Do you already miss “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?” Because I do. Yes, it’s barely been a week since we said goodbye to our favorite fictional 1950s housewife turned comedian and her even more beloved manager, Susie Myerson, but it’s still hard to accept that we’ll never have more of the vividly drawn world of Jewish New York thanks to Amy Sherman-Palladino’s hit series.
No story will every quite compare to that of Midge Maisel and her chaotic and wonderful Jewish family, but for those of you already jonesing for a Jewish journey into the past, here are some books that will help scratch a bit of that itch:
“When Franny Stands Up” by Eden Robins
This book was touted as “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” meets “A League of Their Own,” and if that’s not enough to get you to order it, I don’t know what is! Franny Steinberg, like Midge Maisel, is an aspiring Jewish comedian in 1950s Chicago, who also has a a tight knit, complex Jewish family. This novel touches on some subjects that I often wished “Maisel” addressed more — like postwar trauma, class, race, antisemitism and sexuality. But just like “Maisel,” it’s about the life-altering magic of a good laugh.
“Mrs. Everything” by Jennifer Weiner
This tale of two sisters, Jo and Bethie Kaufman, from the prolific Jewish author (and Girl Scout cookie aficionado) starts in the 1960s and ends in 2016. It’s the story of two sisters, who, like Midge, find themselves torn between society’s expectations of women of their era and the desires to be masters of their own future and live authentically.
When the book was published in 2019, Weiner told Kveller that she wanted readers to come away from this story thinking about women in America. “At this moment, where reproductive rights are once again on the chopping block, where it looks like some of the advances that we’ve made in LGBTQ acceptance are under attack, and where there’s this alt-right nationalism with this kind of push for women to have more traditional roles, I want them to think about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we need to go.” And four years later? It’s still just as relevant, if not more.
“The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem” by Sarit Yishai-Levi
This darker tale of Jewish families, that takes us from pre-state Jerusalem into 1970s Israel, is about strong, glamorous and complicated Jewish women — much like Midge, Shirley Maisel and Rose Weissman. Gabriella tries to find what made her mother, the gorgeous Luna, the “Beauty Queen of Jerusalem,” into who she was, and discovers a family curse that goes back through decades. With beautiful prose and brimming with emotion, this is an illuminating tale about mothers and daughters that will take you on a journey through Jerusalem, giving you that “Maisel” sense of time travel — with a lot more drama.
“Modern Girls” by Jennifer S. Brown
This 2016 book takes us to the streets of New York, this time in the 1930s. It’s a tale of two women, immigrant mother Rose, a former activist who raises her five kids in the Lower East Side, and her daughter, Dottie, a true “modern girl” who has assimilated into the hustle and bustle of New York. Dottie has a job, a suitor, a social life in English, not the Yiddish of her home, but one night puts that modern life in peril. Rose is feeling ready to emerge from being a homemaker and pursue her own passions. When both women find themselves pregnant, they have to make unimaginable choices. At a time when a woman’s right to choose is once more in danger, this book is a poignant read.
“Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl” by Renée Rosen
Another book about ambitious Jewish women — this time, it’s Esther, aka Estée Lauder, who dreams of following the paths of Jewish legends Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein by making an unforgettable and immortal beauty brand. She recruits her friend Gloria Downing to help and takes on Saks Fifth Avenue. It will definitely make you think fondly of Midge Maisel’s short stint working at a department store, and will help you to better appreciate this Jewish cosmetics legend.
“Last Summer at the Golden Hotel” by Elyssa Friedland
The Catskills aren’t just a fabulous part of the “Maisel” universe, but a real place where many, many Jewish comedians got their start at the Borscht Belt. Unfortunately, by the 1960s and ’70s, the Jewish resort destination was starting to lose its spark. That’s when this entrancing novel by Elyssa Friedland, which follows two Jewish families who own a resort in the Catskills, takes place. It’s a perfect summer read, and will scratch the nostalgia itch, for sure.
“Florence Adler Swims Forever” by Rachel Beanland
If you loved taking a detour through Coney Island in the fourth season of “Maisel,” and enjoyed some of the darker, more human tones of the show, you will love this Jewish immigrant tale that takes place in 1930s Atlantic City. You’ve probably gotten a recommendation for this book before, but if you haven’t, this captivating summer read is all about how one Jewish family deals with tragedy, with vividly drawn characters that, like the cast of “Maisel,” will stay with you forever.
“The Hotel Neversink” by Adam O’Fallon Price
Here’s another Jewish Catskills novel, one former Kveller editor Lisa Keys dubbed a “gothic Mrs. Maisel.” “The Hotel Neversink” is about a mystery that plagues a once vibrant Catskills hotel modeled after Grossinger’s, one of the Borscht Belt’s most famous resorts. This book is definitely dark, so if you’re looking for the joyful, chipper tones of “Maisel,” you might have to look elsewhere, but if you want more Catskills history, Jewish family tales and a fascinating cast of characters, this book, that spans from the 1930s to the 2010s, may be just what you need.
“The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street” by Susan Jane Gilman
Another story of a badass Jewish New Yorker making a name for herself in the world — this time, it’s Malka Treynovsky, born in Russia, who turns herself into Lillian Dunkle, an all American “Ice Cream Queen.” American ice cream brands, you’d be surprised to know, are full of Jewish legacies — from Baskin-Robbins to Hagen Dazs — and this story takes us through the history of the country through the sweet, cooling treat and one enterprising Jewish woman.
“Enter Talking” and “Still Talking” by Joan Rivers
When people talk about who Midge Maisel is inspired by, they mostly land on Joan Rivers, and while Sherman-Palladino says the story is inspired by her father, it’s hard not to see the parallels with the glamorous, funny, history-making Rivers. These books tell the story of the Jewish comedian, born in Brooklyn, from her own eyes (or if you listen to the audiobook, in her own voice). There are plenty of other ways to delve into Rivers’ story. from “The Book of Joan” by her daughter, Melissa Rivers, to the very full “Last Girl Before the Freeway” from Leslie Bennetts, but these two, which have quite a few Jewish details, will make you feel a little bit like you’re with the real life marvelous Ms. Rivers. May her memory be for a blessing.
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“Heartburn,” or really anything by Nora Ephron
If you miss the world of Midge Maisel, her voice and her sassiness, you might want to enter the world of Nora Ephron. I’ve never heard of a person who regretted reading anything by Ephron. Her first novel, “Heartburn,” about a Maisel-like divorce after infidelity, may be a good place to start, but there’s really no wrong choice here.