Posts Tagged ‘Jewish books’

A moment too long

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cover of Moments73. Moments by Nachman Seltzer

I was enjoying this collection of stories, but wouldn’t have said I was really engrossed in any of them. Then I missed my stop on the bus this morning! This is a bit of a big deal, since it doesn’t stop again for about 15 minutes or so after my stop, and then the line ends and I have to wait for it to go back again. Instead of being at class precisely on time, I was 50 minutes late, which I really really hate!

So I did enjoy the stories – some more than others, of course – although I can’t yet speak as to how practically inspiring they’ll really be. (The basic theme was the difference a moment can make in a life.) I have the sequel too, as well as another collection by the author, so more should come through.

Down the side of the bed

Monday, 16 May 2011
The Speed of Dark

Image via Wikipedia

I read in bed quite a lot. It’s something I’ve always done, and it goes together quite well with a baby who doesn’t like to sleep without a parent next to her. I usually have a few on the go, piled on the top corner of the bed (in a corner of the room) and occasionally one or two fall down the side, from where I fish them out as I realise they’re missing. The bed got jogged out of place this morning, however, and when I went to retrieve the avalanche I realised that there were a few older escapees. To be unnoticed as missing these were ones I hadn’t actually got into, and sometimes hadn’t even started, but had just thought might be interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d list them here, with comments on how I’m getting on with them. (The order is just as they were piled.)

The ones I really wasn’t reading will probably go back on the shelf for now, but renoticing them has got me intrigued by some of them again. Watch this space to see which ones make it to the ‘Read’ lists…

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Unstarted, although it looks interesting. Looks a bit different from the other science-fiction I’ve been reading of late.

Cover of

Cover of Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

About three-quarters of the way through this novel of the last days French royal court in July 1789, and enjoying it quite a lot.

Cover of "The Green Flag: A history of Ir...

Cover via Amazon

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by Robert Kee

While this officially covers the history right from the 12th century it really picks up the detail from the mid-17th century. I’m up to the late 18th century, approaching but not yet at the 1798 rebellion.

The Little Girl Book by David Laskin and Kathleen O’Neill

A rather different approach to a parenting book than I’ve come across before, this discusses the complicated issue of bringing up little girls while negotiating the stereotypes and sexism of our societies. The book was published in 1992, so still seeing how it stands up two decades later to my own opinions. Definitely interesting, though.

Cover of "Byzantium Endures"

Cover of Byzantium Endures

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock

The two or three chapters I’ve read of this so far are decidedly odd. I’ll give it more time gradually and hope it grabs my attention. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, and yet it was somewhat compelling.



People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman

I got side-tracked from the Hillerman books, but will get back to them. (I’d better, seeing as I ordered the entire set on Bookmooch!) I’d read a chapter or so of this one, but would probably restart from the beginning.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I haven’t read any London since I was seven, and read White Fang in one sitting (staying with my grandparents I picked it up off their shelves to sustain me through a long morning meeting of my grandmother’s). I’m still in the introduction here, and I hadn’t realised what a fascinating life the author himself had.

Cover of How I Came West

Cover of How I Came West

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

A rather bizarre collection of often fantastical (but always so far set in modern-day USA) stories that I’m enjoying so long as I read each story in a single sitting, as they can be hard to keep track of after a break.

I don’t think I’ve read a collection of stories that was neither from one of the orthodox Jewish publishers nor aimed at children in an absolute age. (These are definitely not for children, although not crude, just for adults.) I’m enjoying the different perspective, and wondering why the general market avoids them so much.

Med Ship by Murray Leinster

I think this is a compilation of a lot of stories and novellas Leinster set in the same universe, but which aren’t always about the same characters, but I’m not far enough in to be sure.

Cover of China WitnessChina Witness by Xinran

More academic in its feel than the other books by Xinran I’ve read, this offers a very broad sweep of 20th century experience in China, as told by the survivors and thrivers of that period, an apparently reticent and now elderly generation. Each chapter, about a different person or small group, is relatively short, and tends to leave me wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Wisdom of the Fox by Harry Turtledove

I don’t know why I haven’t got into this, seeing as I’ve been enjoying Turtledove’s alternate histories so much. I think I wasn’t really in the mood for what appeared to be more classic fantasy. I’ll try again at some point.

Cover of Wild Swans

Cover of Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

The first book about Chinese history I read. That was as a teenager, shortly after it first came out, and with all the Xinran I’ve been reading I thought I should go back to this one too. I’m picking up on details I certainly hadn’t remembered, partly because I’m older and partly because I do know a bit more about China now and can make more sense of what was going on (not that it’s badly explained in the book, but there’s only so much context a writer can be expected to give). Still looking for other modern writers on the country.

Worth waiting for

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

I feel like I’ve been looking forward to this one for a very long time, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint.

Cover of The Ruby Spy Ring71. The Ruby Spy Ring by Libi Astaire

We’re several months after the events of The Disappearing Dowry, and our narrator Rebecca Lyon’s elder sister Hannah is happily married and thus out of the parental home, leaving Rebecca with the burden of trying to be a role model for the younger siblings, while missing Harriet Franks, her best friend, whose family have moved from the vicinity of the Great Synagogue to the more expensive and fashionable Mayfair. Seeing the growing stress levels among his children, and Rebecca in particular, Mr Lyon suggests she goes to visit Harriet for a fortnight to lift her spirits. On the first night of the visit the Franks family take her with them to an exhibition, which is the start of some unfortunate events for the family, requiring the investigative talents of Mr Ezra Melamed, with Rebecca as an interested observer and would-be participant.

The history and culture seems accurate, with the narrative voice strong and plausible, and the characters distinct and consistent with the previous book. The Jewish references are clearly but largely unobtrusively explained, so I’d recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction (especially of Regency England), or mysteries, or tales of Jewish communities. As a pocket-size paperback it’s cheaper than most of the Jewish novels, but is very nicely produced nonetheless. Highly recommended. I hope there are more to come!


Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Cover of Perfecting Diamonds

Cover of Perfecting Diamonds

52. Perfecting Diamonds by Rabbi Dovid Kaplan

As a sequel to Polishing Diamonds (discussed here recently), this book is both more general (with a chapter or two discussing rather younger children than the former) and more specific (with about half the book devoted to discussing teenagers, and teenage boys in particular – the author has been a teacher and mentor of teenage boys for many years).

For me teenagers aren’t a particular issue at the moment – DD is just five months old, and I amn’t working in a school any longer, so I don’t come across teenagers except as neighbours/acquaintances/people to interact with just as with any other person. (This may well be a very good way to act with them anyhow. Teenagers, children, even babies are simply people, and not another species!) I tend to find most people are easiest to get on with when you treat them as individuals with their own likes, dislikes and needs, and attempt to allow for those.

Still, this book is useful in pointing out some of the developmental and social pressures teenagers (and children of different ages, and parents) undergo, and how these may well impact upon relationships, both theoretically and practically. As long as one doesn’t assume all young people, or all the older people they come into contact with, are going to react in the same ways, I think knowing what some of the commonly plausible generalisations are can be helpful.

My prize?

Friday, 1 April 2011

This is another of the prize books I got a couple of months ago, and another I’d read parts of as columns in the paper I won them from. I actually chose all their parenting books I could, since that’s a current major topic of interest to me, and even if I don’t always agree with everything in a given book, different perspectives and ideas are useful to think about.

Cover of Polishing Diamonds50. Polishing Diamonds by Rabbi Dovid Kaplan

This book is pretty much entirely addressing the parents and teachers of school age children, so it’s not directly relevant to me right now (since DD is just four months old and I no longer work in a school and wasn’t a class teacher when I did). Still, R’ Kaplan is an engaging writer, and I’m getting the impression that thinking ahead is probably a very good idea in this parenting lark!

He nearly always introduces the issue/point with a story or two, and doesn’t shy away from controversial ideas. (One debate that only has his articles in this book but that I remember getting quite heated on the letters page was over the relationship of parents and teachers, including how often, when and how they contact each other, as well as gifts or personal incentives from parents to teachers. The author recommends lots of friendly contact.) One very popular series of columns that appears as chapters in the book are his ‘Anec-dos and Anec-don’ts’, where a set of short incidents of good or bad parenting is given, each followed by R’ Kaplan’s comment and suggestions for similar situations.

While many/most of the issues are not specific to orthodox Jews, that is the perspective from which and for which R’ Kaplan is writing.

In the beginning

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

This is one of those prize books I got awhile back.

Cover of Mrs Honig's Cakes

Cover of Mrs Honig's Cakes

25. Mrs Honig’s Cakes 1 by Pessie Frankel and Yocheved Leah Perkal

These stories have been running in the children’s section of the English language Hamodia for several years now, and they seem to be very popular. The framing story each week/fortnight involves a recurring set of little girls visiting the eponymous Mrs Honig, who provides cake and a story calculated to fit the current issues in their lives. The moral each time is fairly overt, without completely thumping you over the head. There are four or five collections of the stories by now, and I was interested to see the first couple, which set the scene of the recurring characters. I do think the writers have got better since these first stories (which is a good thing!), and there was a little stiltedness in parts of this book. They’re still generally fun stories, however, in an orthodox Jewish context.

Free Books!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Eight Hamodia books

Eight Hamodia books

We just got our prize from a Chanuka raffle, and it’s a nice one. Expect reviews of at least some of these in the next few months.

As for free books for the rest of you, I just learned of new ways to access the cornucopia of material available on Project Gutenberg, Librivox and elsewhere. (I’ve recommended both of those sites here many times before.)

E.C. recently recommended a freely downloadable Kindle application for the PC, which you may find useful for paid products or free ones.

Somehow I missed it three months ago when it apparently started, but is now offering random rateable chapters of Librivox books to listen to. Each chapter has a link to the work’s info and download page so that ifwhen you find something you like you can listen to the whole thing. This seems like a great way to find new audiobooks (the RSS feed of what’s newly published is another), which I believe is the intention, but I also enjoyed just listening to what came up, hitting “Next” if I wasn’t interested in what came up. For me, poetry and chapters of old favourites were best for this, but some new random chapters were good to, even without knowing what came before. (This works better with non-fiction than novels, in my opinion.)

Breastfeeding Books

Saturday, 8 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I’ll admit that while all these books are great, I’ve found the Breastfeeding Group on Ravelry as much help. That’s not entirely a fair comparison, as the books do what they’re meant to, which is to provide generalised information and encouragement, while a discussion group can (and this one really does) provide specifics. Good in-person support is also pretty essential, of course, but that has to be found locally!

Cover of Straight from the Heart
45. Straight from the Heart by Tehilla Abramov

As indicated by the numbers, it’s by far the longest since I read this one, but it’s also the most specific inits intended audience, as another Orthodox Jewish book. It covers (more briefly) much of the same general information about breastfeeding and its benefits as the others, but also why and how it is encouraged Jewishly and halachically. (Which it strongly appears to be.) Definitely worth having for those interested in this perspective!

Cover of Womanly Art of Breastfeeding 6th ed.
53. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (6th ed.) by La Leche League International

I’ve linked above both to the sixth edition, that I read (having found it second-hand locally), and the new eighth edition, that I’d probably still get if I found it easily. I really don’t know how different they are, of course, so will only comment on the sixth. I’m not sure which edition my mother used, back in the seventies, but she seemed to recognise elements in this nineties version, although it’s been reworked and added to so many times.

Anyway, it’s certainly the classic comprehensive guide, with pictures, explanations and anecdotes on the nutritional, biological, familial, financial and societal benefits of breastfeeding. It doesn’t shy away from recommending a way of mothering beyond ‘just’ breastfeeding, but as with What to Expect, and indeed, all of these books, I am thankfully quite capable of taking what suits and is useful to me, and leaving the rest, so that’s okay. It’s well sourced in its content, and has a chapter near the end specifically about the original founders of La Leche League, as well as information about how the organisation has developed.

I still haven’t really made contact with LLLI here, but may well still do so.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

60. So that’s what they’re for! (2nd ed.) by Janet Tamaro

And this is the funny one. It’s got lots of good information, and is aimed at people who aren’t yet entirely convinced breastfeeding is for them and their family, as well as those who are. The author gives plenty of individual examples of situations both positive and negative, her own and from her research. Obviously she’s encouraging breastfeeding, as all of these books are, but this one especially does admit that people sometimes find it difficult, and they all talk about how to get support when it’s needed.

Birth Books

Friday, 7 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011These two books, both written from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, decidedly encourage going for as natural a birth as possible under the individual circumstances. Which was great for me as it’s precisely what I wanted. Not precisely what I got, for a variety of reasons I don’t really want to go into, but I will just say that without the reading I did and especially the support of my husband and doula, the event would have diverted even further from the path I wanted. I highly recommend as much loving and informed support as can be managed, going through a birth!

Cover of A Labor of Love
43. A Labor of Love by Rachel Broncher

My copy of this book came with a CD containing spoken guidance for a variant of the relaxation recommended in the book. I only used the CD a couple of times in the end, but it was a whole lot easier than trying to follow from written text, and a great complement to the book.

The book has a good mix of anatomical/biological information, advice and guidance on getting the birth you want, explanations of what can happen when under different circumstances, and short personal stories displaying how different every birth is (even for the same mother). While mostly written for the mother, there is a chapter specifically for the father (actually, all the pregnancy and birth books I’m discussing had one of those) as well as discussions of other possible birth attendants, either family or friends, or trained doulas. A good book.

Cover of A Jewish Woman's Guide to Childbirth44. A Jewish Woman’s Guide to Childbirth by Aviva Rappaport

I’m not sure why, but I think this may have been my favourite of the related books that I had, although as above I’m glad I had all of them, and presuming there’s a next time will likely reread them all and probably some new ones. I suppose the tone of it just spoke best to me personally. I think this was the last one I started, so I was probably already best informed when I did, meaning I could pick and choose from the suggestions given. This one also has personal stories, and to be honest, since I read these two books pretty close together, and their perspectives are very complementary, I’m not sure I really distinguish their content precisely in my head, so am going on impressions here. Highly recommended nonetheless.

Nearly Shabbat now and my baby wants attention, so I think both authors would forgive my wrapping it up here!

Pregnancy Books

Thursday, 6 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011

So, these are the books I used for reference and information during my pregnancy. (The numbers are from the Reading 2010 list, of course.) While they each have more or less information on both childbirth and breastfeeding, I also got specific books on both topics, which I’ll discuss separately (both sets also have some discussion of pregnancy, of course). They were chosen largely on grounds of being available in the bookshops I walked into, rather than recommendations, since only my DH and I knew I was pregnant when I bought and began reading them. (Well, the bookseller probably guessed, when we bought copies of practically every book on pregnancy and birth they had, all at once, but that’s okay.)

36. The Guide for When You’re Expecting by Rabbi Simcha Fuld

This wasn’t the first I began reading, but being short it’s the first I finished. (Admittedly, these books are probably numbered later than they should be, since I didn’t put them on the list until I was willing to admit to being pregnant.) It’s a very useful pocket-sized tome of specific information for English-speaking orthodox Jewish people having babies in Jerusalem. While there’s useful stuff there for people who only fit some of those criteria, it’s aimed at those of us who fit all of them, and being published in 2009 it’s pretty up-to-date with useful names, phone numbers and bus numbers to get in touch with hospitals, specialists, officials and others. It wasn’t particularly expensive and I’d highly recommend it to anyone else who fits the criteria. It doesn’t appear to be available online, but can probably be found at the bigger sellers of Orthodox Jewish books in English in Jerusalem.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

37. What to Expect When You’re Expecting (4th ed.) by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel

This was the first relevant book we bought, and the only pregnancy/childbirth specific one not from a Jewish perspective. It has a lot of clear medical detail, although the social and pregnancy-care aspects are – reasonably enough – fairly US-centric. I like how it’s laid out, with some general information chapters at the beginning, then month-by-month chapters on what’s likely to be going on for mother and foetus (with some more specific week-by-week foetal development info included), going right up to about six weeks after the birth, and then some ‘special’ chapters for particular circumstances, including ones on problems that could occur. There’s a note somewhere near the beginning of those recommending that they only be read if specifically relevant, as worrying unduly about such things isn’t helpful. That does sound somewhat patronising, which is a complaint I’ve heard about this book (although I believe more with previous editions) so other books may be found to be better – I simply didn’t have easy access to them.

Cover of B'Sha'ah Tovah
46. B’Sha’ah Tovah: The Jewish Woman’s Clinical and Halachic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth by Rabbi Baruch and Michal Finkelstein

This may have been the only one of all these books I’d actually heard of before looking into all this. (Having seen it at friends’ houses.) It’s fairly comprehensive in covering the medical and Jewish aspects of pregnancy and childbirth, and while I didn’t find the chapter/topic division suited me quite as well as some of the other books, I definitely appreciated having it.