On the Nightstand (And Elsewhere)

You might wonder how a busy lady like myself gets in any pleasure reading, but here’s my little secret: I keep books all over the house. That way, whenever I find myself with a spare minute, I snatch up a paragraph or two.

shmutzy girlSometimes they’re in the kids’ rooms, but y’know, I’ll take what I can get. Right now we’ve been into a couple from the Matzah Ball Books series, Kvetchy Boy and Schmutzy Girl. Perhaps because my own kvetchy and shmutzik children also adore these, I find myself reading them over and over and over again … but seriously, they’re cute (both the books and the kids — when they’re not kvetching or wiping their hands on the walls.) The series is a pretty basic but sweet way to introduce a little yiddishe pride into the home; there are already five funny boys and girls, with more on the way. Personally, I can’t wait to meet Shvitzy Boy and Tushy Girl, but I don’t need anyone getting any ideas from Shlemiel Boy.

judygoldIn the bathroom (oh, like you don’t read in there) I’ve been reading Judy Gold’s 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, the literary version of her hysterical one-woman Broadway hit (if I wasn’t already sitting down when I came some of the anecdotes about her own mother, I would’ve had to – such a guilt sponge!) With help from writer Kate Moira Ryan, this Emmy-award winning comedienne asked 50 Jewish mothers from around the country the same series of questions and got some unexpected answers. “What makes a Jewish mother different? We love our children more!” insisted one woman. I don’t know about that; maybe we’re just louder about it? Judy weaves in her own hilarious story of being a lesbian mother with a Catholic partner while giving sensitive and compassionate service to the stories of these other women.

There’s a list at the end of the book of those 25 questions to ask your own Jewish mother, and expect a forthcoming blog post of the Yenta’s answers…

yiddishpolicemansAnd in the bedroom, where if I’m lucky I get in about ten minutes of reading time (and if I’m luckier, I get none, wink wink), I finally finished Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union a few weeks back. I had my doubts that he could top the rollicking good time of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – he won a Pulitzer for heaven’s sakes, where do you go from there? – but those doubts were dashed after the first chapter.

Chabon has created an airtight fictional world where the Jews of the world congregated in Sitka, Alaska after the fall of Israel in 1948. Now it’s sixty years later and control of this frozen shtetl is going to revert back to American control; once again, the Jews of the world must disperse. No assimilation or complacency here; Chabon almost seems to warn the Jews of the world not to forget how the world treated us before some tenuous political agreements allowed us back into Eretz Yisrael.

He uses the frigid opposite of the biblical desert to spotlight the adaptive capabilites of his Alaskan Jews; there are Orthodox gangsters and tough, hard-nosed policeman. His main character, Meyer Landsman, is one of these cops, known as “latkes”; there’s a noirish echo of Mickey Spillane in Landsman’s suicidal, drunk at 10am persona, but it doesn’t seem derivative. When an anonymous corpse leads the plot into a murder mystery with Messianic implications, Chabon deepens that noir genre into something bigger, more important, and completely Jewish. It’s a history lesson of a parallel universe that doesn’t seem that far away, not to mention the kind of love story you might actually imagine yourself a part of; another masterpiece, really.

So, what are you guys reading?

8 thoughts on “On the Nightstand (And Elsewhere)

  1. I love this blog — and I love those books!! Although Rabbi W. really raised an eyebrow when I told him that I’d been reading about “Shmutzy Girl” … I hope my book is coming out soon, signed, Shvitzy Boy (but who isn’t in this heat?)

  2. The last few books I have read and would highly recommend are:

    Song of the Hummingbird, Graciela Limon

    The Wild Trees, Richard Preston (saw him interviewed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and it sounded like a terrific book)

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon

    History of Love, Nicole Krauss

    I just finished The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls- it was also excellent.

    I am now reading The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel Ph.D. and The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai.

    Are you sorry you asked?!? 😉

  3. I am so thrilled to hear it is your parenting bible! It was recommended to my friend from her daughter’s pediatrician and I wanted to read a good book like this to help me to be a better aunt to the many little ones in my life. I am really enjoying it so far.

    Please pick up the Glass Castle, I was not able to put it down- facinating. See you soon in Savannah and sooner on the blog! 🙂

  4. Oh, I can’t wait to read the newest Chabon… but I’m afraid it’s going to have to wait a bit… I am actually re-reading one of my favorites at the moment, Muriel Spark’s “The Comforters,” which is one of the few books I allowed myself to bring with me. (I’m in Israel for the year and am supposed to be studying chazzanut!) Ah, the joy of guilty, fictional pleasures…

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