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Ah, Jewish Book Month is nearly over! Of course in my house, it’s always Jewish Book Month. Not that everything I read is a Jewish book–no, in fact I’m currently rereading all the Marilynne Robinson novels, which are all about the role of Protestant Christianity in American society. The resonant biblical language thrilled me, I can’t recommend her work highly enough–the new book, Home, made me cry at the beginning.
The reason it’s always Jewish Book Month is that I tend to do so much of my pleasure reading on Shabbat. During the week, I mainly read articles online, and do a lot of reading for work. On Shabbat, I don’t go online so I have to read books (and the occasional magazine article.) That’s why it’s always Jewish Book Month, to me–I’m always reading at the table with the white cloth on it, or in my post-challah stupor.
If you are looking for Jewish books to buy for your family members for Hanukkah (argh, we really do have to start talking about the December holidays, don’t we!) I have a few recommendations from the past year.
My husband got me The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman for my birthday last year. Though not an explicitly Jewish book, this verbal and artistic exploration of Kalman’s inner life is full of Jewish culture and Jewish spiritual concerns–in particular the passing of our parents’ generations. She is quirky, humorous, disposed to see beauty in everything. Kalman is the same person who did the illustrated version of Strunk and White’s Manual of Style.
I think everyone should read Betraying Spinoza by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Goldstein is a philosophy professor and a novelist, someone who has taught Spinoza’s philosophy–and also someone who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community. She relates to Spinoza as a person and to the Jewish community who rejected him in their post-traumatic hysteria. (Eventually I’m going to write an essay about this book!)
The Jewish book I want most is the second volume of The Commentator’s Bible, a project of my old Brandeis buddy Michael Carasik and the Jewish Publication Society. It’s a translation of all the major medieval commentaries on the Bible. Cannily, Carasik translated Exodus first, and then Leviticus, keeping us all waiting for the rabbinic commentaries on the exciting stuff in Genesis and Numbers. Doesn’t this seem like one of the handiest things ever, though? It will make you look like you know all these major commentators, not just Rashi.
I also want a copy of The Murmuring Deep by Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg. What an appropriate title for a book of Zornberg’s psychological and literary explorations of traditional Jewish commentaries on the bible. She’s wonderful.
OK, now you–what do you think people should go out and read in honor of Jewish Book Month?
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