Feb 10 2014
I recently interviewed author, journalist, and academic director of the Yiddish Book Center, Josh Lambert. Lambert is a pioneer of The Great Jewish Books Summer Program, a week-long exploration of literature & culture for high school students. Lambert is a father of one son and currently resides in Connecticut with his wife.
I spoke with Lambert about the exciting student literary program, what Jewish books he prefers to read with his students, and the five Jewish books that all parents should read.
1. What three books do you always make sure to teach at the Yiddish Book Center?
Well, despite the name, we don’t teach many whole books in Great Jewish Books–because students are only with us for a week, and there’s only so much they can read every day. But I always tend to start the course with Kafka’s Before the Law–to get us talking about what is and what isn’t Jewish literature, and the history of interpretation in Jewish culture, from the haggadah and midrash to literary modernism. I can’t imagine not teaching Philip Roth’s story “Defender of the Faith” or Avrom Sutzkever’s geto lider (ghetto poems)–these are startling, perfect literary pieces that get at some of the biggest themes treated by Jewish literature: community, continuity, and response to adversity.
2. How have kids reacted to Portnoy’s Complaint and other Roth books that are wrought with awkward sexual confessions?
I’ve never given Portnoy to the Great Jewish Books participants. Not because I don’t think they can handle it, but because (again) there’s not enough time. But in general I’ve found that 16-year-olds are able to handle challenging material with aplomb. I’ve noticed that when the Great Jewish Books students pick examples of literature to read at the reading/talent show we have at the end of the program, they often choose very intense and fascinating work–I recall one very memorable reading of Eve Ensler’s poetry, for example, that wasn’t exactly G-rated. These are people growing up in a world of almost limitless access to so-called adult materials. The ones I meet are thoughtful about what’s appropriate or not for various situations and what they can learn from the difficult stuff. Read the rest of this entry →
May 7 2013
This month, the Kveller Book Club read the novel The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore.
The story centers on a couple’s distressing journey through the adoption process. In the novel, Gilmore tackles the concept of motherhood and takes a hard look at marriage, too. What’s more, Jennifer and her husband were experiencing the adoption process while she wrote the novel and she has written extensively about their own journey. The result is that this book is vividly felt, hugely informative, and ultimately relatable to anyone who has wanted something so much its threatened to consume them.
We were lucky that she found some time between promoting her book and caring for her baby to chat with us about The Mothers. And what’s more, tomorrow from 12-1 p.m. EST, we’ll be hosting a live Twitter chat with Jennifer Gilmore. Be sure to join us by using the hashtag #kvellerlit at tweeting questions to @jenwgilmore.
In an essay titled, “What is Motherness,” for The Huffington Post you talk about how when a baby is adopted, the parents are “the same.” Can you talk more about that? Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 28 2013
This month, the Kveller Book Club read the novel The World Without You by Joshua Henkin. Josh was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the novel and some of its inherent topics (including Judaism and parenting…two subjects synonymous with Kveller, of course).
Later today from 12 – 1 EST, we’ll host Josh for a chat on Twitter, where all of our readers will have a chance to pick his brain. To join, tweet your questions at @JoshuaHenkin and add the hashtag #Kvellerlit. Please join us!
This book is obviously very Jewish–its characters, subject matters, general ‘Jewiness.’ Do you think it’s important, as a writer who is also Jewish, to write “Jewish books”? Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 31 2013
This month, the Kveller Book Club read In Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe. Yesterday, a group of our contributing editors chatted about the book, and today we present this interview with Roiphe herself. Read below to hear her thoughts on the sacrifices we make as parents, children as mirrors, and moms who wear yoga pants.
In your introduction to In Praise of Messy Lives you write, “I am drawn to subjects or ways of looking at things that make people, and sometimes even me, uncomfortable.” Is there an essay in this book–or a subject tackled in this book–that made you particularly uncomfortable to write?
I actually found all of the essays fun to write. When I say that sometimes even I am uncomfortable, what I mean is that I feel myself thinking about things that are difficult or unsettling, that I am pushing my argument farther than the easy or comfortable place. An example of this would be the “child is king” essay when I talk about how children release us from certain desires and ambitions. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 14 2012
Fifty-Two Shades of Blue-ish is a hilarious Jewish parody of 50 Shades of Grey.
In it, a nice Jewish girl named Rachel Levine gets involved with Jew Ishman, a tall dark and handsome CEO of Kosher Candyland. Jew is sexy, and very committed to Jewish women, but Rachel has to decide if she really wants to submit to his ALMOST TEN COMMANDMENTS (he always puts them in all caps) and a relationship with “Master Mars Bars” (what he prefers to be called). The book will keep you giggling even if you haven’t read the trilogy it’s riffing on.
We interviewed Karen S. Exkorn, author of Fifty-Two Shades of Blue-ish about her book, her life, and why she decided to donate a portion of her profits to an autism charity.
How did the idea for a Jewish parody of Fifty Shades of Grey come to you? Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 26 2012
When Theodore Ross was 9 years olds, his parents divorced and he moved with his mother from New York City to Mississippi. With that move, his mother decided to hide the fact that they were Jewish. She enrolled Theodore and his brother in Episcopal school where he sang in the choir and took communion. Years later, as an adult, Ross wondered: Am I still Jewish?
Am I a Jew? is Ross’s attempt to answer that question. The book documents his travels to various Jewish communities, including the Crypto-Jews in New Mexico to Monsey, the Ultra-Orthodox town in upstate New York. Below, we talked to Ross about his foggy memory of his childhood religion switch, why there are more mom blogs than dad blogs, and what religion he plans on raising his kids with.
How clearly do you remember your mother telling you about her plan to pretend to be Christian? Were you upset? Confused? Cool with it? Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 16 2012
Karl Taro Greenfeld is a half-Japanese, half-Jewish writer whose work has taken him around the world in many ways. He was managing editor of TIME Asia, editor of Sports Illustrated and is the author of two books about Asia. Triburbia is his first foray into fiction, and is a Dubliners-esque portrait of a city–New York and specifically TriBeCa–through its people and parents. In the well-written series of stories that somehow all coalesce into a novel, parents learn how to parent by doing and kids learn how to torment one another much as the adults involved torment themselves. Greenfeld took time to do a Q&A with Kveller’s Jordana Horn about the transition from journalism to fiction, nightmares of parenting, and books with pink covers.
Your book is an ensemble piece of sorts, focusing on various parents in TriBeCa. What made you–a journalist who’s written extensively on Asia–take on this particular subject? Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 30 2012
Suzanne Finnamore is the author of three books: Otherwise Engaged tells the story of a woman planning her wedding. The Zygote Chronicles is about Finnamore’s pregnancy, from conception through the baby naming. And in Split, she writes about her husband leaving her and her toddler son for another woman, who became pregnant before the divorce was final. Her writing is deadpan, witty, and electric, and she isn’t afraid to get extraordinarily personal.
I always give The Zygote Chronicles to my friends when they tell me they’re pregnant. It’s my favorite book about pregnancy. In it you talk a bit about raising a Jewish son. I know that you’ve since split from your ex-husband, who was Jewish. Is Judaism at all still a part of your life?
Thank you, that’s very kind. It is the book that means the most to me, because it is basically a love letter to my son; the book begins when he is conceived and ends with his birth. But the timeline is rather tragic, because before the first draft was done, my husband has already left us. When he left, my son was barely 1 years old. And I was actually in the midst of going through the classes at the Marin County Jewish Community Center, which I loved. I was going to convert because I felt it was something meaningful I could do for my husband, that the three of us would move forward into the future with that as our faith. Read the rest of this entry →