts if you have your student ID.

Wanna figure out which films they are? Just use the code (which means when you see the letter A, turn it into a C, etc.) You can check your answers below — scroll down.

A=C B=D C=E D=F E=G F=H G=I H=J I=K J=L K=M L=N
M=O N=P O=Q P=R Q=S R=T S=U T=V U=W V=X W=Y X=Z
Y=A Z=B

FYHPQNPYW
FYPPW NMRRCP YLB RFC MPBCP MD RFC NFMCLHV
NHPYRCQ MD RFC AYPHZZCYL: YR UMPJB’Q CLB
QFPCI RFC RFHPB
LYLAW BPCU
PYRYRMSHJJC

And if you see any movies this summer, please e-mail in your reviews with your name, age and school (or camp) to kids@jewishjournal.com. You’ll receive a prize as a thank you!

Answers:

Hairspray
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Pirates of the Caribbean: at world’s end
Shrek the Third
Nancy Drew
Ratatouille

SHOUT OUT!

Wanna say goodbye to your buds until you see them again in the fall? Have a friend or sibling who will be graduating? Do you have advice for the new kids coming into your school? Then yeLAdim wants to hear it. E-mail us your shout outs for the class of 2007 and we’ll run them on our May page. Send ’em our way at kids@jewishjournal.com. We’ll also take poems and stories about your graduation or summer vacation plans.