JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, retold by Ellen Frankel (JPS, cloth, $35). Illustrated by Israeli artist Avi Katz (Jerusalem Post), this 225-page book focuses on the most plot-driven sections of the Tanach. Frankel, a scholar of folklore and Midrash, and the editor-in-chief of JPS, adds some interesting notes for the grownups on the challenges of introducing “American children to the language and rhythms of the Hebrew Bible.”
Subversive Sequels in the Bible, by Judy Klitsner (JPS, cloth, $35). In this book, subtitled “How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other,” the author makes unusual pairings of biblical stories and shows how the later story may comment on or even subvert the earlier one. Noah and Jonah are linked, for example, as are the Tower of Babel and the midwives of Exodus. Fascinating and thought-provoking work (and just a tad scholarly) from a senior faculty member at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem.
The House of Secrets: The Hidden World of the Mikveh, by Varda Polak-Sahm (Beacon, cloth, $28.95). A fascinating culmination of 10 years of research on the part of the Israeli author, this book dissects the historical and cultural significance of the mikveh and its value in today’s world. Based on in-depth interviews with balanyiot (immersion supervisors), and of Orthodox and secular women from a myriad of different cultures plus her own experiences, Polak-Sahm explores the most secret, sacred and sensual moments in a Jewish woman’s life.
The Fruit of Her Hands: The Story of Shira of Ashkenaz, by Michelle Cameron (Pocket, cloth, $25). Historical novelist Cameron weaves fact and fiction together in this tale of European medieval Jewry during one of the most challenging periods in Jewish history. The fictional Shira is witness to some of the more horrific events of the times: Talmud burning, religious disputations, executions and Crusader massacres. Shira has a real-life husband, Meir of Rothenberg, a distant ancestor of the author, which adds to the book’s appeal. As often occurs in this genre, the author sometimes works too hard to include all the historical details, but it reads well and is entrancing in parts.
The Defector, by Daniel Silva (Putnam, cloth, $26.95). Silva’s Israeli spy-art restorer-hero Gabriel Alon returns to again combat the evils of terrorism, counter-espionage and international crime, enduring the usual threats on his life and his family. An exciting page-turner, but nothing especially unique
or different here. Perhaps this is Alon’s retirement party? After all, how much abuse can one man take, even in the service of his country?
Jewish Sages of Today: Profiles of Extraordinary People, edited by Aryeh Rubin (Devora, paper, $16.95). One inspiring profile after another of rabbis, scholars, scientists, advocates and more all working in service to the Jewish community. The cover states the subjects are drawn from “across the U.S. and Israel,” but from this Northwest outpost the book seems a little New York-centric. Surely a few people west of the Rockies are doing a few things of value in the Jewish community.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song, by Canfield, Hansen and Geffen (CSS, paper, $14.95). Here are the “exclusive, personal stories behind 101 of your favorite songs.” Of course, not all songwriters are Jewish, but many of them are, so you can enjoy a little John Legend (“Ordinary People”) with your Barry Manilow (“Mandy,” etc.).
Comics & Humor
The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah, by Joel Chasnoff (Simon & Schuster, cloth, $25). As Chasnoff begins his basic training he has the following encounter: “‘Hey, I think you misspelled my name,’ I said to the guy at the dog tag machine. ‘So don’t die,’ he said and shooed me out the door.” A proverbial 98-pound weakling lies his way into the Israeli armed forces in order to live in Israel and — of course — impress a girl. Comedian Chasnoff has lived to tell the tale of war — and make us laugh.
Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form, edited by Paul Buhle (New Press, cloth, $29.95). Reading an early political cartoon in this book, it occurred to me that my grandfather, who arrived on these shores in 1912, might have viewed this exact piece: Karl Marx as Moses, leads “the working class to the land of milk and honey, the land of economic freedom” through a Red Sea of woes consisting of tenement houses, child labor, war, corruption, hunger and “rotten food.” Entertaining and educational.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible! by Jonathan Goldstein (Penguin, paper, $15). Public radio listeners may be familiar with the work of this Canadian comedian (“Americo-Canadian” according to Wikipedia), a staff member on “This American Life,” and host of “Wire Tap,” his own CBC show, which airs in Seattle on KUOW 94.9. Goldstein puts his spin on a number of biblical tales both famous and obscure and gives familiar characters sardonic, neurotic and poignant personas, saying and thinking things you’d never imagine. “Since…every village needs a mayor as well as a village idiot, it broke down in this way: Eve: mayor; Adam: village idiot.” Goldstein takes us all the way to Mary and Joseph, the latter whining about how difficult his life is now that his girlfriend has been impregnated by the Lord.