Singer, Isaac Bashevis. In My Father’s Court. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1966.
Reason read: January is the month most people embark on keeping a journal. Read In My Father’s Court in honor of memoirs.
In his “Author’s Note” Singer explains his thoughts behind In My Father’s Court. He wanted readers to know he thought of it as memoir; “belles-lettres about a life that no longer exists” (p xi). I would say In My Father’s Court is a sentimental collection of essays about memory. It is the first of his many autobiographical writings. Looking back at one’s childhood is sometimes painful, sometimes awe inspiring, but always full of nostalgia. Singer is sweet remembering his family’s history.
Line I liked, “There are in this world some very strange individuals whose thoughts are even stranger than they are” (p 3). Amen to that.
Author fact: Singer is a Nobel prize winner.
Book trivia: In My Father’s Court was first published as a series of connected stories.
Playlist: “The Sons of the Mansion,” and “Welcome, O Bride.”
Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about In My Father’s Court.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181).
I don’t have writer’s block. I have writer’s apathy. I have nothing to say. Here are the books already underway for November:
- The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane – in honor of the Mackinac bridge being built in November of 1957.
- The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – I needed an author with my same initials for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
- Four Corners: a Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea by Kira Salak – in honor of November being a decent time to visit PNG…if you are into that sort of thing.
- Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History by Rich Cohen – in recognition of Resolution 181.
- Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals by Dervla Murphy – in honor of Murphy’s birth month.
- Master of Hestviken: the Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset – to continue the series started in October. I needed a translated book written by a woman. Voila!
- Echo Burning by Lee Child – to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Teaching Empathy: Strategies for Building Emotional Intelligence in Today’s Children by Suzanna Hershon, PhD.
Roth, Henry. Call It Sleep. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006.
Roth, Henry. Call It Sleep. Read by George Guidall. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 1994.
Reason read: The Yom Kippur War in October.
[For my own state of mind I really should ban reading overly sad books with traumatic endings.] Told from the perspective of six year old David Schearl, Call It Sleep relates the hardships of immigrant life in turn of the century gritty New York City. In the prologue, David and his mother arrive from Austria to join her abusive and angry husband. This is the of the few times the narrative is outside little six year old David’s head. The majority of the story is a stream of consciousness, skillfully painting a portrait of inner city life from a child’s point of view.
As an aside, in the beginning I questioned why David’s father would abhor David to the point of criminal abuse. It took awhile to figure out why.
But, back to little David. His young life is filled with fear. He is overwhelmed by language differences between Yiddish and English, overly sensitive to the actions of his peers, clings to his mother with Freudian zeal. I found him to be a really hopeless child and my heart bled for him. While most of the story is bleak, there is the tiniest ray of hope at the end. The pessimists in the crowd might have a negative explanation for what David’s father does, but I saw it as a small gesture of asking for forgiveness.
As another aside, Roth’s interpretation of the Jewish Austrian dialect was, at times, difficult to hear in my hear. Listening to George Guidall was much easier.
Quotes I liked, “Go snarl up your own wits” (p 157), “David’s toes crawled back and forth upon a small space on the sole of his shoe” (p 186), and “…clacking like nine pins before a heavy bowl of mirth they tumbled about the sidewalk” (p 292).
Author fact: Henry Roth is often confused with Philip Roth. I’m guilty of doing it a few times. The real Author Fact is that Henry Roth didn’t write another novel after Call It Sleep until he was 88 years old, sixty years after Call It Sleep was first published.
Book trivia: Call It Sleep was Henry Roth’s first novel, written when he was under thirty.
Nancy said: Nancy simply explains a little of the plot of Call It Sleep.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish American Experience” (p 133).
Potok, Chaim. The Chosen. Read by Jonathan Davis. New York: Recorded Books, 2003.
Reason read: May is American Jewish Heritage month.
Danny Saunders and Rueven Malter shouldn’t be friends. For starters, Danny almost blinded Reuven with a line drive straight to the head during a “friendly” baseball game in 10th grade. They have always been on opposite sides of the Jewish faith as well. Danny is a practicing Hasidic Jew and Rueven is a practicing secular Jew. They dress differently, they interpret the Talmud differently, their relationships with their fathers is vastly different. Yet, they become the best of friends. Despite their seemingly strong friendship as they get older they learn their differences have the potential to sabotage any relationship, no matter how strong.
There is such a push me-pull me element to The Chosen. As both boys come of age and are more aware of the political world around them their interests take them on different journeys. When you finish The Chosen you will see one defining consistency, forgiveness.
Author fact: Potok started writing when he was 16 years old.
Book trivia: even though this is a book appropriate for ages 12 and up, every adult should read this.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust from two different chapters, the first being “The Jewish-American Experience” (p 134) and the second, “Good Reads Decade by Decade: 1960s” (p 178).
December 2012 was a decidedly difficult month. I don’t mind admitting it was stressful and full of ups and downs. How else can I describe a period of time that contained mad love and the quiet urge to request freedom all at once? A month of feeling like the best thing on Earth and the last person anyone would want to be with? I buried myself in books to compensate for what I wasn’t sure I was feeling. And I won’t even mention the Sandy twins. But wait. I just did.
- The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer ~ in honor of all things Hanukkah. This was by far my favorite book of the month.
- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December. This was a close second.
- The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels by Nina Berberlova ~ in honor of the coldest day in Russia being in December. I read a story every night.
- Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Carol Joyce Oates ~ in honor of Oates being born in December. I was able to read this in one sitting.
- The Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan ~ in honor of December being one of the best times to visit India
- Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox ~ in honor of Franking being born in December
- Billy by Albert French ~ in honor of Mississippi becoming a state in December
- Apples are From Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins ~ in honor of Kazakhstan gaining its independence in December.
In an attempt to finish some “series” I read:
- Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol 3 by Giorgio Vasari (only one more to go after this, yay!)
- Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
For audio here’s what I listened to:
- The Galton Case by Ross MacDonald ~ this was laugh-out-loud funny
- Bellwether by Connie Willis ~ in honor of December being Willis’s birth month
For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing here’s what I read:
- Drinking with Men: a Memoir by Rosie Schaap
And here’s what I started:
- Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws
For fun: Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep.
Singer, Katie. The Wholeness of a Broken Heart. New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.
This is a novel driven by character development and dependent on the past. It tells the life story of Hannah starting when she was ten years old. On the surface she is a girl growing up, becoming a woman, and struggling with a rapidly unraveling relationship with her once adoring mother. Digging deeper it is the story of several generations of women, each with her own trials and tribulations. Wrapped around all of them is their Jewish culture, their history of survival (the Holocaust, emigrating to America). Chronologically, the story moves like waves across the water. Each wave is a different generation and all of their stories wash over Hannah as the proverbial shore. The voices from the “Other World” are a little hokey but these ghosts are necessary vehicles for bringing out the truth the living characters can’t face.
Favorite lines: “My happiness spouts out of my ears, out of my skin” (p 32). What a great image. More lines, “He has a grin so full of dirt, a casket it could cover” (p 50), and “A woman can carry the whole world” (p 123).
Reason read: December is a time of many different holidays. One that I haven’t given much thought to is Hanukkah. I decided to read The Wholeness of a Broken Heart to honor that religion.
Author fact: I normally skim the acknowledgement section except when it comes to new writers. I like to see who they thank and why. Singer has an interesting thank you list. According to her she sustained her writing “primarily by house-sitting.” I found it amazing that she was able to house-sit for 21 different people. I also like that she thanks the reference department at the Santa Fe Public Library. Rock on. Oh, and one more fact – Singer is a pretty cool jewelry maker. I didn’t dare request a price sheet!
Book trivia: The title of the book comes from a Yiddish proverb, “there’s nothing more whole than a broken heart.”
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish American Experience” (p 132).
December is a mixed bag. Kisa and I aren’t traveling anywhere (I think we did enough of that over the summer). We’ll get the tree today. I’ll spend the weekend humming Christmas tunes and decorating the crap out of the house. Not much else is planned except a lot of books, books, books. For starters I am reading a lot of continuations:
- Brush with Death by Elizabeth Duncan ~ a final book in the continuation of the series I started last month.
- The Good Thief’s Guide to Vegas by Chris Ewan ~ this finishing the Good Thief series I started in October.
- Lives of the Painters… by Giorgio Vasari ~ this is the third (and penultimate) book in the series started in October
- Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers ~ this continues the series started with The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club…
Confession: a bunch of these books aren’t “series” per se. But, because they continue a story (same characters, continuation of plot) I wanted to read them in order, especially Chris Ewan.
For the honor of all things December:
- The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer ~ in honor of Hanukkah
- Women of the Raj by Margaret Macmillan ~ in honor of December being a really good time to visit India
- The Tattered Cloak by Nina Berberova ~ in honor of the coldest day in Russia (12/31/76)
- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegman ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December
For the Early Review Program for LibraryThing I’m back to nonfiction: Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap (I remembered her last name by thinking Schnapps). This looks really interesting because it isn’t someone’s sob story memoir about being an trapped and pathetic alcoholic.
And, lastly audio – I am planning to drive to work to the tune of Ross Macdonald’s The Galton Case.
So, there is it. Ten books. Ambitious of me, I know. The way I look at it I have ten days of vacation coming up with barely anything to do. I want to spend a great deal of time reading if nothing else.
Malamud, Bernard. The Fixer. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966.
Yakov “Ivanovitch” Bok is a poor Jewish handyman in Russia, a fixer. When his wife of five years couldn’t produce a child he stopped having sex with her. This prompted her to run off with another man. Left with his father-in-law and no prospects for work, Yakov decides to leave his little shetl for the bigger city of Kiev. He knows that leaving the safety of the Jewish village is a dangerous risk. Kiev is full of anti-semites hungry for the blood of his people. But, he is 30 years old and is losing faith, just short of becoming desperate. A short time after arriving in Kiev he comes across a drunk man lying face down in the snow. His manner of dress tells Yakov the man is not only wealthy, but an anti-semite. Despite this Yakov helps him out of the snow. Nikolai Maximovitch is indeed wealthy and, feeling very much indebted to Yakov, gives him work. He further rewards Yakov with a job as overseer at his brick company and gives Yakov permission to see his only daughter, a crippled by the name of Zina. Despite Yakov’s fear of being found a Jew and against his better judgement he reluctantly accepts the job but has nothing to do with Zina. A series of misfortunes lands Yakov in jail where he is accused of being Jewish, attacking Zina, and worse, committing murder. Based on a true story this is a very, very difficult story to read. Yakov’s plight is horrible, his situation, dire and it doesn’t improve despite his innocence.
Favorite lines: “Where do you go if you have been nowhere?” (p 29) and “The more one hides the more he has to” (p 41).
Author Fact: I read The Fixer in honor of Malamud’s death month being in March. He died on the 18th in 1986 at the age of 72.
Book Trivia: The Fixer was made into a movie in 1968.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish American Experience” (p 133). False alarm. Pearl admits The Fixer is not about the Jewish-American Experience. She just mentions it because Malamud wrote other books that would fall in this category and The Fixer was worth mentioning because it won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. IMO she should have had a chapter called “Pulitzer Pleasers” or something and listed her favorite award winners. Maybe something for a new Book Lust? She could call it “Lauded Book Lusts” or something. Each chapter could be a different award: Newbery, Caldecott, Push Cart, Pultizer…. okay, I’ll shut up now.
A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters From the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward. Isaac Metzker, ed. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
Despite its small size (214 pages), A Bintel Brief contains the very essence of Jewish-American New York. Between its pages the culture, society, ideals, hopes and dreams of immigrants struggling to call America their own come pouring out. As a section in the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper, the Bintel Brief was a section of letters to the editor, edited by Isaac Metzker. Many of the letters were based on ethical conundrums; people seeking advice on issues like relationships, work ethic, and the daily struggle to make ends meet. The writers of these letters placed a high value on the opinion of the editor, seeking his advice, his blessing, his approval. However, some are attempts at communication with a missing loved one; a calling out of sorts. The Bintel Brief was a vehicle for exposing mistreated spouses, publicizing petty family arguments, and searching for loved ones.
Author Fact: When Metzker was 20 years old he came to America as a stowaway.
Favorite photo: “Shopping on Hester Street, 1895” (p 10-11). Looking into those eyes I can almost touch the desperation.
Most striking letter: “This is the voice of thirty-seven miserable men who are buried but not covered by earth, tied down but not in chains, silent but not mute, whose hearts beat like humans, yet are not like other human beings….” (p 110). how can that not draw you in?
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish-American Experience” (p 133).
Roth, Philip. “Goodbye, Columbus.” Novels and Stories. 1959 – 1962. Ed. Ross Miller. New York: The Library of America, 2005. 7 – 108.
Neil Klugman is a 23 year old man living with his self martyred aunt and uncle in Newark, New Jersey while his asthmatic parents convalesce in Arizona. “Goodbye, Columbus” is told from his point of view and could be seen as a Jewish American coming-of-age story about Neil’s summer romance with wealthy, snobbish Brenda Patimkins. It is closer to the truth to say “Goodbye, Columbus” is a commentary on class. Neil and Brenda’s socioeconomic differences create subtle tensions between the couple until they discover their relationship is built on lust rather than love. This is most apparent when Neil says, “Actually we did not have the feelings we said we had until we spoke them – at least I didn’t, to phrase them was to invent them and own them” (p 19). I have to admit it took me a while to figure out where the title of the story came from. Turns out, Brenda’s brother would listen to what Neil referred to as the “Columbus record” before bed – a recording of his Ohio State sports career. Neil could hear a moaning of the words, “Goodbye, Columbus” over and over again.
Favorite lines: “…it was disturbing to Aunt Gladys to think that anything she served might pass through a gullet, stomach, and bowel just for the pleasure of the trip” (p 9)., and “Ther proposed toasts…Brenda smiled at them with her eyeteeth and I brought up a cheery look from some fraudulent auricle of my heart” (p 88).
Author fact: Philip Roth is so popular that in Texas there is an organization called the Philip Roth Society and it for the scholarly study and general appreciation of Roth’s work.
Book Trivia: Goodbye Columbus was made into a movie starring Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw. I was stunned by how many different actresses turned down the role of Brenda before Ali came along. Yet again, another movie I haven’t seen.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in two different chapters. First, in the chapter called “Jersey Guys and Dolls” (p 130), then in the chapter called “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” (p 238). This last admission cracks me up because MY cover of “Goodbye, Columbus” is a photograph of Philip Roth’s face!
May is huge. Absolutely huge and positively late. So out of control! A 60 mile walk for Just ‘Cause has had me busy. The end of the school semester has had me frustrated. May also means time with my mom – which I simply cannot wait for. A retirement party for people I barely know. The pool opening. A birthday party with sushi and laughter. My kind of gig.
For books it is:
- Off Keck Road By Mona Simpson ~ in honor of becoming a Wisconsin becoming a state.
- Bordeauxby Soledad Puerolas ~ in honor of Cinco de Mayo
- Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan ~ in honor of American Jewish heritage month
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson ~ in honor of teen pregnancy month. Note: this book is not actually about a teen pregnancy but the book is recommended for teens. I’m stretching this one a little, I know!
- The Victorians by A.N. Wilson ~ in honor of Queen Victoria
- Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman’s Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China and Vietnam by Erika Warmbrunn ~ in honor of National Bicycle Month
- Quarter Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser~ in honor of Memorial Day.
There is also a LibraryThing Early Review book. Forgive me if I can’t plug the name right now.
Konecky, Edith. Allegra Maud Goldman. New York: The Feminist Press, 1990.
This was another one of those “kid books” – about a kid coming of age, I should say. I enjoyed this much better than the Angus book. Both have witty, sarcastic, growing up girl narratives only Allegra is Jewish instead of Catholic and lives in Brooklyn, New York instead of England. She isn’t afraid to use her mind, or speak it. A few of my favorite quotes:
“Just thinking about that whole library filled with ideas, things to mull over , all sorts of new people to get to know, boggled my mind.” (p88)
“”You’ll never be really happy as a woman,” Sonia said “until you have your own sweet baby at your breast.” I recognized this as something her mother was always saying to her, but I refrained from throwing up.” (p145)
I enjoyed this book a great deal. Allegra Maud Goldman is my kind of kid. Her sense of humor stands up and takes a bow in the face if that audience called insecurity that only growing up can produce.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter appropriately called, “Girls Growing up” (p 101). Pearl liked Allegra as much as I did saying, “…Konecky manages to write from a child’s point of view without ending up sounding silly, condescending or false.” (p 102)