I generally don’t enjoy cramming a lot of book reviews into one post, but sometimes it’s necessary, or it’s the best option. And this time I’m not even doing it as a catch-up, even though I’m a little behind. I’ve been doing some extra reading for my Introduction to Judaism class, cramming in some Jewish fiction and non-fiction around the edges of the reading I need to do for class (which varies by amount per week, but there’s extra suggested reading, and you know I read all those articles too!), just to expand my knowledge base because I find it helpful and also because I just want to know everything about everything in the world- totally an attainable goal.
ANYHOODLE. Here are a few of the extras I’ve read the past few weeks!
The Best of Sholom Aleichem by Sholom Aleichem, edited by Irving Howe and Ruth R. Wisse. Sholom Aleichem is best known for his short stories about Tevye the dairyman, which were gathered and shaped into the musical Fiddler on the Roof (which I haven’t seen, but there’s a version of it available with Amazon Prime, so I’ll get to it one of these days!). His short stories, translated from the original Yiddish, give readers a glimpse into life in nineteenth-century Eastern European shtetls. There’s laughter, joy, family, poverty, hunger, fear… The wolf is always at the door, but why not enjoy yourselves while you can? His writing is so very slice-of-life; the telling of the story is more important than a distinct conclusion. I worried that would bother me, but surprisingly, it didn’t; Aleichem’s method of storytelling is more than enough to carry each selection in the book. I’m jealous of those who can read him in the original Yiddish, because from what I’ve read, the language is so very nuanced that any translation loses a lot. I’m counting this as a pick for The Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge prompt of a book in translation.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl,” the story’s byline yawns, but this graphic novel is anything but tired. Mirka, who dreams of fighting dragons, struggles to learn the feminine skills her stepmother wants her to, and keeps finding herself in odd situations- lassoing a homework-eating talking pig with a serious attitude problem, for example. And those feminine skills come in handy when she meets a troll, of all things. This book is creative and fun and deeply imaginative, and I’m going to have to keep my eyes peeled for the other books in the series at my library (looks like they’re checked out right now! I’m glad; they deserve to be popular!).
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt by Ken Krimstein. Hannah Arendt is a name that keeps coming up over and over again in my reading, so I picked up this graphic novel biography that covers a short period of her life. She was brilliant and complex and Krimstein presents some tough material in an easier-to-digest format. Two quotes in particular stuck out to me:
“As fire lives on oxygen, the oxygen of totalitarianism is untruth. Before totalitarian leaders can fit reality to their lies, their message is an unrelenting contempt for facts. They live by the belief that fact depends entirely on the power of the man who makes it up.”
“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”
I definitely want to read more about Hannah Arendt, but this feels like a good introduction.
The last 20-30 minutes of each Sunday night class is dedicated to learning the Hebrew alphabet, and I’ve never met a class I didn’t feel the need to go full on Hermione Granger in, so thanks to an extra-long interlibrary loan, I was able to work my way through Aleph Isn’t Tough: An Introduction to Hebrew for Adults by Linda Motzkin and Hara Person. This is the first language I’ve ever studied that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet, so it was intimidating to begin, but this book is incredibly thorough, introducing only a few letters and vowels per chapter so that the learner isn’t overwhelmed. Right away, the authors have you reading and writing words, matching English sounds with their Hebrew equivalents, and listing words the reader (who is assumed to have at least a basic knowledge of Judaism) is probably familiar with (and I was!). I was able to sound out (and recognize!) some of the Hebrew words when the class went down and sat in the sanctuary the other night, both around the room and in the prayer book. If you’re looking for the best, most basic place to start learning the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph Isn’t Tough should definitely be your first stop.
And with that, I’m only two reviews behind! Graphic novels and short stories aren’t always the easiest for me to review (and then there’s the language book!), so I’m feeling okay about covering these four books with one single post. I enjoyed all of these- for very different reasons- and would love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read any of them as well.
Happy reading, folks! 🙂