8 Books for the Lazy Days of Summer
Now that we’re full-on into the lazy days of summer, are you looking for a good read you might not have had time or bandwidth for during the year? In case you missed them the first time around, here’s a round-up of some of ReformJudaism.org’s recent book reviews. One might be just the thing for your summer reading.
In what Rabbi A. James Rudin calls “a superb new biography,” Israeli author, professor, and politician Shlomo Avineri corrects long held misconceptions about some of Marx’ most famous quotes, including the phrase “Religion is the opiate of the people,” often cited as “proof” of Marx’ contempt of religion. Actually, Marx perceived religion as a “… moral sanction… a universal source of consolation… the protest against real suffering… the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world… It is the opium of the people.”
In her National Jewish Book Award winner, author Rachel Kadish alternates the personal narratives of Ester, Helen, and Aaron. While the premise of connecting historical figures to modern-day characters through objects or events has been overdone recently, in this remarkable novel, Kadish interweaves her themes and characters’ journeys so skillfully, one can’t help being drawn into their lives and empathizing with their personal struggles. When I read it last year, I couldn’t put it down, yet I didn’t want it to end. A perfect choice for a vacation get-away.
The U.S. and Israel, longtime allies, are sometimes at odds on specific policies and actions. Yaakov Katz’s new book details one such disagreement involving a high-stakes threat to Israel. As Katz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, tells it, in mid-April 2007, the director of Israel Intelligence, Meir Dagan came to the West Wing of the White House” to meet with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and members of the national security staff. He showed them photographs of a secret nuclear reactor in a remote part of Syria that had been supplied by North Korea and was nearing an operational or “hot” stage.
Sarah Blake’s The Guest Book spans three generations of an old-line Protestant family, the Miltons – whose manners and way of life represent what they believe to be the established and correct way of doing things. As Marcia Rudin notes in her review, “The Miltons and their ilk are not overtly anti-Semitic; it’s just that they see Jews as waving their arms too much, speaking too loudly, and prone to stirring things up. As one character declares when she discovers her sister is in love with a Jewish employee of the family’s bank, “It can’t work… You don’t marry a Jew.”
If you’re a history buff, this new book by Pamela Nadell, Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women’s and Gender History and director of Jewish Studies at American University, may be great as your next read. In it, the author asks, “What does it mean to be a Jewish woman in America?” and “What did it mean to be a Jewish woman throughout American history?” She presents her answers in the context of American history, for example, juxtaposing the story of Grace Mendes Seixas Nathan with that of her great-granddaughter the poet Emma Lazarus.
Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs and his wife, Victoria, had a choice to make, a choice that would transform their lives. Should they cut all ties with Germany, where their parents were born and survived the Holocaust, or should they begin a positive dialogue with Germans? They opted for the latter, and their bittersweet mission is detailed in this collection of diary-like essays in which they devote themselves to a message of reconciliation and hope: We cannot undo the past, but the future is ours to shape.
Author Susie Linfield, who teaches in the cultural journalism program at New York University, is a leftist and a progressive Zionist. In presenting arguments of some of the most important contemporary left-wing thinkers (all Jewish, except one), she provides historical context and sophisticated analysis. Arriving at this particular moment, Linfield’s book is destined to become part of the public conversation and help set the stage for political arguments to come.
As Rose Eichenbaum writes in her review of this book, “Judy Glickman Lauder’s photographs are so masterfully crafted they make us feel as if we ourselves are on the train tracks approaching Treblinka, behind the barbed wire fence at Majdanek, at the entrance of Dachau under the sign Arbeit Macht Frei, outside a gas chamber at Auschwitz. Faced with these images, we can’t help but imagine what it must have been like for the millions of innocents who entered these passageways, in most cases never to return.”
What Jewish books are you reading this summer? Leave us a comment and tell us about them.