Once a month, we dedicate space for two book reviews, generally of books that are Jewish in subject matter, recently published and interesting to the writer, though what guides our coverage more than anything is determining which books will be interesting to our readers.
Twelve book issues give us space for just 24 book reviews with those criteria. And because we occasionally fill one review space with books coverage of a different sort, we sometimes miss books we were excited about.
This week, we remedy that with this list of right books that came out at the wrong time, all of which are worthy of your consideration even if they didn’t fit into our coverage schedule.
Thanks for reading this year, and come back for more in January.
Yair Assulin (translated by Jessica Cohen)
As an Israeli soldier nears his breaking point, torn between his responsibilities, his desires and his country, he is ordered to meet with a military psychiatrist, who will decide whether the young man will continue with his army service. On the long, emotionally fraught ride, the soldier, who is driven to the appointment by his father, does the sort of soul-level struggling that makes great fiction possible.
The translator, Jessica Cohen, is responsible for translations of Israeli literary giants with fans in America like David Grossman, Amos Oz and Etgar Keret, and one can only hope that her name on Assulin’s work means that we’ll be seeing more from him on our shelves soon.
Susan Taubes is usually consigned to the role of a minor orbiter of Planet Sontag. A New York Review of Books reissue of her 1969 novel “Divorcing,” savaged upon release when it wasn’t being ignored, makes the case that Taubes’ work was worthy of greater consideration in its own right. Born in Budapest, another writer in the line of a great rabbinic family, Taubes brought a clerical sense of seriousness to her work, yet still managed to be pretty funny.
“Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a Few Miracles”
This is assuredly the only book on this list to feature a gushing blurb from actor Ally Sheedy. This new edition of Rivvy Neshama’s 2013 book, updated with a few fresh stories, is one of the most pleasant types of memoirs — a sustained study of one life that nonetheless holds insight into the lives of attentive readers. If you give Neshama that honor, she’ll repay it.
“The New Jewish Canon: Ideas & Debates, 1980-2015”
Edited by Dr. Claire E. Sufrin and Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer
Claire Sufrin and Yehuda Kurtzer, who is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, display a great sensitivity to the contours of contemporary Jewish thought and debate with their selections in “The New Jewish Canon.” Broken into four categories — Jewish Politics and the Public Square; History, Memory and Narrative; Religion and Religiosity; and Identities and Communities — “The New Jewish Canon” is a decisive statement that the intellectual life of Jewry is a vibrant, breathing thing.
“The Piano Student”
Lea Singer, translated by Elisabeth Lauffer
This is a strange novel about a strange correspondence between the famous pianist, Vladimir Horowitz, and a young student of his. The story is based on letters discovered by Lea Singer, a German, in Switzerland, and comes with an accompanying Spotify playlist and YouTube channel filled with performances by Horowitz.
“When Rabbis Bless Congress: The Great American Story of Jewish Prayers on Capitol Hill”
Did you know that more than 400 rabbis have delivered more than 600 prayers before Congress since the Civil War era? And that Isaiah appears to be the most popular prophet to cite? Howard Mortman, communications director for C-SPAN, turns his attention to this infrequently discussed phenomenon, yielding more than just fun facts.
“Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bauhaus: Profiles in Architecture and Design”
For someone like me who knows less than zero about architecture or design, this collection of profiles made me feel I’d gotten a crash course. Janet Abrams, with a foundation of sharp questions and sharper writing, builds her book with profiles of designers, policy makers and academics, written over a few decades.