From My Bookshelf: What Happened to Anna K.? by Irina Reyn

Last week I finished reading What Happened to Anna K.?, the first novel by Irina Reyn, who immigrated to the United States as a child and whose book adds to the growing collection of excellent fiction being penned by Jewish transplants from Russia to the United States. It’s a retelling of Anna Karenina, through a distinctly Russian-Jewish immigrant lens. Highly recommended!

Late last month, Sandee Brawarsky introduced Reyn and her book, as well as another Russian-born fictionist, Sania Krasikov, whose story collection is titled One More Year. Both Reyn and Krasikov are among the “Five Under 35” whom the National Book Foundation will honor this year “as someone whose work is particularly promising and exciting and is among the best of a new generation of writers.”

Tenth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference

This message arrived in my e-mailbox this morning.

Some of you may be interested in the Tenth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference on November 23 at the 92nd Street Y in New York. We invite everyone to attend and ask that you pass on this announcement to others you think might be interested.

Thanks.

Anna Olswanger, Conference Coordinator

Tenth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference
Sunday, November 23, 2008, 9 AM to 5 PM
92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY
$95 before November 1, $110 after November 1
Fee includes kosher breakfast and lunch

The 92nd Street Y Buttenwieser Library and the Jewish Book Council are cosponsoring the Tenth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’Conference at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan on Sunday, November 23, 2008, from 9:00 am to 5:00 p.m.

Featured speakers are associate agent Michelle Andelman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, publisher David E. Behrman of Behrman House, executive editor Michelle Frey of Alfred A. Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers, editor Larry Rosler of Boyds Mills Press, director Joni Sussman of Kar-Ben Publishing, and illustrator’s agent Melissa Turk of Melissa Turk & The Artist Network.

Award-winning author Johanna Hurwitz will give opening remarks, and the day will include sessions on publishing and writing in Israel, the Sydney Taylor Book Award and Manuscript Competitions, and individual consultations with editors and agents from past conferences.

The registration form is available for download at www.92y.org/content/pdf/jewishchildrensbookwriters.pdf. Call 212-415 5544 or e-mail [email protected] for additional information or to request the form by mail. The final registration deadline is November 17.

If you write or illustrate children’s books for the Jewish market, this conference is for you!

From My Bookshelf: ASK FOR A CONVERTIBLE, by Danit Brown

Over the past week or so I’ve had the pleasure of reading Danit Brown’s new book of connected short stories, Ask for a Convertible. This is a new twist on Jewish-American writing, with most of the stories focused on a Jewish girl–born in Israel to an American father and an Israeli mother–who moves to Michigan in the early 1980s with her parents. (The character is then 12 years old, which makes her my more-or-less contemporary, and heightens my appreciation for the now quasi-historical details appearing through the work.)

At some moments the book made me laugh out loud: “In the city phone book–what luck–the other Marvin Greenberg had no problem with listing his full name: Marvin Alvin Greenberg, as if Marvin and Greenberg together didn’t already invoke massive amounts of nostril hair, golf pants, and game after game of shuffleboard.” At others, especially with some of the depictions of Israel (though it’s important to remember that when the Israeli-born protagonist returns to her birthplace in her twenties it’s not exactly a happy homecoming; the unappealing way the setting comes across is surely colored by the unhappy consciousness through which it is filtered), I found myself–what’s the right word–disillusioned? See, for instance, this paragraph:

“In Tel Aviv, where Osnat lived, there was a McDonald’s on every other block, and a Dunkin’ Donuts near Rabin Square, and still everything felt to Osnat as if had been shifted a little–a smaller, dirtier, almost-America–as if someone had gone through her house and rearranged the furniture and all the closets so that she couldn’t find her shoes….When guys excused themselves and didn’t close the bathroom door behind them, Osnat gave them the benefit of the doubt: maybe it was a cultural difference. When they walked down the street, she tried not to stare if they stopped to urinate against trees and parked cars. One time, she saw a man peeing against the wall of a gas station, ten meters away from a restroom. Now, everywhere she went with Jeannie, the two of them stumbled onto naked men, sunbathers who decided to flip over right as they walked by, boys skinny-dipping at the beach. The bus stops reeked of urine.”

The book pulled me in immediately, and the crackling liveliness of the early stories kept me going even when I began to wonder how one or another story was going to end up “connected” with the others and, yes, began to wonder if the collection might have been stronger if two or three of the pieces had been left out. But that minor kvetching aside, I found this book an impressive achievement, one that makes me look forward, very much, to seeing what its author will do next.

You can preview Ask for a Convertible by reading two of its stories, “Hands Across America” (yes, THAT Hands Across America) and “The Dangers of Salmonella,” on Nextbook.org.

Indignation Day is Coming!

September 16 is Indignation Day!

Via the Jewish Book Council “Recommended Reading Newsletter”:

“To celebrate the publication of Philip Roth’s new novel, INDIGNATION, Roth will be doing a live video broadcast out to 50 bookstores across the country on Tuesday, Sept. 16th (aka “Indignation Day”), 8 pm EST. The stores chosen to participate will have a quantity of signed copies on hand.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publisher Rebecca Saletan will introduce the program, and then Philip Roth will be interviewed by the author Ben Taylor. If you are planning on attending, please submit questions in advance for consideration. Instructions can be found at the link below.

Please click the link below to find a participating bookstore in your area:
http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/books/indignationday_stores.html.”

Upcoming Literary Events at the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning

The Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El in New York has published its Fall 2008 Course Guide, and it includes a number of literary offerings I wanted to note here:

–“What’s Wrong With Our Children?” Parents and Children in Jewish Short Stories (Anne Roiphe)

–Six Decades of Israeli Literature (Basmat Hazan Arnoff)

–Writers’ Beit Midrash: Creative Non-Fiction (Shelly R. Fredman)

For more information, including dates and fees, visit www.adultjewishlearning.org.

JBooks & JVibe Present Get Lit 2008

Received an e-mail a few days ago about an event that may interest those of you in the Boston area. On September 25, JBooks & JVibe will present Get Lit 2008, billed as “a literary event for the whole mishpucha.” Get Lit will take place at the Union Street Restaurant in Newton, and will feature Jon Papernick, Tova Mirvis, and the father-son pair of Jonathan and Adam Wilson. More information here.