I like, at this time of the year, to share some books of Jewish significance that might be of interest to anyone with a little extra reading time over the summer. The good news is there are some terrific newly published books or Jewish interest I’ve been reading. The bad news is that I am serving, this year, as a judge on the 2012-13 Wingate Jewish Book Award, and it doesn’t feel right to recommend anything on the 40+ list of books currently bowing down my bedside table.
‘The Spinoza Problem,’ by Irving Yalom is just over a year old. It’s an imagined work that tells the story of two historical figures, Benedict Spinoza, in 17th Century Amsterdam and the Nazi ideologue Albert Rosenberg. Yalom, a well-known psychoanalyst unpacks these two extraordinary lives in what is his most Jewish book.
‘The Humans,’ by Matt Haig, isn’t a Jewish book at all. It’s just a wonderful book about what it means to be a human. I’m no big fan of science fiction – but this story of an alien who comes to earth to tidy up after a Professor makes some new discovery that could give humans far more power than, according the aliens, we should be trusted with, is joyous and warmly insightful. The alien arrives assuming that humans are violent, dangerous and not to be trusted and over the course of the book falls in love with the messy vibrant reality of human existence. Jews are allowed to be interested in messy reality of human existence, no?
Ruth Wisse is Chair of the Yiddish Department of Harvard University. Her new book, ‘No Joke’ is a tour de force journey through Jewish humour, particularly in the golden age of Yiddish literature. It’s not academic, but does delve into how Jewish humour came to be this way. Wisse ‘demonstrates how the benefits of Jewish humor [sic.] are reaped from the paradoxes of Jewish life, so that Jewish humor at its best carries the scars of the convulsions that brought it into being.’
And one last book that I suspect will be on the reading list of the Wingate judges next year – ‘The Marrying of Chani Kaufman’ by Eve Harris has just been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. I haven’t read it, yet.
Happy reading to all the people of the book.