Bibliophiles Choose Some of 2017’s Top Reads

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Every December, as the year is winding down, you have a chance to reflect on some of your favorite moments or events that transpired.

For pop culture aficionados, there were plenty of films (like Lady Bird), TV (Stranger Things season two) and music (Lorde’s excellent sophomore album) moments that stand out among the rest.

But for these Philadelphia-area booksellers, there were plenty of gifts bestowed on those who like to read, especially books by Jewish authors or reads that have Jewish content.


One book Cathy Fiebach is recommending for the holiday season is The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, which follows two women in London in 1666 and the early 21st century, one of whom was a scribe.

A few others that stand out in the fiction section of Main Point Books, of which Fiebach is the owner, include Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer and Moonglow by Michael Chabon.

For those looking for a good read for their mystery- and thriller-loving family members, look no further than Daniel Silva’s House of Spies, the July 2017 release that serves as the 17th installment of his series following art restorer and Israeli intelligence agent Gabriel Allon.

And there are plenty of options for younger readers, as well.

“One of the nice things about the kids books this year is they are sort of dealing with different Jewish ethnicities,” Fiebach said, pointing to picture books like Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg, which follows a multicultural family’s celebration of the holiday (Dad is Jewish, Mom is Indian). They trade latkes for the Indian treat dosas.

“It opens kids’ eyes that our way of celebrating isn’t the only way of celebrating,” Fiebach said.

Other standouts for young readers include How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen — “Good for any 2- to 5-year-old who just needs a good Chanukah book,” Fiebach noted — and I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by author Debbie Levy, a picture book about the Notorious RBG.

Middle schoolers and YA readers can turn the pages of Grendel’s Guide to Love and War by A. E. Kaplan, a sort-of retelling of Beowulf.

On the nonfiction side, Fiebach, who set up shop in Bryn Mawr before moving the store to its current Wayne location about a year and a half ago, recommended The New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s new graphic memoir, Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York, and You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn by Wendy Lesser.

The latter will strike a chord for Philadelphia history enthusiasts, as Kahn was based in the city and left his architectural mark on many of its buildings.

“We try hard to have books that if we can promote local authors or local subjects, for us that’s an area we like to focus on,” Fiebach said.

She also pointed to delicious reads like Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook’s latest release detailing the story of the now iconic fried chicken and doughnuts shop, Federal Donuts: The (Partially) True Spectacular Story.

History buffs can check out Grant by Ron Chernow, who helped lead to the Hamilton musical phenomenon through his biography of the Founding Father.

“We literally are having trouble keeping it in stock,” she said of Chernow’s latest on the former president and war general.

For Fiebach, who opened Main Point after taking a class and thinking, “This is the kind of thing that would make me really happy,” other standouts she read this year (without Jewish connections) included The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent.

Sitting on Bev Rosen’s nightstand are Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander and Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss, two of her favorites from this year.

Rosen, who facilitates a number of book groups in the greater Philadelphia region and presents book, theater and film reviews, echoed Fiebach’s enthusiasm for Moonglow, which she called Chabon’s best book since The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

She also recommended Waking Lions by Israeli writer Ayelet Gundar-Goshen and National Jewish Book Award winner And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer.

Lynn Rosen, too, noticed a strong showing of Jewish-ish books in 2017.

A few selections that stood out to her included Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton, Life Drawing by Robin Black and Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein.

There was also Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss, whose History of Love is one of Rosen’s all-time favorites.

But if you notice, her recommendations are all by female authors.

“I tend to read books by women,” she said, recalling a moment in her freshman seminar in college in 1979 when her professor said they were going to only read books by women. She asked her students to think of the books they read in high school and how many of those were written by women (hint: with the exception of maybe some works by Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, there probably weren’t many).

“I guess because I am a woman and I strive to write fiction, I pay attention to what other women are doing in fiction,” added Rosen, who worked in publishing in New York and had her own literary agency before opening Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park three years ago.

One older work that has strong Jewish content but is not written by a Jewish author is The Archivist by Martha Cooley, which she said she makes “everyone who comes to the store read it.”

Another standout for her was May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes, which Rosen called “her most Jewish novel yet.”

But her favorite read of the year — of which there were many — Jewish content notwithstanding, was Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

“It really moved me,” said Rosen of the novel that tackles race and family in past and present Mississippi. “When I finished reading it and closed the last page, I got chills up and down my arm.”

So there you have it. Now head to your nearest bookshop and get to (late) Chanukah shopping for the bookworms in your family.

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