At the end of 2012, I was in Israel and looking out at the Jerusalem night sky. I was filled to the brim with inspiration and decided to challenge myself to become a more educated young woman. Simply put, I was going to read as many books in a year as possible. I’m not sure if that would actually have made a difference in my level of education but it seemed like a fun goal at the time.
Through finals, friends and Hurricane Sandy, I kept reading. My social life went to the wayside and on New Years day of 2013, I found myself 352 books more read. Had I not been displaced by the hurricane, I am pretty sure I could have done 365 but there is no point in crying over lost pages.
But what’s the point of acquiring knowledge if I don’t share it with others? I read incredible books, and although there was zero Jewish content at Book Expo 2012 (this year already proves to be different with some promising new authors), I did find some incredible gems among the booths. Hopefully, this year will be better.
The Fifth Servant by Ken Wishnia (review copy generously obtained at Book Expo 2012) is the best mystery of the year. The fact that is an authentically Jewish mystery only sweetens the deal. Wishnia paints the precarious horror of Jews in the Middle Ages facing a terrible blood libel. Told by a cynical and learned narrator, a pupil of the famed Rabbi Yehuda Lowe (the Maharal of Prague), Wishnia presents the world of Ashkenazi Jewry with a keen eye for detail. A body has been found and the Jewish people will suffer unspeakable torture unless the real culprit is found.
The reader will literally smell the grime and misery of the ghetto, the sickening corruption in the government and the stench of blood and tears in the torture chambers. The book is fairly graphic in violence and not meant for those below eighteen, but is well worth pursuing.
One thing I especially liked about the book is that Jewish history and culture is shown respectfully, but there is no false picture of humanity. There are good Jewish people and bad, just as there are good Christians and bad. Wishnia never judges his characters, but creates three-dimensional people who live in a very dangerous world. I left the book grateful to live today and with a new respect for my ancestors for holding on to Judaism.
My Race: A Jewish Girl Growing Up Under Apartheid in South Africa by Lorraine Lotzof Abramson (review copy generously obtained at Book Expo 2012) is the most interesting autobiography I have read in years, shedding light on a fascinating picture of South African apartheid and the unique position of Jews in such a stratified system.
Abramson is a young Jew gift with incredible running abilities. She nearly goes to the Olympics, but loses her chance because South Africa is not able to participate. Surprisingly, she is not angry, but writes about how wonderful life can be when people work to build a better society. It’s a charming historical lesson from one of the darkest periods in human history. Anyone who reads it will instantly realize labeling Israel as an Apartheid country is appropriating the terrible suffering of another people.
Best of all, it’s a clean and easy to read book that a younger child can use for a history report.
Puppy Chow is Cheaper than Prozac by Bruce Goldstein (my copy was given to me as a Hanukah gift from a friend) was the happy surprise of the season. Goldstein, a successful advertising writer deals with mental illness and the joy of unconditional love with a keen wit. Many times, we are told to keep our skeletons buried deep, because what will people think? Mental illness is an enormous stigma and that keeps many people from getting the help they need. Goldstein is shockingly brave to talk about his problems candidly and in a way that uplifts and inspires. In fact, given the very happy ending (sorry for the spoiler), this is a strange but beautiful urban fairy tale, where a man and a dog unite against a very cruel world, heal their wounds and find the joy in life.Elke Weiss
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