Brief Book Reviews (2021)

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.

In any case: Books that I receive as complimentary review copies will be noted as such. The most recent reading is listed first.

  • The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright (Library of America, 2021). Absolutely gutting novel.
  • 101 Jewish Poems for the Third Millennium edited by Matthew E. Silverman and Nancy Naomi Carlson (Ashland Poetry Press, 2021). Appreciated the chance to read through this volume, which includes one of my poems.
  • Always an Olivia: A Remarkable Family History by Carolivia Herron, illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau (Kar-Ben, 2007). The jacket copy describes this as an “historical fiction picture book” telling the author’s remarkable family story.” The story is framed as a grandmother telling her young granddaughter about their family history, stretching back to Jews’ expulsion from Spain. 
  • Antisemitism: Here and Now by Deborah E. Lipstadt (Schocken Books, 2019). Solid, accessible treatment of a difficult subject.
  • Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth by Noa Tishby (Free Press, 2021). I wish that everyone would read this book.
  • How to Make a Slave and Other Essays by Jerald Walker (Mad Creek Books, 2020). Since I heard him read at a conference more than a decade ago, I always pay attention when I see Jerald Walker’s name. Appreciated this new collection.
  • Obit: Poems by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). I don’t remember when I first caught some of the poems from this collection, or in which journal they appeared. I just remember that I was overwhelmed by them. A beautiful, painful book.
  • Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping by Matthew Salesses (Catapult Books, 2021). It’s been a long time since I’ve been part of a fiction workshop, as student or teacher. If I should ever return to that setting, I’ll be glad to have read this book—and I’ll consult it again for some sample language and strategies.
  • Paris in the Present Tense: A Novel by Mark Helprin (Harry N. Abrams, 2017). Very engaging novel given to me as a gift by another Francophile who knew that I’d appreciate it.
  • A Scrap of Time and Other Stories by Ida Fink (trans. Madeline Levine and Francine Prose; Northwestern University Press, 1983). I wish that I’d encountered this book earlier and am grateful to Sara R. Horowitz’s overview of Fink and her work over on the website of the Jewish Women’s Archive.
  • Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi by Sigal Samuel, illustrated by Vali Mintzi (Levine Querido, 2021). An utterly beautiful book. Literally beautiful–the art is stunning. But the story also shines so brightly because it’s so untold. After catching one of the author’s online appearances, I have much that I’d love to discuss with her: writing picture-books after publishing for grown-ups; #kidlit genre conventions; telling “untold” (or less-frequently-told) stories; the challenges of writing about a true-life character who may have left little/no recorded dialogue. (I’d also like to talk with her more about mentor texts, a topic that came up in Q&A this evening.) But for now, I just wish her hearty congratulations on this achievement. I foresee many awards for this book!
  • City of A Thousand Gates: A Novel by Rebecca Sacks (HarperCollins, 2021). A complicated book (not least because of the multiplicity of characters and plotlines). I’m looking forward to a book club discussion to help me clarify my own reactions to it.
  • Black Buck: A Novel by Mateo Askanpour (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021). Social critique, sales manual, and more. A couple of big surprises as the plot unfolds—and some developments that I saw telegraphed way ahead. Could easily visualize this adapted for a TV series (à la Younger), and, indeed, there’s a shoutout to the author’s (and the novel’s) film/TV agent in the acknowledgments. This is one adaptation that I’ll be looking for.
  • Walking with Ghosts: A Memoir by Gabriel Byrne (Grove, 2021). I’m not quite sure what I expected from this memoir. Within it I found some beautiful writing, several behind-the-scenes movie-industry anecdotes, and even a bit about Byrne’s experience shooting IN TREATMENT, which I finished watching during this pandemic time. What I definitely didn’t expect (and, frankly, am still puzzling over)—a sentence, early on, in connection with Byrne’s childhood recollection of going to a nearby farm for fresh milk: “Jews came too for their milk, carrying silver cans, speaking their own strange language.” I just haven’t figured out what to make of that sentence yet.
  • The Blessing & the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century by Adam Kirsch (Norton, 2020). I haven’t read every page (yet)—I’m dipping in and out of the collection of sage commentaries, with a focus at the moment (for teaching purposes) on the first section emphasizing European Jewish writers.
  • Such a Fun Age: A Novel by Kiley Reid (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019). Another novel with a lot of buzz that, in this case, it truly deserves. Kept me up reading to the end long past my bedtime!
  • Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King (Grove Press, 2020). My kind of novel: writing-related and Boston/Cambridge/Harvard-related! Lots of fun recalling both actual and renamed locations and some Harvard institutions as well. Plus: a happy ending! I was pulled out of the “fictive dream” with a factual error that should have been caught (the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana took place in July, not June, 1981) and what I’m thinking should have been “Lenox” but appeared as “Lennox,” but my reading stumbles there just prove how immersed I was along the way.
  • Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (volumes I and II) by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon, 1986 and 1991). I read both of these ground-breaking volumes back when they were much “newer,” but I reread them in January 2021 ahead of spring-semester teaching.
  • The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry by Peter Sís (Frances Foster Books/FSG, 2014). Gorgeous illustrations. Almost seems a bit more geared toward adult readers, with extensive “back matter” information moved up to the main pages (albeit in tiny print) alongside the text. Read this one as part of my ongoing education in picture-book bios (and because j’adore Le petit prince).
  • Survival in Auschwitz: A Memoir by Primo Levi, translated by Stuart Woolf from the 1958 Italian edition (Touchstone, 1996). Although I’d read excerpts, I hadn’t yet read the full memoir.
  • The Man Who Loved His Wife by Jennifer Anne Moses (Mayapple Press, 2021). An excellent book of short stories. Complimentary review copy.