My Year in Jewish Books (2019 edition)

For a number of years, I have found it useful (and kind of fun) to look back on “my year in Jewish books.” Here’s my attempt to do something similar for 2019.

blue Star of David on white background

Reviewing my reading for the past year, I can see that, again, I do not and would not ever limit my reading to “Jewish books” exclusively. (By the way, in case you haven’t heard me say this before, I define “Jewish books” in the simplest terms as books with substantive Jewish content. In my view, non-Jewish authors can write “Jewish books.” And Jewish authors can write books that don’t strike me as overtly Jewish. Occasionally, something may pop up that doesn’t seem to fit this description. I can be flexible.)

But this year, as usual, I did read quite a few books that fall within the “Jewish book” category. And, as an advocate for Jewish literature, I’m proud of that.

What you won’t find here: My own book (Birthright: Poems), which you can be sure I read this year! Nor will you find all the works that I reread in preparation for the course on 21st-Century Jewish Literature that I taught at Baruch College this past fall.

With all of that in place, I’m happy to present the list, complete with annotations that I’ve updated slightly since first writing them as “brief book reviews” immediately after finishing each book:

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Dear College Students: Don’t Dismiss Jewish Communal Life Just Yet

There may be much to react to in New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg’s recent piece about how the current President of the United States has “revived the Jewish left,” but I’ll leave to others the task of a full response. Conditioned, perhaps, by reading the piece while monitoring a wave of photographs on my Facebook feed depicting friends and family members bringing their offspring to college campuses, I’m still enmeshed in this three-sentence paragraph:

Alyssa Rubin, a 25-year-old organizer with Never Again Action, told me that in college, she had little interest in Jewish communal life, much of which seemed to revolve around support for Israel. But in the months leading up to the 2016 election, as Trump spouted rhetoric that smacked of fascism and white nationalists grew giddy at their new relevance, ‘I had never thought about my Judaism more,’ she said. For the first time, anti-Semitism seemed an immediate, urgent threat.

What troubled me most was the implication—an idea that I’ve encountered elsewhere and worry may have been inculcated into the current flock of incoming undergraduates—that “establishment” Jewish life on campus “revolves around support for Israel.” If anecdotal experiences like Rubin’s are to be given representative credence in the paper of record, let’s pause and consider another individual example. Mine.

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12 Jewish Books on My Radar for Fall 2019

Something that I quickly came to love about French culture was its emphasis on the literary rentrée, the post-summer “return” of focus on an outpouring of newly published books. In that spirit, this post highlights a number of Jewish books that are already on my radar for the fall season. Brief notes on each after the jump.

Covers of the 12 books decribed here.
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