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From Feb 2009 to July 2016 I wrote an irregular column on examiner.com in which addenda to my NYJB book reviews appeared. examiner.com closed in July 2016, and examiner links on my lj are now dead. I have copied and pasted most of my examiner columns to my Wordpress blog on the same dates as the corresponding lj posts.
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"There are books that make us feel intensely and others that make us think deeply; one that does both is Gail Hareven’s opalescent and psychologically complex eleventh novel Lies, First Person (in the original Hebrew Hashkarim Ha’aharonim Shel Hagoof which literally translates as The Body’s Last Lies), which is only the second (The Confessions of Noa Weber) of her 13 books for adults to be published in English in Dalya Bilu’s fine translation." - From my New York Journal of Books review

"Lies, First Person, Gail Hareven’s second novel to be translated into English (the eleventh of her thirteen adult books published in Hebrew), which is published today by Open Letter Books, is both an emotionally compelling narrative and a novel of ideas. Its characters find different ways of coping with the emotional aftermath of an unreported and unpunished crime, and the novel invites its readers to consider such questions as the nature of evil and the justification of vengeance and retribution." - From my examiner.com article
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Subtle Bodies book cover
Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush portrays a happy marriage. Read my review on New York Journal of Books. See my additional remarks on examiner.com.
Subtle Bodies author Norman RushNorman Rush
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Claudia Silver to the Rescue book cover

In my New York Journal of Books review I describe the novel as "a fun and funny read about the mistakes twentysomethings make when they first live independently as adults." In addition to my NYJB review also read my Examiner article about this novel.


Claudia Silver to the Rescue author Kathy Ebel
Claudia Silver to the Rescue author Kathy Ebel
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paris twilight bookcover

“So I finished my tea and dabbled at my dinner, and took a bath, and retired with a book whose secrets were guarded by my exhaustion, for almost immediately it lay open beside me on the duvet, and I woke after a while to turn off the light, and succumbed back into a dream that must have lasted most of the rest of the night, of swirling snow past a speeding train, a sensation of being unable to understand anything close by, of everything immediate flying past in a frenzy too fleet for me to grasp, while the trees and houses guarding the horizon stayed sharp and clear and precise to the eye, so that there were in the world only two things I was certain of: the feel of your hair beneath my palm, and the horizon, as patient and gradual and slow to pass as a thing remembered, even as it melted into distance and stillness and white.” -- Russ Rymer, Paris Twilight


My NYJB review of Paris Twilight Also see my addtional remarks in Examiner.com.

russrymer_mvbookfestival

Russ Rymer, author of Paris Twilight
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gender bias at The Times Literary Supplement

The Vida count: Gender bias in book reviewing - New York NY | Examiner.com


Women authors and reviewers continue to face gender bias.

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The Golem and the Jinni book cover

“The Golem and the Jinni is recommended to adults who enjoy a good story and have a childlike sense of make-believe.”

My review of The Golem and the Jinni | New York Journal of Books. Also see additional remarks in my examiner.com article:

People of all ages enjoy fairytales and the folk tales. Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni, published today by New York publisher HarperCollins, combines several fiction genres in a work that feels like a fairytale. In my New York Journal of books review of the novel I describe the book as "a fairy tale for grown ups that combines historical fiction and paranormal fantasy in a novel of ideas that is also a tearful love story and a suspenseful page-turner."


Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni
Cozy Little Book Journal


The folklore underlying the book is both Eastern European Jewish and Levantine Arab in origin. Jewish folk tales are fun reads, but in most of them you won't learn much about Judaism. The same is true of this novel. In interviews Ms. Wecker has admitted that her knowledge of Judaism is by and large limited to what she learned as a child in Hebrew school.

The first of the two title characters is created by a corrupt kabbalist. Here Ms. Wecker is taking poetic license. Traditional Judaism has its share of magic and superstition, but the magic is supposed to be white magic. In theory a corrupt kabbalist would be an ineffective one, since the efficacy of the magic depends on the purity of the practitioner's intent as well as on his or her strict ritual observance, but from a Jungian perspective we all have a shadow side to our psyches, and anyway, this is a book whose premise demands multiple suspensions of disbelief.

As in most love stories boy meets girl, they get to know each other noting similarities and differences, they break up, and a dramatic crisis reminds them of their feelings for each other and brings them back together. To find out how that basic scenario plays out in detail for the novel's supernatural title characters you'll have to read the book.

In addition to the title characters the book has a strong cast of supporting characters including the title characters' human mentors, protectors, and co-workers, and people in Eastern Europe and the Levant who figure in the backstories prior to the title characters' immigration to late 19th Century New York.

Ms. Wecker wrote The Golem and the Jinni as an attempt to combine the folklores of her Jewish ancestors and of her Arab-American husband's ancestors and to imagine a time and place where Jews and Arabs lived in peace as neighbors. But the historical reality in turn of the previous century New York was that the Jewish immigrants of the Lower East Side and the Arab immigrants of the Lower West Side rarely crossed paths. It is also worth noting that turn of the previous century Levantine Jewish immigrants chose to live among their European co-religionists on the Lower East Side rather than among their former neighbors from the old country in Little Syria.

In my New York Journal of Books review I recommend The Golem and the Jinni "to adults who enjoy a good story and have a childlike sense of make-believe." This novel would make a terrific HBO original series combining the supernatural elements of True Blood and Game of Thrones with the historical authenticity of Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood, John Adams,and Rome.


Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni
Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni
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The Retrospective book cover

My review of A.B. Yehoshua's new novel The Retrospective. Also see my examiner.com article:

A.B. Yehoshua's new novel The Retrospectiveis a book I enjoyed reading while I was reading it but one that left me somewhat disappointed afterward. In my New York Journal of books review I explore the novel's multiple allegories and describe it as "a quick and easy read" despite its layers of meaning. My use of the phrase "quick and easy" may have something to do with the fact that I read The Retrospectiveshortly after reading William Gass' comparatively difficult novel Middle C. I actually prefer dense prose and more challenging use of language, but Mr. Yehoshua's naturalistic dialogue as well as his use of symbolism and allegory kept me engaged.

The Retrospective is an autobiographical novel in which cinema stands in for fiction and a film director represents the novelist. Indeed the director attends a retrospective of his early films and receives a prize in Santiago de Compostela, the same Spanish city where his author was awarded a literature prize. The novel's Hebrew title can be translated as Spanish Charity and its central image is Roman Charity, a story of a daughter who breast feeds her starving father depicted in numerous Renaissance paintings. Pardon the pun, but Mr. Yehoshua milks the image for all the symbolic and allegorical meaning it can yield. See my New York Journal of Books review for a fuller discussion of those allegories.


“Caritas Romana,” by Matthias Meyvogel
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via examiner.com:

Next month will mark the 40th anniversary of the publication of Cruelty, the first of eightbooks of poetry by the poet whose pen name and legal middle name was Ai and the third anniversary of her death from breast cancer at age 62. Today W.W. Norton is publishing all eight of her poetry books in one volume as The Collected Poems of Ai. In my review of the book in New York Journal of Books I note that at a time when most American poetry was autobiographical Ai wrote dramatic monologues in other people's voices.




The Collected Poems of Ai book cover
New York Journal of Books


In his introduction to the book poet Yusef Komunyakaacompares Ai's dramatic approach to that of a method actor. Another analogy for the way Ai inhabited other people's voices and roles would be the one woman shows of Anna Deavere Smith.

Ai's poems are not to everyone's taste. If you prefer the Rolling Stones to the Beatles, Howling Wolf to Muddy Waters, the gritty realism (including graphic violence and strong sexual content) of HBO's Sunday night original series to PBS' British dramas you'll probably enjoy Ai's poetry; if not, stay with safer, tamer, less edgy poets. But even if you're fond of her poems you'll probably want to pace yourself at just a few at a time because of their frequent and brutal violence.

Ai is drawn to the shocking and perverse. She quotes the Rolling Stone's song "Gimme Shelter" in her poem"The Mortician's Twelve-Year-Old Son," a poem whose depiction of necrophilia one could imagine dramatized on HBO. In my NYJB review I quote "The Kid" as an example of graphic violence in Ai's work. In "Knockout" Mike Tyson’s rape of Desiree Washington is discussed by an inner city sex worker who has no empathy for Ms. Washington. In “Why Can’t I Leave You?” Ai addresses marriage and sexuality in the context of rural poverty from the wife's perspective.

Quite a few of Ai's poems are in the voices of villains. She lets the bad guy tell his side of the story and in so doing he incriminates himself. "The Good Shepherd: Atlanta, 1981" is in the voice of a serial killer (see video). In "Kristallnacht," a four part six and a half page poem, the speaker is a half French half German former Nazi collaborator. The poem's final couplet is haunting: "Pretend I died for nothing/instead of living for it."

In “Life Story,” another six and a half page poem, the speaker is a Roman Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse, and in “Family Portrait, 1960” the speaker is the poet’s step-father whom her bed-ridden mother asks to supervise eleven year old Florence and her seven year old half sister Roslynn as they shower instructing them to “scrub your little pussies.”

History is a recurring theme in Ai's work with poems in the voices of Leon Trotsky, J. Robert Oppenheim, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Jimmy Hoffa, J. Edgar Hoover, Fidel Castro, Presidents Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Clinton and George W. Bush, among others as well as lesser known figures. Ezra Pound defined an epic as a "poem including history." The Collected Poems of Ai is an everyman and woman's The Cantos for the late Twentieth and early Twenty-first Centuries.

Also see my NYJB review:
http://goo.gl/0IjEa

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J.K Rowling was famously rejected by a mighty 12 publishers before Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone was accepted by Bloomsbury - and even then only at the insistence of the chairman's eight-year-old daughter.

Judy Blume, Gertrude Stein and D.H Lawrence all got a lot of 'no's from publishers before any said yes.

But while some were chucked quietly in the publishers' bin of doom, others recieved an additional slap in the face in the form of some frankly hilarious criticism.

It probably wasn't fun to receive at the time, but now these writers have found their place on bookshelves worldwide, we imagine they quite enjoy reflecting on those publishers who got it embarrassingly wrong...

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According to the publishers who rejected them Sylvia Plath had no talent, and Borges was untranslatable. An editor who rejected Nabokov's Lolita wrote, "overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian...the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy." Replace "unsure" with "brilliant" and subtract the adverb "overwhelmingly" and the adjectives "hideous" and "improbable" and his comment would be not far from the mark and an argument for why it should have been published.

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Paper Conspiracies book cover
Paper Conspiracies book cover
New York Journal of Books

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Whattheysavedbookcover

What happens when a New York Jewish pack-rat daughter inherits her New York Jewish pack-rat father's belongings? She embarks on a Jewish genealogical search for her and her dad's long lost relatives. Nancy K. Miller's What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past, published today by University of Nebraska Press, is the story of that search, a story that focuses more on the process of the search than on its results. In my New York Journal of Books review I quote Ms. Miller, “Every new piece of information keeps me on the road to the ever-expanding possibility of the quest, a quest that in the end will still yield only partial knowledge—and will never give me, return to me, those past lives.” Ms. Miller, a retired CUNY Graduate Center English and Comparative Literature professor, is an appealing prose stylist, but because of its focus on the genalogical search process this book will mostly appeal to genealogy buffs in general and Jewish genealogy buffs in particular.

For more info: David Cooper

This article first appeared on the late Examiner.com

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an impressive list of the first occurrences of classic profanities in the magazine’s pages.


Also see: BONFIRE OF THE PROFANITIES



 

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Vaclavandlenacover

Today New York publisher The Dial Press, a division of Random House, releases Haley Tanner's debut novel Vaclav and Lena, a coming of age tale about Russian-Jewish immigrant children in Brooklyn. In my New York Journal of Books review I describe the book as "a tale of unconditional love; of attachment, separation, and reunion; and of trauma and healing." It's an engaging read that will appeal to teens, their parents, and anyone interested in the immigrant experience.

Ms. Tanner is a Brooklyn resident who got the idea for the story when she was a tutor whose students were Russian immigrant children not unlike the novel's title characters. For a view of more affluent, better educated suburban Russian-Jewish immigrants try The Cosmopolitans by Nadia Kalman.

For more info: David Cooper

via the late examiner.com

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When Canadian poet and novelist Leonard Cohen decided to become a singer/songwriter four and a half decades ago he moved to New York City to launch his new career. New York is mentioned in his songs "Chelsea Hotel" and "Famous Blue Raincoat." And today a New York publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, is publishing a selection of Cohen's poems and songs in its Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series, a series that includes some of the best loved English language poets. In my New York Journal of Books review of Leonard Cohen Poems and Songs I describe the small handsomely made volume as a likely gift book.

Cohen is an alumnus of Herzliah High School in Montreal. Jewish themes are found throughout his work in such songs as "Story of Isaac" and "Who by Fire" which is based on the Unetaneh Tokef high holiday prayer. He observes the Sabbath while on tour. Seeing his work on the page finds that Cohen spells the word God with a hyphen following Orthodox Jewish practice. He also spent five years living in a Zen Buddhist monastery, but he sees no contradiction with his Judaism. "Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I've practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief." (Source: 2009 NY Times article)






Leonard Cohen in 1988.
Leonard Cohen in 1988.
Wikipedia






Leonard Cohen Poems and Songs book cover
amazon.com    


Montreal's ubiquitous Catholicism has also influenced Cohen as he describes in his prose poem, "Montreal":

We who belong to this city have never left The Church. The Jews are in The Church as they are in the snow. . . . The Church has used the winter to break us and now that we are broken we are going to pull down your pride. The pride of Canada and the pride of Quebec, the pride of the left and the pride of the right, the pride of muscle and the pride of heart, the insane pride of your particular vision will swell and explode because you have all dared to think of killing people.

Leonard Cohen Poems and Songs includes some of the psalm like prose poems from his 1984 Book of Mercy. In my New York Journal of Books review I quote "All My Life":

All my life is broken unto you, and all my glory soiled unto you. Do not let the spark of my soul go out in the even sadness. Let me raise the brokenness to you, to the world where the breaking is for love. Do not let the words be mine, but change them into truth. With these lips instruct my heart, and let fall into the world what is broken in the world. Lift me up to the wrestling of faith. Do not leave me where the sparks go out, and the jokes are told in the dark, and the new things are called forth and appraised in the scale of the terror. Face me to the rays of love, O source of light, or face me to the majesty of your darkness, but not here, do not leave me here, where death is forgotten, and the new thing grins.

Starting today Leonard Cohen Poems and Songs is available at book stores and on-line book vendors.

For more info: David Cooper



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Now that another secular calendar year is beginning I would like to share my recommendations of Jewish fiction and poetry books published last year. This is not a "best of" list, merely a list of Jewish themed books published in 2010 that I have actually read and reviewed at my other writing gig as a book reviewer at New York Journal of Books.

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The following article is excerpted from the latest issue of n+1 magazine. This article is available online only in Slate.

‎"No one with 'literary' aspirations will expect to earn a living by publishing books; the glory days when publishers still waffled between patronage and commerce will be much lamented. The lit-lovers who used to become editors and agents will direct MFA programs instead; the book industry will become as rational—that is, as single-mindedly devoted to profit—as every other capitalist industry."

Will? Is it not to a considerable extent already so?

The author marks the boundaries of literary Brooklyn as DUMBO and Prospect Heights, but it is more accurate to draw its boundaries as a triangle that goes from Greenpoint in the northwest to Victorian Flatbush in the east to Red Hook in the southwest.

As a native New Yorker, Brooklynite, alumnus of a CCNY graduate creative writing program, poet/translator and fiction reviewer I am on the periphery of both literary cultures, and much of the article resonates with the ring of truth. However, in an era of government budget cuts I don't see MFA programs continuing to proliferate; indeed, they may prove vulnerable to the budget ax.

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