During the Days of Awe, I read 10 books, covering 21 out of the 25 bingo squares and netting me 7 bingos! Here they all are, in the order I read them:
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon [out of your comfort zone, science fiction, blue cover]
A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben [picture book]
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz [science fiction, LGBT rep]
The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer [contemporary, about forgiveness, audiobook]
Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes [short story, fantasy, non-Holocaust historical, LGBT rep, fall colors]
The Deep by Rivers Solomon [novella, Jewish author of color, LGBT rep] (other editions have blue covers but the one I own doesn’t)
It’s a Whole Spiel ed. Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman [YA, short stories, blue cover, about renewal, LGBT rep, frum rep, contemporary, fantasy]
A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine [MG/children’s, non-holocaust historical, arguably also frum rep]
Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler [YA, LGBT Rep, contemporary]
We are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker [science fiction, LGBT rep, audiobook]
+ the Torah portions for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur [translation, Torah/Haftora]
+ the poem “How Divine is Forgiving” by Marge Piercy [poetry]
I read a lot, and even for me, that’s a staggering amount of reading! My brain feels. A little microwaved (although tbh that could be the fasting). I also took and posted photographs every day, engaged with other people on three different social media platforms, got retweeted by authors I really admire (Dahlia Adler! Sasha Lamb!), gave a lot of people an opportunity to self promo, and more people a reason to think about Jewish books.
I had an absolute blast. I’m 100% doing this again next year.
As I read, a few themes kept recurring. None of them are in all of books, but all are in at least a few:
Math and Science: Biochemists, mathematical geniuses, chess prodigies, girls who count to keep calm, quiz bowl champs—these pages are full of analytical minds trying to fit their worlds into quantitative spaces. The narratives values intelligence, but also, intelligence isn’t always enough to save the characters.
Activism: These protagonists march for gun control, pirate drugs to circumvent Big Pharma, run for office, negotiate with royalty, spill stories to the press. Even the protagonist of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, who considers himself deliberately apolitical, is swept up in his world’s politics. So many of the narratives are explicit in their politics. It’s not implied or made metaphor, but direct.
Diaspora: In every historical story I read, the Jews repeat to themselves and each other, we are safe here, with the narrative signposting that um, no they’re not. It’s in the science fiction as well. The characters are waiting for the rug to be pulled. Home is never something that lasts forever.
Family Drama: Many of these stories have familial relationships at the forefront, and they’re often pretty rough. Parents and children consistently fail to understand one another. Spouses lie and fight and divorce. Siblings undermine each other. And yet almost none of the stories have families who are estranged from one another. All of these families keep trying and trying.
Anxiety: Jewish writers need to fucking chill (myself 100% included). These characters are scared of talking to girls, scared of talking to boys, scared of being honest with their feelings. They’re certain that the people around them are hostile (and to be fair, sometimes they’re right), they struggle to talk in groups, they compulsively check on their loved ones. Just a stressed group of people.
Joy: Especially in darkness, joy. Music and dancing are common. So is sex. Lots of these books are comedies—the ones with the direst subject matter have the lightest tones.
If you put these things all together—intellectualism, activism, rootlessness, family, anxiety, joy—plus the thing implied by the existence of Jewish books—art—you get about as good a summary of the Jewish Experience as is possible. Or maybe just the Human Experience.
I wonder if these themes will persist in my reading next year, or if I’ll find other commonalties among those books. I’m excited to find out!