Brief Book Reviews (2024)

For the most part, this page will reflect what I post about my reading on Goodreads. Frankly, what I’m posting are really brief notes, not book reviews.

The most recent reading is listed first.

  • Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer (OneWorld, 2020). I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this. Riva Lehrer weaves together her (extraordinary) life story with samples of her (also extraordinary) visual art. And if intersectionality is something you look for in your reading, this book meets that criterion; as the bio note on the jacket notes: “Riva Lehrer is an artist, writer, and curator whose work focuses on issues of physical identity and the socially challenged body. She is best known for representations of people with impairments, and those whose sexuality or gender identity have long been stigmatized.” And as the title suggests, that Lehrer was born into a Jewish family is a not-incidental fact that is integrated into the memoir as well.
  • Only Kidding! My First Book of Jewish Jokes by Sari Kopitnikoff (Ideastrator Press, 2022). The author gifted me with a copy of this book, and I am so glad that she did. A “first book of Jewish jokes” might be ostensibly aimed for younger readers, but this is bound to please the grown-ups, too.
  • Eve and Adam and Their Very First Day by Leslie Kimmelman with illustrations by Irina Avgustinovich (Apples & Honey Press, 2023). A lovely retelling of, well, “Eve and Adam and Their Very First Day.” Since I frequently teach Michal Lemberger’s short story “After Abel” to my undergraduates, I can’t help thinking of this book and that story as a terrific kidlit/adult reading pair that refocuses the story on Eve. The illustrations are gorgeous.
  • As Figs in Autumn: One Year in a Forever War by Ben Bastomski (Delphinium Books, 2023). I was gifted a copy of this memoir by a former “lone soldier,” as Diaspora residents who volunteer to serve in the Israel Defense Forces are called; such soldiers don’t have their nuclear families nearby (they are “lone”). Normally, I might have become impatient with the book’s highly lyrical style—my taste runs to plainer language and more linear narratives. And I might have wished for more historical/geographical background to have been included to help contextualize the “forever war” (less for my own needs than for some other readers I envisioned reading it). But reading this book after October 7, 2023, meant that as soon as I learned that this lone soldier had been “matched” with a family living on Kibbutz Be’eri—spending his frequent Sabbath leaves with them, calling the parents his parents and the children his siblings—I was riveted. And dreading what might have happened to this family that horrible day when Hamas terrorists came to their community. (The book, of course, ends long before that day; this post on the Jewish Book Council site will fill you in.) In short, it’s difficult to imagine many more timely books–or better literary glimpses into life on Kibbutz Be’eri, before.
  • Am Yisrael Chai: Essays, Poems, and Prayers for Israel edited by Menachem Creditor (2023). As summarized by Hadassah magazine: “For Jewish people everywhere, October 7 will forever be synonymous with the brutal terror attacks committed against Israel by Hamas. Shock, anger, grief and fear immediately took hold and nearly consumed each of us. Yet a mere five days after the attacks, writer and activist Rabbi Menachem Creditor, the Pearl and Ira Meyer scholar-in-residence at UJA-Federation New York, put out a call for contributions in reaction to Hamas’s carnage. Writers had exactly four days to send submissions to Creditor. The result is Am Yisrael Chai: Essays, Poems, and Prayers, a collection of writing in support of Israel edited by Creditor, with all proceeds benefiting UJA-Federation of New York’s Israel Emergency Fund.” I’m proud to have contributed three poems for reprint in this anthology.