Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I've Been Tagged!!

I won a book worm award by my friend Marie at Boston Bibliophile. I also was asked to do my first meme. Sine this is a Jewish blog I am going to do only subjects that deal with Jewish books. The closest Jewish book to me is what I am reading now.
Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg. Turn to page 56,5th sentence:
When her turn comes she stands without difficulty, swallows her meds , chats with the nurse. Gently coaxingly the nurse suggests she try walking to her room on her own.
On hearing this, the woman's legs immediately turn to jelly and she slumps back into her wheelchair, her head in her hands in a gesture of sorrow so complete it seems to obey it's own natural law.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Who By Fire Interview

Diana Spechler is the author of the novel Who By Fire (Harper Perennial.) Her fiction has appeared in such publications as Glimmer Train, Greensboro Review, and Moment. She has taught at the University of Montana and the Interlochen Center for the Arts. She holds a BA from the University of Colorado and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana.

It catches you right from the start and grabs you and doesn't let go.
I don't call this a Jewish book. But it is written of course by a Jewish author.
The book deals with issues that could and probably has happened to many families that are Jewish or not.
Family problems, the mother, sister, and brother don't know how to communicate with one another and guilt, and guilt, and guilt, and there is plenty of that to go around.
That is what Jews are famous for. They all deal with the crisis differently. The book does deal with the Intifada, and the brother running off to Israel and becomes a B'al Teshuva( religious Jew), and cuts himself off from his family. I just loved the characters, How each family member deals with their sister's disapearance and their father leaving the family. It was a very good read.
I have been waiting for a novel by a author to touch and talk about the situation in Israel. I thought it was interesting how Diana made the narrative into alternate voices through out the book instead of a straight narrative. I think it was quite effective. I don't think the book would have had the impact it did on me if it was a straight narrative.

I would like to thank Diana for stopping by and chatting with me during her busy book tour. This happens to be Jewish Book Month, when we find out what Jewish Books are flying off the shelves.

How did you come to write Who By Fire? Were there events in your life that led you to write it?

When I was a grad student, I wrote a short story about two of the protagonists, Bits and Ash, who are brother and sister. Bits lives in Boston and Ash lives in Jerusalem, learning at a yeshiva. At the beginning of the story, Bits learns of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem and wants to know if Ash is okay. She keeps calling him, but he never responds. The story, which I titled Close To Lebanon, ends without resolution. A few months after I finished Close To Lebanon, it was the tense plot and the fictional family, rather than my own family or events from my own life, that wound up haunting me enough to expand the story into a novel.

Do you consider yourself a Jewish writer?
I am Jewish and I am a writer, but not everything I write is about Judaism. At the moment, people refer to me as a Jewish writer because of the themes and the setting of Who By Fire. Truly, that’s an honor. There are so many amazing Jewish writers.

What makes a Jewish novel?

I think that classification is somewhat subjective. If I write a novel that has nothing to do with Judaism, it will still be a Jewish novel, because Judaism is transmitted through the mother, and I am, after all a woman. (Yes, I’m joking. Kind of.)

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yup. I was writing stories as soon as I could pick up a pen. My mother has a twenty-four page story I wrote when I was seven years old. It’s called Shana and The Magic Quilt. It is a masterpiece.

Is there a certain Jewish author you look up to?
I love a lot of Jewish authors. Two of my favorite Jewish novels are The Ladies’ Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.

Is there a secular author you look up to?

Only about a million of them. Jeffrey Eugenides is one of my favorites because of his novel Middlesex.

Was there an author, Jewish or not, who advised you along the way? Did you take his or her advice?

When I was a graduate student, I got a lot of great advice from my teachers, who were, of course, writers themselves. I remember the author Colum McCann visiting my MFA program and talking about pushing through writer’s block. He said that if you’re writing a story and it gets out of control, it’s up to you to wrestle it into submission. After all, you created it. That’s pretty empowering advice.

For my non-Jewish readers, can you talk about your experience with yeshivas?

When I was researching yeshiva life, I contacted a lot of men’s yeshivas in Jerusalem. I told them I was coming to do research for a novel and I was hoping to take a tour and ask some questions. Most declined or didn’t respond, which is understandable. For one thing, yeshivas are a place for men to learn about Judaism. They didn’t need a woman staring at them and writing about them in a notebook. For another thing, some were worried that I was writing about Orthodox Judaism to make fun of it. Of course, I wasn’t, but I had trouble convincing most people of that. A couple of yeshivas did let me in, which helped me to better imagine yeshiva life and make Ash’s chapters (which are set in a yeshiva in Jerusalem) more authentic.

Were you able to draw on your own knowledge of Judaism, or did you have to do research?

I did a lot of research. Of course, from growing up Jewish, I knew some things, but while I was working on Who By Fire, I did a lot of reading and I asked a lot of questions. I made frequent use of the website

Since your brother has become a B'al Teshuvah, has your relationship with him changed?

My relationship with my brother never changed. We’ve always been very close. He’s the best.

What is it like to be in Israel as an American?

I certainly can’t speak for all Americans, but I’ve had fabulous experiences in Israel. Once, in college, I spent a whole semester there, studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. (I use the word “studying” loosely.) Those months were some of the best of my life.

Are you surprised by how many non-Jewish readers are reading Who By Fire?

I’m not surprised. The novel is set partly in Israel and the characters are Jews, but the themes are universal. It’s a story about guilt and rescue. Those are not exclusively Jewish concepts.

What kind of responses, favorable or otherwise, are you getting to the book?

So far, the reviewers have been very kind. (Should I knock on wood now?)

Why the title, Who By Fire?

A lot of people ask me if the title comes from the Leonard Cohen song, but in fact, Leonard Cohen and I seem to have had the same inspiration: the Yom Kippur prayer that lists the ways one might die in the coming year if he hasn’t made it into the Book of Life.

Is there something you want readers to get out of this book?

Of all the reactions I get to the book, the two most gratifying are, “I couldn’t put it down,” and “I’ve never been to Israel, but after reading your book, I want to go.” I hope more readers will pay me those two compliments!

Are the events in the novel autobiographical or did you make them up?

I made them up. That’s the fun part of writing fiction. I write some non-fiction, too, but I always prefer imagining people who aren’t real doing things that I would never do.

Is there a message in the book?

I hope there are subliminal messages on every page, seeping into the reader’s unconscious, encouraging them to send me presents. Other than that, no, I don’t think there’s a message.

Are you observant or secular?

I’m pretty secular at this point in my life, but I’m open. I’m interested in every type of observance and every type of non-observance. Judaism fascinates me. Religion in general fascinates me. It’s all beautiful. Even Jews who ignore Judaism have beautiful stories to tell about their reasons for living how they live.

What kind of reaction have you had from observant Jews?
I was so worried that even after all my research, my depiction of yeshiva life would sound inauthentic. I haven’t heard that yet, though. The feedback has all been pretty positive, from observant Jews, secular Jews, and non-Jews.

Has your family read the book? What was their response?
They loved it! After all, it’s dedicated to them.

Are you writing now?
It’s hard to write while I’m on book tour, but the novel I have in the works is a story of transformation through loss set at a weight-loss camp for children in North Carolina. I’m not sure yet about a title for it; it’s still in its infancy.

I am reading the book and loving it. The family around which the book is centered happens to be Jewish, but it’s a story that could happen to any family. Do you agree or disagree?
I definitely agree. Family dysfunction does not discriminate based on race, color, creed, religion, etc.

Thank you for stopping by!! Good luck on your new book Who By Fire.
Can't wait to read the next one. If you would like to contact Diana and let her know what you thought of the book you can visit her website. Also visit book blog talk radio on November 20th where book club girl is hosting her monthly author radio program.
I would also like to thank Book Club Girl for all her help.
Thank You So Much You Are The BEST!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Giveaway

Hi I found this on the Jewish Challenge blog.
I decided to post here. You can read my post and then enter the contest.
But you must first post about the contest on your blog.
Here's mine. Book Give-Away
New Podcast

Author talks, lectures on Jewish literature, panel discussions, and workshops are among the offerings of the newly launched Association of Jewish Libraries Podcast. Available at, the program provides audio that enhances and enriches the listener's appreciation of Jewish book culture.

The podcast will include material recorded at the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention, as well as recordings of Jewish literary events across North America. A wide range of topics will be covered, from the academic to the hands-on, from children's literature to technology.

"Jews are book lovers, and Jewish librarians even more so," says Susan Dubin, President of the Association of Jewish Libraries. "The AJL Podcast gives us a way to share our enthusiasm with others, without geographical or scheduling restrictions. Now everyone can learn and enjoy!"

How to Listen
New podcast episodes will be posted every few weeks. Listeners can hear the show online at, subscribe via iTunes or other feed readers (using the feed, receive episodes by email via FeedBlitz, or listen by phone at (651) 925-2538.

Book Give-Away
To celebrate the launch of the podcast, AJL is offering a Jewish book give-away. Forward this press release or post its contents on a blog or web page to be entered into a drawing for five Jewish interest books from Hachette Book Group. Be sure to CC on any forwarded messages or to email us about any posts. Complete contest rules and information about the give-away titles can be seen at - click on the Contest page in the sidebar. Deadline for entry is December 12, 2008.

For more information, contact AJL Public Relations Chair Heidi Estrin at

About the Association of Jewish Libraries
The Association of Jewish Libraries promotes Jewish literacy through enhancement of libraries and library resources and through leadership for the profession and practitioners of Judaica librarianship. AJL fosters access to information, learning, teaching and research relating to Jews, Judaism, the Jewish experience and Israel.

People of the Book

In January at the sisterhood meeting in Temple Emanu-El.
Rabbi Debbie will be talking about People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.
There is maps, book discussion questions and lots more info. on the background of the book.
The book synopsis is from Geraldine Brooks website.

Available now, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, an intricate, ambitious novel that traces the journey of a rare illuminated Hebrew manuscript from convivencia Spain to the ruins of Sarajevo, from the Silver Age of Venice to the sunburned rock faces of northern Australia.

Inspired by the true story of a mysterious codex known as the Sarajevo Haggadah, People of the Book is a sweeping adventure through five centuries of history. From its creation in Muslim-ruled, medieval Spain, the illuminated manuscript makes a series of perilous journeys: through Inquisition-era Venice, fin-de-siecle Vienna, and the Nazi sacking of Sarajevo.

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed manuscript, which has been rescued once again from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with figurative paintings. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding—an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair—she becomes determined to unlock the book’s mysteries. As she seeks the counsel of scientists and specialists, the reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its creation to its salvation.

In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of Vienna in 1894, the book becomes a pawn in an emerging contest between the city’s cultured cosmopolitanism and its rising anti-Semitism. In Venice in 1609, a Catholic priest saves it from Inquisition book burnings. In Tarragona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text has his family destroyed amid the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah’s extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I wanted to let my readers of Jewish Rantings know that Diana agreed (enthusiastically) to give us a visit soon on Jewish Rantings. You will have to stop by frequently. As she is so busy right now on her book tour. This month is also Jewish Book Month when all the Synagogues, and Jewish Community Centers have Jewish Book Festivals. I am sure that will keep her very busy.
Remember to visit Blog Talk Radio on November 20th to listen to the radio broadcast.
You can also send in your questions to Jennifer Hart before the broadcast.
The article below is from the Jewish Week. It was written Oct 30th.

Spechler’s novel is set during the second intifada. “I wanted to explore the feelings we get as Jews, upon hearing about a suicide bombing,” she says.

by Sandee Brawarsky
Jewish Week Book Critic
Diane Spechler had the title of her first novel long before she knew how the story would turn out. She was delving into themes of guilt, atonement, faith and redemption, and knew that the lines from the Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur liturgy, “who by fire,” would be fitting. Some have asked the 29-year-old author if the title was inspired by Leonard Cohen’s song of the same name, but it’s more likely that he drew from the same source she did.
“Who By Fire” (Harper Perennial) is a compelling and original novel, told in three alternating voices: a sister, brother and their mother, whose storylines are entangled. It’s a tale of the complex pull of family, with a chain of incidents set off in
Israel and America when the characters assume they know what’s best for one another.
The disappearance of the youngest child, Alena, 13 years earlier haunts the characters’ lives. The father has left them, the mother grieves as she fosters guilt and blame, the older sister uses sex to numb her pain and confusion, and the son goes through a series of obsessions, ultimately finding solace and meaning in Orthodox Judaism. To the horror of his mother and dismay of his sister, he drops out of college and moves to Jerusalem to enroll in an Orthodox yeshiva.
Set in 2002, during the second intifada, the novel opens as Bits is on a flight to Israel to rescue her brother. Ellie, the mother, is drawn to a charismatic man who convinces her that her son has been brainwashed and, as she gets more involved with him, “her heart is constricting like a question mark.” And Ash, now known as Asher, is at peace, happier than he’s ever been, as he’s learning in a yeshiva for young men who’ve grown up religious along with ba’alei teshuvah, newly religious young men like himself.
Spechler, in well-crafted prose, manages to make all three quite likeable. She captures the daily drama of their lives, the humor too, as they take actions unknown to one another. Each one, and particularly Ash in his yeshiva, has deeply-felt conversations about faith, God and observance.
Toward the end, all three reflect on what happens “when you try to rescue someone.” As Bits realizes, “you find out you’re the one who needs rescuing.” Her mother notes, “You can forget your priorities; you can even forget your children. You forget all about the person you’re rescuing.” And Ash thinks, “This is what happens when you try to rescue someone. There is embarrassing, ineffectual melodrama, like a fire truck blaring sirens, speeding toward a cat in a tree.”
Ultimately, the novel takes a hopeful turn and, as Spechler points out in an interview in a Manhattan cafe, ends with the word “light.” While Alena’s disappearance is always present, this is not a dark tale. The author says she is grateful that she has no such tragedy in her own family’s story, but says the themes and emotions of the novel are indeed autobiographical.
Spechler, who grew up in Newton, Mass., graduated from the University of Colorado and spent a semester at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After completing a graduate writing program in Montana, she lived in Texas, Wyoming, California, Rhode Island and Michigan, before moving to New York City, where she now lives in the East Village. She has attended writers’ workshops, taught writing to yeshiva girls and fashion students, and tended bar, all while writing.
“In everything I do,” she says, “I make writing the centerpiece.”
The novel has its origins in a story Spechler wrote while in graduate school, as part of her thesis. That story was about a sister in America and brother in Israel, written from the sister’s perspective.
“I wanted to explore the feelings we get as Jews, upon hearing about a suicide bombing. You can’t explain how bad it feels, and, at the same time, there’s a disconnect.”
She kept thinking about the story, as it was so unresolved and disturbing, and wondered about the brother’s side of the story and about the family she had created. At a writer’s colony in Minnesota, she began writing from his perspective, and realized that this was a long piece rather than a short story. Later on, she added the mother’s perspective too.
Spechler grew up with weekly Shabbat dinners, Jewish summer camps, attendance at a Reform synagogue and a high school summer in Israel — “one of those trips where a bunch of American teenagers in the same T-shirts ride around on a bus.” She says that the Orthodox yeshiva world was one she didn’t know existed.
While at Hebrew University, she first learned about Orthodox Judaism and “flirted big time with becoming more Orthodox.”
“When I was there, I was swept up in that,” she recalls, explaining that she studied with a learning partner a couple of times per week, began keeping kosher and said morning prayers.
She says that some of the appeal was that the world of Orthodox Judaism seemed a tight community, and that you couldn’t possibly understand it unless you were in it — just as one can’t really understand the inner workings of any family unless one is part of it.
“When I got home, a lot of it faded. I thought — and I still think — that if you really believe in it, then how could you not to do everything according to letter of the law? My struggle is that I have too many questions to live a life that screams, ‘I have answers.’ I have many more questions than answers.”
Some passages read like overheard conversations between religious and secular Jews, and Spechler admits that those are drawn from conversations with herself. As she explains, “I was at war with myself. I was on both sides of the fence for a very long time.”
When asked if she still struggles, she answers, “Yes and no. I think I was really searching for a long time. The novel gave me a context to be acceptably obsessive with the questions, to explore them to the core. I take on obsessions all the time when I’m writing and when I finish the project, I unburden myself of the obsession. Now, I’m more at peace with having questions that don’t have answers.”
She did a lot of research in her quest to get the details just right. In 2004, she returned to Israel and spent time in the few yeshivas that welcomed her presence. One yeshiva student became her correspondent and supplied answers to her many questions, and she also learned a lot from the Web site
“I’m writing about issues that really concern me, about the conflict between secular and religious Jews,” she says. “I feel like an observer of the way people practice Judaism. I don’t have a judgment. I’m not trying to make point.”
In what might be a coincidence, after she had been working on the novel for a year, she learned that her own brother had decided, while in Israel for a summer before law school, to become an Orthodox Jew. She points out that her brother, who only knew vaguely what she was working on, is nothing like Ash. He is now back in Austin, Texas, where he continues to lead an observant life.
“The happiest feedback I’ve gotten,” she says, “is from people who are not Jewish or don’t know anything about Israel or Judaism, who tell me that this book makes them want to go to Israel. That feels like a great accomplishment.” n *
Imagination Designs
Images from the Glamor Amour by Irene Alexeeva