Summer Book Suggestions and Reviews

Book reviews of American Jewish literature.

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It's almost summer time, and we know what that means---swimming, well-deserved free time, and a few good reads. If you are looking for a beach read, here are some suggestions. These novels cover a wide variety of topics, from teenage angst to intermarriage, Kabbalah to spelling bees. If these don't satisfy your cravings, check out other book reviews of American Jewish literature on MyJewishLearning.

 Are you there God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Margaret Ann Simon, the book's protagonist, hopes to have her first menstrual period and figure out which religion she wants to practice before completing the sixth grade. When she runs into trouble on both fronts, she worries she is not normal.

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander
A composite of short stories that take place on the fringes of the ultra-Orthodox world, each with a compelling hook: a Jerusalemite denied sexual intimacy by his wife obtains his rabbi's permission to visit a prostitute; a matchmaker tries to force a husband to grant a divorce to the wife he has abandoned; a rabbi moonlights as a department store Santa Claus to pay back his synagogue's debts.

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
Eliza Naumann, an otherwise undistinguished fifth grader, wows her classmates and family by spelling her way to the national finals on the basis of her supernatural ability to envision letters and words forming inside her head.

As It Was Written: A Jewish Musician's Story by Sidney Luska (Henry Harland)
The tragic tale of Ernest Neuman, an uncannily talented violinist, and the woman he loves, Veronika Pathzuol, who is quite the musician herself.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Samuel Klayman meets Josef Kavalier, and they instantly form a strong friendship. Sam and Joe create a comic book hero called The Escapist, who wanders the world in aide of those who "languish in tyranny's chains."

Miss Lonelyharts and the Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
In Miss Lonelyhearts, a young intellectual man takes a job, as a joke, as a newspaper's advice columnist, but begins to break under the stress as people write to him, begging for advice to help them. The Day of the Locust, meanwhile, is about Tod Hackett, who comes to California dreaming to be a movie-set artist, but soon joins the ranks of lowly actors, workers, and other characters who are living in Hollywood trying to get their big break.

East River by Sholem Asch
The plot centers on a devout Irish Catholic girl's involvement with the Jewish Davidowsky family. Pious Moshe Wolf Davidowsky operates a grocery, but can't cover his bills because he extends credit to all of his neighbors--even those, like Mary McCarthy's father, who are irresponsible drunks.

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
Isadora White Stollerman Wing is accompanying her second husband to Vienna. She soon finds the ironically named Adrian Goodlove, who, though often impotent, manages to tempt her away from her sullen and taciturn husband. As she guiltily pursues adultery and zips around Europe with Adrian, seeking the enlightenment of self-indulgence, she recounts the traumas of her life.

Differences by Nathan Mayer
Welland soon falls in love with Antonia, the Goldmans' beautiful and literary-minded daughter, but, in the fashion of traditional romances, circumstances conspire to keep the lovers apart.