Dr. Rob here, unlicensed and unafraid to tell you that you really should turn off that TV and read a book.
Yes, yes, I’m the media. I know, I’m supposed to tell you to keep up to date with our LATE BREAKING NEWS.
Well, the whole world has gone batty, so what’s one more contradiction? Turn off the TV, then follow the Chronicle on social media and at JewishChronicle.org, and then ignore it all and read a book. You need a trip to elsewhere for a bit.
For this special occasion, and oh how special it has been, I am pulling out all stops. I now give you a list of some of my most favorite books. Please, read one and send me a message on what you liked or hated about it. I do believe that communication in the coronavirus era is the path to sanity; not just your sanity but mine, too.
Here’s a list of a few favorite books that have grabbed me, meant something to me, or distracted me. Some are Jewish-themed, some not.
“Anti-Semitism: Here and Now”
It’s not hard to imagine a book on antisemitism in America drowning in its own data and dreariness. Deborah Lipstadt, one of the world’s foremost thinkers on the subject, makes her book peppy and accessible. She does it by making it a gigantic FAQ in the form of a fictional conversation with a student and an academic colleague. I recommend!
“All Our Wrong Todays”
I’m a science fiction fan, and this is a sci fi novel that glues itself to your hands. The protagonist races through time as you race through the book. He inadvertently dismantles a 1950s-style utopian Earth, through time travel of course, and more time travel and a real mess ensue. But the mess is the entertainment. The worst part is that author Elan Mastai has just this one book out.
“The Bedside Torah: Wisdom, Visions, and Dreams”
Many years ago, I wasn’t sure what my relationship with Judaism should be. I was in a searching period, a what’s-it-all-about period. This book, by Rabbi Bradley Artson of American Jewish University in California, was helpful to me.
The book offers three different commentaries on each of the Torah portions. I found the rabbi’s view of Torah nourishing and uplifting. It was a lovely, sugar-bowl kind of book, and it came at the right time in my life. It also opened up Jewish learning to me, in a way that I hadn’t experienced in my Long Island synagogue’s Hebrew school in my teens. It led to curiosity and some more learning.
“The Book Thief”
This is not a quick read, but it is engrossing. I’ve read that some students’ only exposure to the Holocaust is “The Book Thief,” which is a really bad idea. But that doesn’t make the book itself a bad idea.
Set in 1939 Nazi Germany, the book is focused on 11-year-old Liesel, who is sent to live with an older couple. The book is filled with heartbreak, kindness, love and loss. It’s written by Markus Zusak, who is not Jewish, though Jewish themes and issues run through the book.
Plenty of teens read this book, but you don’t need to be a teen to love it.
“In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin”
This is an amazing book. It’s one of those rare non-fiction tomes that grabs you by the collar and pulls you in, like good fiction. Everything that author Erik Larson touches reads like that.
This is the story of an American ambassador and his family, emissaries to Germany as the Nazis keep gaining steam prior to World War II. The ambassador is a bookish professor from Chicago, not an experienced politician, who brings along his wife, son and party-hearty daughter, Martha. At first, Martha is taken by the society in Germany. These people have no idea what they’re getting into, but we the readers know, and watching it unfold, it’s hard to take your eyes off of it.
“Mr. Midshipman Hornblower”
This book is pure boyish escapism. “Mr. Midshipman Hornblower” kicks off an 11-book series about a British Naval officer during the age of sailing ships. It’s an easy, breezy read – pun intended. There are battles. There’s strategy. There’s heroism. There’s drama.
Author C.S. Forester captured me for all 11 books, to the point where I struggled to read the last couple more slowly, dreading that it would come to an end.
“The Opposite of Loneliness”
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I have little patience for idle reading that makes me carry it all uphill. In fact, I don’t even want to carry downhill. With this book, you won’t even know you’re reading.
The author’s writing is mesmerizing, and I can’t quite explain why, which is fascinating to me as someone who writes for a living. If you read the book, I’d be curious to hear what you think.
Author Marina Keegan doesn’t write like one of us old people. Her writing oozes youth and that itself is uplifting.
The marketing materials describe: “An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented young Yale graduate whose title essay captured the world’s attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.”
Keegan died in a car crash five days after graduating with an undergraduate degree from Yale University. These essays are what we have of her.
If you’re looking for the opposite of loneliness, this young woman can help, eight years after her tragic death.
“Sex Object: A Memoir”
If you’re a man, or woman for that matter, who’d like to better understand the #MeToo movement, Jessica Valenti can help you get there. A longtime feminist who is inspiring, yet unafraid to rattle us (she speaks of our “rape culture”), she was a hyper-active #MeToo volcano well before the whole thing erupted.
Valenti’s other books are too shallow for me. But this one, tracing objectification throughout her life, is a startling education. Anyone with Jewish notions of justice has got to connect with the raw honesty and truth-telling of this book.
And it does not even once have the word “corona” in it.