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GRG Recap - LGBT History Month

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 2:22pm
The next Genre Reading Group meeting will be Tuesday, July 29th at 6:30pm in the Library's conference room and the topic of discussion will be travel, vacations, and national parks!  Read, watch, and/or listen to anything within that topic range and come tell us about it!

Last week, we met for a discussion of books and films about LGBT History month.  GRG members brought in a great diversity of material to talk about and I'm excited to share it with you here!

American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics by Dan Savage
(Powell's) On the heels of his Emmy-winning It Gets Better campaign, columnist and provocateur Dan Savage weighs in on such diverse issues as healthcare, gun control, and marriage equality with characteristic straight talk and humor.

Dan Savage has always had a loyal audience, thanks to his syndicated sex-advice column “Savage Love,” but since the incredible global success of his It Gets Better project — his book of the same name was a New York Times bestseller — his profile has skyrocketed. In addition, he's written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Onion, GQ, The Guardian,, and countless other widely read publications. Savage is recognized as someone whose opinions about our culture, politics, and society should not only be listened to but taken seriously.  Now, in American Savage, he writes on topics ranging from marriage, parenting, and the gay agenda to the Catholic Church and sex education.

Jacob's New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case
(Powell's) Jacob loves playing dress-up, when he can be anything he wants to be. Some kids at school say he can't wear "girl" clothes, but Jacob wants to wear a dress to school. Can he convince his parents to let him wear what he wants? This heartwarming story speaks to the unique challenges faced by boys who don't identify with traditional gender roles.

Totally Joe by James Howe
(Powell's) Meet Joe Bunch. Lovable misfit and celebrity wannabe from Paintbrush Falls, New York. Like his longtime best friends Addie, Skeezie, and Bobby, Joe's been called names all his life. So when he's given the assignment to write his alphabiography — the story of his life from A to Z — Joe has his doubts. This whole thing could be serious ammunition for bullying if it falls into the wrong hands.

But Joe discovers there's more to the assignment — and his life — than meets the eye. Especially when he gets to the letter C, which stands for Colin Briggs, the coolest guy in the seventh grade (seriously) — and Joe's secret boyfriend.  By the time Joe gets to the letter Z, he's pretty much bared his soul about everything. And Joe's okay with that because he likes who he is. He's Totally Joe, and that's the best thing for him to be.
Here is an exuberant, funny, totally original story of one boy's coming out — and coming-of-age.

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles
(Powell's) Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when shes not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesnt know hes gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then theres Charlie: three years old, a "surprise" baby, the center of everyones world. Hes devoted to Fern, but he's annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasnt for Ran, Ferns calm and positive best friend, thered be nowhere to turn. Ran's mantra, "All will be well," is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe its true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: A reader made mention of a great online resource for children's books, The Cooperative Children's Book Center (  In their archives she found a great list of LGBTQ literature for children and teens.  You must be a member to access the archives but, if you are interested, that seems as easy as providing your email address and making up a password.

Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets by Lars Eighner
(Powell's) When Travels with Lizbeth was first published in 1993, it was proclaimed an instant classic. Lars Eighners account of his descent into homelessness and his adventures on the streets has moved, charmed, and amused generations of readers. As Lars wrote, “When I began writing this account I was living under a shower curtain in a stand of bamboo in a public park. I did not undertake to write about homelessness, but wrote what I knew, as an artist paints a still life, not because he is especially fond of fruit, but because the subject is readily at hand.”

Containing the widely anthologized essay “On Dumpster Diving,” Travels with Lizbeth is a beautifully written account of one man's experience of homelessness, a story of physical survival, and the triumph of the artistic spirit in the face of enormous adversity. In his unique voice; dry, disciplined, poignant, comic; Eighner celebrates the companionship of his dog, Lizbeth, and recounts their ongoing struggle to survive on the streets of Austin, Texas, and hitchhiking along the highways to Southern California and back.

The Gay 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present by Paul Russell
(Powell's) At once uplifting and heart-wrenching, these 100 portraits capture the real people behind the legends and affirm that gay men and lesbians have been an integral part of history from ancient times through the present day--ensuring that those who will follow in their footsteps face a future that is brighter than ever before. 100 photos.

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World by R. B. Parkinson
(Powell's) "Through meticulous research and compassionate narration, British Museum curator Parkinson (Voices from Ancient Egypt) brings to light a collection of art objects from the British Museum's collection that illustrate same-sex desire, many of which had previously been censored or concealed from historians. These 40 objects come from various civilizations and eras, some being clear-cut examples of same-sex love, such as Grecian urns decorated with homoerotic scenes, the poetry of Sappho, and the Roman Emperor Hadrian's well-documented affair with the young Antinous. Other pieces are more ambiguous: artistic renderings that suggest love between Samurai warriors; an Ancient Egyptian tomb that may have been made for a same-sex couple; and Shakespearean sonnets that allude to 'bisexual' relationships. The book also includes brief, captivating profiles of gay and lesbian artists, including the sculptors Hedwig Marquardt and Augusta Kaiser, and novelist Virginia Woolf. The long history of intolerance is interwoven through the artwork as well, and while facts surrounding the persecution and execution of 'sodomites' are unsettling, the book is not overtly political. Parkinson successfully shows that same-sex love and desire are an integral part of human history: 'On a long view, no one occupies the centre. It belongs to all of us.' 80 color photos. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer
(Powell's) A searing drama about public and private indifference to the AIDS plague and one man's lonely fight to awaken the world to the crisis. Produced to acclaim in New York, London and Los Angeles, The Normal Heart follows Ned Weeks, a gay activist enraged at the indifference of public officials and the gay community. While trying to save the world from itself, he confronts the personal toll of AIDS when his lover dies of the disease.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
(Powell's) The Picture of Dorian Gray was a succès de scandale. Early readers were shocked by its hints at unspeakable sins and the book was later used as evidence against Wilde at the Old Bailey in 1895.
Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray makes a Faustian bargain to sell his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, where he is able to indulge his desires while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only Dorian's picture bears the traces of his decadence.  A knowing account of a secret life and an analysis of the darker side of late Victorian society, The Picture of Dorian Gray offers a disturbing portrait of an individual coming face to face with the reality of his soul.

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selena Hastings
(Powell's) He was a brilliant teller of tales, one of the most widely read authors of the twentieth century, and at one time the most famous writer in the world, yet W. Somerset Maugham’s own true story has never been fully told. At last, the fascinating truth is revealed in a landmark biography by the award-winning writer Selina Hastings. Granted unprecedented access to Maugham’s personal correspondence and to newly uncovered interviews with his only child, Hastings portrays the secret loves, betrayals, integrity, and passion that inspired Maugham to create such classics as The Razor’s Edge and Of Human Bondage.

Hastings vividly presents Maugham’s lonely childhood spent with unloving relatives after the death of his parents, a trauma that resulted in shyness, a stammer, and for the rest of his life an urgent need for physical tenderness. Here, too, are his adult triumphs on the stage and page, works that allowed him a glittering social life in which he befriended and sometimes fell out with such luminaries as Dorothy Parker, Charlie Chaplin, D. H. Lawrence, and Winston Churchill.

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham portrays in full for the first time Maugham’s disastrous marriage to Syrie Wellcome, a manipulative society woman of dubious morality who trapped Maugham with a pregnancy and an attempted suicide. Hastings also explores Maugham’s many affairs with men, including his great love, Gerald Haxton, an alcoholic charmer and a cad. Maugham’s courageous work in secret intelligence during two world wars is described in fascinating detail—experiences that provided the inspiration for the groundbreaking Ashenden stories. From the West End to Broadway, from China to the South Pacific, Maugham’s restless and remarkably productive life is thrillingly recounted as Hastings uncovers the real stories behind such classics as “Rain,” The Painted Veil, Cakes & Ale, and other well-known tales.
An epic biography of a hugely talented and hugely conflicted man, The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham is the definitive account of Maugham’s extraordinary life.

The Marriage Act: The Risk I Took to Keep My Best Friend in America, and What It Taught Us about Love by Liza Monroy
(Powell's) After her traditional engagement to her high school sweetheart falls apart, Liza Monroy faced the prospect of another devastating loss: the deportation of her best friend Emir. Desperate to stay in America, Emir tried every legal recourse to obtain a green card knowing that his return to the Middle East — where gay men are often beaten and sometimes killed — was too dangerous. So Liza proposes to Emir in efforts to keep him safe and by her side. After a fast wedding in Las Vegas, the couple faces new adventures and obstacles in both L.A. and New York City as they dodge the INS. Their relationship is compounded further by the fact that Liza's mother works for the State Department preventing immigration fraud. Through it all, Liza and Emir must contend with professional ambition, adversity, and heartbreak and eventually learn the true lessons of companionship and devotion. This marriage that was not a marriage, in the end, really was.
The Marriage Act is a timely and topical look at the changing face of marriage in America and speaks to the emergent generation forming bonds outside of tradition — and sometimes even outside the law.

The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient World by James Davidson
(Amazon) For nearly two thousand years, historians have treated the subject of homosexuality in ancient Greece with apology, embarrassment, or outright denial. Now classics scholar James Davidson offers a brilliant, unblushing exploration of the passion that permeated Greek civilization. Using homosexuality as a lens, Davidson sheds new light on every aspect of Greek culture, from politics and religion to art and war. With stunning erudition and irresistible wit–and without moral judgment–Davidson has written the first major examination of homosexuality in ancient Greece since the dawn of the modern gay rights movement.

Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets translated and annotated by Willis Barnstone
(Barnes & Noble) Willis Barnstone has augmented his widely used anthology of the Greek lyric poets with eleven newly attributed Sappho poems, making this the most complete offering of Sappho in English. Two new sections -- "Sources and Notes" and "Sappho: Her Life and Poems" -- provide the student with the classical sources and an appraisal of this greatest of Western women poets.

Barnstone's lucid, elegant translations include a representative sampling of all the significant Greek lyric poets, from Archilochus, in the seventh century B.C., through Pindar ("prince of choral poets") and the other great singers of the classical age, down to the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods. William McCulloh's introduction illuminates the forms and development of the Greek lyric. Barnstone introduces each poet with a brief biographical and literary sketch. The critical apparatus includes a glossary, index, bibliography, and concordance.  (The reader focused on Sappho's life from a poetic and prose perspective instead of a biographical perspective)

The Kids Are All Right (2010 feature film)
(IMDB) Nic and Jules are in a long term, committed, loving but by no means perfect relationship. They have two teen-aged children, Joni and Laser, Nic who is Joni's biological mother, and Jules who is Laser's biological mother. Although not exact replicas, each offspring does more closely resemble his/her biological mother in temperament. Joni and Laser are also half-siblings, having the same unknown sperm donor father. Shortly after Joni's eighteenth birthday and shortly before she plans to leave the house and head off to college, Laser, only fifteen and underage to do so, pleads with her to try and contact their sperm donor father.

The Codes of Hammurabi and Moses: With Copious Comments, Index, and Bible References by W. W. Davies
(Powell's) The discovery of the Hammurabi Code is one of the greatest achievements of archaeology, and is of paramount interest, not only to the student of the Bible, but also to all those interested in ancient history. (The reader focused on one of the first written documentations of lesbians (called "daughter-men" in the text) having equal rights as men; well before the Old Testament was codified.)

"Hir," a poem about transgendered youth (Youtube,

Boy Meets Girl, transgender comedy with filmmaker Eric Schaeffer (Youtube,  Boy Meets Girl is a very poignant, human, sexy, romantic coming of age comedy about three twenty year-olds living in Kentucky: A boy, his best friend, a transgender girl, and the debutante they strike up a friendship with. It is sex/human positive and identification with it's story crosses all gender, race and sexual orientation lines. [Unreleased so far.]  Lead actress, Chelle Hendley's YouTube channel,

What are YOU reading?

April was National Poetry Month

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 2:51pm
Since last month’s severe weather spoiled our poetry fun, we’re phoning it in!   …or rather, emailing it in.  April’s Genre Reading Group (GRG) meeting to discuss books related to National Poetry Month was canceled but the members were still eager to share what they’d read so they emailed it to me.  Ah, technology!  I remember life before email and Google, but I don’t know what I did there.
One GRG’er shared a poem her father would occasionally recite:
“The boy stood on the burning deck/ Eating peanuts by the peck;/ His father called, he would not go/ Because he loved those peanuts so.”
In her investigation of the poem, she discovered it is a parody of a poem called “Casabianca” (1826) by Felicia Dorothea Hemans.  “Casabianca” was based on The Battle of the Nile which took place on July 28, 1798.  The poem was popular in schools up through the 50’s and the parody quoted above is only one of many that were made.  She found it in Oh, How Silly edited by William Cole.
Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) was an American poet.  He taught at the University of Washington near the end of his teaching career and the college named a hall after him.  The GRG member attended classes there and also remembers seeing a film of him reading his own work.  He did both serious and light poems, including this one titled “The Donkey.” 
“I had a donkey, that was all right,/ But he always wanted to fly my kite;/ Every time I let him, the string would bust./ Your donkey is better behaved, I trust.”
She also read a few from famed children’s author (and Homewood, AL resident!) Charles Ghigna.  He has published A LOT of fun books, including Good Cats, Bad Cats and Good Dogs and also used to publish “Snickers,” clever, limerick-like 4-line poems, in different newspapers and magazines.
She also perused The Kingfisher Book of Family Poems selected by Belinda Hollyer, Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees: School Poems edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, and American’s Favorite Poems: The Favorite Poem Project Anthology edited by Robert Pinsky.
Our next GRG’er started off in Egypt’s Middle Kingdom with The Shipwrecked Sailor: An Egyptian Tale with Hieroglyphs retold and illustrated by Tamara Bower.This story is approximately from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (20th-19th Century B.C.E. - As old or older than the Epic of Gilgamesh.) It is based on a papyrus scroll of hieroglyphs and tells the story of a voyage near the Red Sea. A shipwrecked sailor that was part of the voyage meets a serpent on the Island of Soul and becomes good friends with this serpent. As soon as the sailor is rescued the serpent tells the sailor to remember him in his memory as the island will no longer be there. The sailor returns home with riches from the Island of Soul and gains favor with the Pharaoh at that time.
Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns: New Poems, Both Light and Dark by Ray Bradbury

“Why Viking Lander, Why The Planet Mars” - (Excerpts)[Why Mars? - Line 1Why Go to find the place?
The human race gives answer, finds a pause,
And, no, not just Because It's There,] - Line 4
[Why Mars? Why Viking Lander on its way? - Line 43
To landfill Time, give man Forever's Day...
Unlock doors of light-year grave
Fling wide the portal;] - Line 46
“The Young Galileo Speaks” (Excerpts)
[O Child, they said, avert your eyes. -Line 1
Avert my eyes? I Said, what, from wild skies] - Line 2
[Why, God minds me to be so. He put the bright sparks in - Line 14
my blood
Which spirit, lighten, flare and frighten me to love.] - Line 16
[What this boys knows and will forever know; - Line 23
The universe is Thronged with fire and light,] - Line 24
Marshall Davis Jones : "Touchscreen" (Please use a touchscreen device to watch for a more
visceral experience.)

Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets translated and annotated by Willis Barnstone
The complete extant poems and fragments of Sappho and a generous selection from other Greek lyric poets of antiquity.  Various Selections of Sappho's poems ranging from her husband, daughter, family, students, and especially her rivals which she dedicates a lot of poems to. 
Excerpts include:
Don't stir up the small
heaps of beach jetsam.
From all the offspring
of the earth and heaven
love is the most precious.
I have lost, and you, Andromeda,
have made an excellent exchange.
When dead you will lie forever forgotten,
for you have no claim to the Pierian roses.
Dim here, you will move more dimly in Hell,
flitting among the undistinguished dead.
Towering over all lands
is the singer of Lesbos.
It would be wrong for us. It is not right
for mourning to enter a home of poetry.
Our next GRG’er started off with 2001-2003 U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins and his collection, The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems.
The GRG member says, “perhaps the most accessible book of contemporary poetry I’ve read.”  Collins has often been compared to Robert Frost.  He worked with the Library of Congress to establish a poem-a-day reading program for American high schools called Poetry 180.  In addition to multiple print volumes, there is a DVD featuring interviews with and readings by Collins as well as a sound recording of a live performance with an introduction by his friend, Bill Murray.  His most recent published volume is Aimless Love which also has a sound recording by Collins.
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
“This is a delightful novel about an imagined love affair between poet Robert Lowell and Southern novelist Flannery O'Connor.  I was disappointed briefly to discover there was no more than a kernel of such romance in the actual published correspondence between the two, but I did enjoy reading samples from the Pulitzer Prize winning collection of O'Connor's letters, The Habit of Being.”
Another GRG’er read T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, upon which the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats was later based.
(Google Books) T.S. Eliot pays tribute to "Mr. Mistoffelees, " "The Run Tum Tugger, " "Macavity: The Mystery Cat, " and a variety of other cats in this engaging collection of humorous poems. Originally composed to amuse Mr. Eliot's intimate friends, to whom they were sent anonymously, these verses have proven irresistible to cat lovers, lovers of nonsense, and admirers of T.S. Eliot throughout the English-speaking world.
I myself fell in love with hearing the authors of poems read their own work in Poetry Speaks, Expanded: Hear Poets from Tennyson to Plath Read Their Own Work edited by Elise Paschen & Rebekah Presson Mosby and narrated by Charles Osgood.  They are not joking around.  One of the very first pieces you get to hear is of Alfred, Lord Tennyson reading “Charge of the Light Brigade,” from a late 1800’s wax phonograph cylinder recording, only a few short years after Edison invented that technology.  It’s hard to understand him but you can read along in the book.  I cannot even begin to tell you the insights to be gleaned from listening.  I did not think Langston Hughes would sound like that.  Who knew Dorothy Parker had such vicious little poems running around in her head?  Gwendoline Brooks had rhythm. It was easy to hear that Sylvia Plath was troubled. Robert Frost was quite the showman.  So many authors, so much insight to be gained from listening to them read the poems as they no doubt heard them IN THEIR OWN HEADS.  I remember taking a poetry analysis class in undergrad and writing paper after analytic paper and can only wish in retrospect that I had dug up a recording of the author reading.  I don’t know if it would have changed my analysis, but I can’t help but think so.  This book, lengthy though it may be, is SO worth your time!

Ekphrastia Gone Wild: Poems Inspired by Art edited by Rick Lupert
( Ekphrastia Gone Wild is an anthology of ekphrastic poetry – poetry inspired by other works of art (including painting, film, literature, photography and more) including work by Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska along with a roster of 87 poets from all over the world including Suzanne Lummis, Laurel Ann Bogen, Jerry Quickly, Brendan Constantine, Gerald Locklin, Robert Wynne and many more, edited by Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert.
May is Jewish American Heritage Month so that is the topic around which our discussion will range on Tuesday, May 27th at 6:30pm.  I'll hope to see you there!

May is Jewish American Heritage Month

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 2:41pm
We disucssed a variety of historical and cultural perspectives on the Jewish experience at last night's Genre Reading Group meeting celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month.  It was a disucssion that ranged from France to Fairhope, from Mandelbrot to Kabbalah.

Next month our meeting is actually on a Wednesday in order to avoid a conflict with another program and will be on June 25th at 6:30pm.  The Library closes at 6pm but I will be here to let you in the door!  June is LGBT History Month so read, watch, or listen and come tell us about it!  Not sure what to pick?  Start here at the Stonewall Book Awards.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
( Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.  Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
(  Lorca spends her life poring over cookbooks to earn the love of her distracted mother, a chef, who is now packing her off to boarding school. Desperate to prove herself, Lorca resolves to track down the recipe for her mother’s ideal meal. She signs up for cooking lessons from Victoria, an Iraqi-Jewish immigrant profoundly shaken by her husband’s death. Soon these two women develop a deeper bond while their concoctions—cardamom pistachio cookies, baklava, and masgouf—bake in Victoria’s kitchen. But their individual endeavors force a reckoning with the past, the future, and the truth—whatever it might be.
In Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots we see how food sustains not just our bodies, but our hopes as well. Bukra fil mish mish, the Arabic saying goes. Tomorrow, apricots may bloom.

Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction by Joseph Dan
(  In Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, Joseph Dan, one of the world's leading authorities on Jewish mysticism, offers a concise and highly accurate look at the history and character of the various systems developed by the adherents of the Kabbalah.

Dan sheds light on the many misconceptions about what Kabbalah is and isn't--including its connections to magic, astronomy, alchemy, and numerology--and he illuminates the relationship between Kaballah and Christianity on the one hand and New Age religion on the other. The book provides fascinating historical background, ranging from the mystical groups that flourished in ancient Judaism in the East, and the medieval schools of Kabbalah in Northern Spain and Southern France, to the widening growth of Kabbalah through the school of Isaac Luria of Safed in the sixteenth century, to the most potent and influential modern Jewish religious movement, Hasidism, and its use of kabbalistic language in its preaching. The book examines the key ancient texts of this tradition, including the Sefer Yezira or "Book of Creation," The Book of Bahir, and the Zohar. Dan explains Midrash, the classical Jewish exegesis of scriptures, which assumes an infinity of meanings for every biblical verse, and he concludes with a brief survey of scholarship in the field and a list of books for further reading.

Embraced by celebrities and integrated in many contemporary spiritual phenomena, Kabbalah has reaped a wealth of attention in the press. But many critics argue that the form of Kabbalah practiced in Hollywood is more New Age pabulum than authentic tradition. Can there be a positive role for the Kabbalah in the contemporary quest for spirituality?  In Kabbalah, Joseph Dan debunks the myths surrounding modern Kabbalistic practice, offering an engaging and dependable account of this traditional Jewish religious phenomenon and its impact outside of Judaism.

The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism by Daniel C. Matt
(  A translation of the Kabbalah for the layperson includes a compact presentation of each primary text and features a practical analysis and vital historical information that offer insight into the various aspects of Jewish mysticism.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: MC shared a Youtube documentary on Kabbalah:

Holocaust Poetry compiled by Hilda Schiff
(  The only known collection of its kind currently in print, this important volume includes the work of 59 poets--among them Auden, Brecht, Celan, Jarrell, Levi, Milosz, Plath, Sexton, Spender, Wiesel, and Yevtushenko--writing on a range of subjects that are indelibly linked with the Holocaust. Collecting 119 poems in all, Holocaust Poetry commemorates the sanctity of those who died--both Jews and non-Jews--as a result of this unimaginably horrible crime.

Yet Schiff's anthology is also a solemn affirmation of humanity's survival, for it pays homage to the past while also attesting to the often brutal struggles that we as a species still face in this world, day in and day out. Also preserved here are poems written by those who themselves perished in the Shoah, the final testaments and eternal lessons of unknown soldiers, unheralded heroes, unsilenced voices.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: The website we spoke about briefly was the Poetry Superhighway and their 16th annual Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) issue.

Jewish Holidays Cookbook: Festive Meals for Celebrating the Year by Jill Bloomfield
(  The traditions and recipes of Judaism are celebrated in this beautiful modern cookbook geared toward kids and their families. Eleven Jewish holidays are discussed and accompanied by recipes for the ancient and modern foods traditionally served. Kids can lead the charge on braiding their first challah or making their own kugel, while spending time learning about Jewish history and heritage.

GENERAL DISCUSSION:  Here is the recipe for the delicious mandel bread that KR made from a recipe in the book:

A Sampler of Jewish American Folklore by Josepha Sherman
(  Someone once observed that A Jew is composed of 28 percent fear, 2 percent sugar, and 70 percent nerve. Certainly, the Jews have needed every bit of that nerve over centuries of persecution. The struggle and triumph of Jewishness, author Josepha Sherman observes, is reflected in the vast body of Jewish folklore, which emphasizes ethical behavior and survival through cleverness, kindness, and above all, humor.

The Tin Horse by Janice Steinberg
(  In the stunning tradition of Lisa See, Maeve Binchy, and Alice Hoffman, The Tin Horse is a rich multigenerational story about the intense, often fraught bond sisters share and the dreams and sorrows that lay at the heart of the immigrant experience.

It has been more than sixty years since Elaine Greenstein’s twin sister, Barbara, ran away, cutting off contact with her family forever. Elaine has made peace with that loss. But while sifting through old papers as she prepares to move to Rancho Mañana—or the “Ranch of No Tomorrow” as she refers to the retirement community—she  is stunned to find a possible hint to Barbara’s whereabouts all these years later. And it pushes her to confront the fierce love and bitter rivalry of their youth during the 1920s and ’30s, in the Los Angeles Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights.

Though raised together in Boyle Heights, where kosher delis and storefront signs in Yiddish lined the streets, Elaine and Barbara staked out very different personal territories. Elaine was thoughtful and studious, encouraged to dream of going to college, while Barbara was a bold rule-breaker whose hopes fastened on nearby Hollywood. In the fall of 1939, when the girls were eighteen, Barbara’s recklessness took an alarming turn. Leaving only a cryptic note, she disappeared.

In an unforgettable voice layered with humor and insight, Elaine delves into the past. She recalls growing up with her spirited family: her luftmensch of a grandfather, a former tinsmith with tales from the Old Country; her papa, who preaches the American Dream even as it eludes him; her mercurial mother, whose secret grief colors her moods—and of course audacious Barbara and their younger sisters, Audrey and Harriet. As Elaine looks back on the momentous events of history and on the personal dramas of the Greenstein clan, she must finally face the truth of her own childhood, and that of the twin sister she once knew.

In The Tin Horse, Janice Steinberg exquisitely unfolds a rich multigenerational story about the intense, often fraught bonds between sisters, mothers, and daughters and the profound and surprising ways we are shaped by those we love. At its core, it is a book not only about the stories we tell but, more important, those we believe, especially the ones about our very selves.

Sex, Drugs, and Gefilte Fish: The HEEB Storytelling Collection edited by Shana Liebman
(  Scoring weed for your uncle...Hanging out with porn stars on Christmas Eve...Eating nachos with the Mossad...Observing the Dyke Days of Awe...Getting held up at a Weight Watcher's meeting...Spying on your naked Hebrew School teacher.

From Heeb magazine--the definitive voice of a proud, searching, and irreverent new generation of American Jews--this first-of-a-kind fast and fun showcase spotlights the hilarious and heartful raconteurial gifts of many of today's leading writers, comedians, actors, artists, and musicians. Laura Silverman, Michael Showalter, Andy Borowitz, Joel Stein, Ben Greenman, Darrin Strauss, and others navigate sex, drugs, work, youth, family, and, on the lighter side, body and soul. You'll never bleach your arm hair again.

Chicken Dreaming Corn by Roy Hoffman
Harper Lee lent a blurb to the front of this book, calling it "a story of great appeal."
(  In 1916, on the immigrant blocks of the Southern port city of Mobile, Alabama, a Romanian Jewish shopkeeper, Morris Kleinman, is sweeping his walk in preparation for the Confederate veterans parade about to pass by. "Daddy?" his son asks, "are we Rebels?" "Today?" muses Morris. "Yes, we are Rebels." Thus opens a novel set, like many, in a languid Southern town. But, in a rarity for Southern novels, this one centers on a character who mixes Yiddish with his Southern and has for his neighbors small merchants from Poland, Lebanon, and Greece.

As Morris resides with his family over his Dauphin Street store, enjoys cigars with his Cuban friend Pablo Pastor, and makes "a living not a killing," his tale begins with glimpses of the old Confederacy, continues through a tumultuous Armistice Day, and leads up to the hard-won victories of World War II. Along the way Morris sells shoes and sofas and endures Klan violence, religious zealotry, and financial triumphs and heartbreaks. With his devoted Miriam, who nurses memories of Brooklyn and Romania, he raises four adventurous children whose own journeys take them to New Orleans and Atlanta and involve romance, ambition and tragic loss.

At turns lyrical, comic, and melancholy, this tale takes inspiration from its title. This Romanian expression with an Alabama twist is symbolic of the strivings of ordinary folks for sustenance, for the realization of their hopes and dreams. Set largely on a few humble blocks yet engaging many parts of the world, this Southern Jewish novel is, ultimately, richly American.

What are YOU reading?

Women's History Month

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 10:11am
Wow, what a meeting last night to discuss Women’s History Month!  It was one of the most diverse groups of books I can remember in GRG, ranging across subjects and time periods!  What could have been such a narrow focus was instead a vast swath of history and culture.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier 
( On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary Anning learns that she has a unique gift: "the eye" to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslips, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man.

Mary soon finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset.  Remarkable Creatures is a stunning historical novel that follows the story of two extraordinary 19th century fossil hunters who changed the scientific world forever.
This novel is a fictionalized account of the real-life story of these two early pioneers of paleontology.
Grace &Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond by Lilly Ledbetter and Lanier Scott Isom
( Lilly Ledbetter always knew that she was destined for something more than what she was born into--a house with no running water or electricity in the small town of Possum Trot, Alabama. In 1979, when Lilly applied for her dream job at the Goodyear tire factory, she got the job--one of the first women hired at the management level. Nineteen years after her first day at Goodyear, Lilly received an anonymous note revealing that she was making thousands less per year than the men in her position.

When she filed a sex-discrimination case against Goodyear, Lilly won--and then heart-breakingly lost on appeal. Over the next eight years, her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where she lost again. But Lilly continued to fight, and became the namesake of Barack Obama's first official piece of legislation as president. A winning memoir and a powerful call to arms, Grace and Grit is the story of a true American icon.
Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes
( Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes delivers a remarkable story of science history: how a ravishing film star and an avant-garde composer inventedspread-spectrum radio, the technology that made wireless phones, GPS systems, and many other devices possible.

Beginning at a Hollywood dinner table, Hedy's Folly tells a wild story of innovation that culminates in U.S. patent number 2,292,387 for a "secret communication system." Along the way Rhodes weaves together Hollywood’s golden era, the history of Vienna, 1920s Paris, weapons design, music, a tutorial on patent law and a brief treatise on transmission technology. Narrated with the rigor and charisma we've come to expect of Rhodes, it is a remarkable narrative adventure about spread-spectrum radio's genesis and unlikely amateur inventors collaborating to change the world.
GENERAL DISCUSSION: Eighteen year old Hedy Lamarr’s controversial role in the 1933European film, Ecstasy, acted as a sort of catapult to her early career.  The nature of the role caused strife with her domineering husband and she fled the marriage not long after, meeting up serendipitously with Louis B. Mayer, of MGM fame, while in Paris.
Camille:The Life of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s Muse and Mistress by Reine-Marie Paris
(Publisher’s Weekly) An older sister of poet, playwright and diplomat Paul Claudel, beautiful, talented Camille Claudel (1864-1943), at the age of 20, became mistress, model and collaborator of Auguste Rodin, who admired her sculpture and was influenced by it. When she broke with Rodin, who refused to marry her, she continued to sculpt, paint and exhibit. But in time, living in poverty and semi-obscurity, she destroyed some of her work, her friendships and family ties, and became "nothing more than an anxious shadow hiding in the recesses of her dark studio, asking only for silence and oblivion." In 1913, Paul Claudel had his reclusive, paranoid, now unattractive sister incarcerated, and she remained in sanatoriums for the rest of her life. Interweaving family letters, this brief biography by her grandniece is timed to appear with the opening of an exhibition of her work at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Photos not seen by PW. Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
GENERAL DISCUSSION: A wonderful film was based on the passionate affair of Claudel and Rodin, simply called Camille Claudel, and starring Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu.
Crowned in a Far Country: Portraits of Eight Royal Brides by HRH Princess Michael of Kent
( Though of eminent birth and status in their own right, the women of Crowned in a Far Country all left the countries of their birth to marry heirs to great thrones. They all shared an inbred sense of duty and a genuine desire to see it performed. None fought against what she saw as her destiny but only sought to fulfill it. Some were passionate, others less so. Some were good wives; some were caring mothers. They were all catalysts, the pivots of their worlds for a time.

More than just a window into the politics and power brokering of royal marriage, Crowned in a Far Country charts the transformations of privileged princesses into women of power and historical importance.
Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus
( “For a Second Wave feminist like myself, Girls to the Front evokes wonderfully the way the generation after mine soaked up the promise and the punishment of feminist consciousness....A richly moving story.” —Village Voice writer Vivian Gornick
Girls to the Front is the epic, definitive history of the Riot Grrrl movement—the radical feminist punk uprising that exploded into the public eye in the 1990s, altering America’s gender landscape forever. Author Sara Marcus, a music and politics writer for Time Out New York,, Pos, and Heeb magazine, interweaves research, interviews, and her own memories as a Riot Grrrl front-liner. Her passionate, sophisticated narrative brilliantly conveys the story of punk bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy—as well as successors like Sleater-Kinney, Partyline, and Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre—and their effect on today’s culture.
The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel
( As America's Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons.

Annie Glenn, with her picture-perfect marriage, was the envy of the other wives; platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter was proclaimed JFK's favorite; and licensed pilot Trudy Cooper arrived on base with a secret. Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship. Many became next-door neighbors and helped to raise each other's children by day, while going to glam parties at night as the country raced to land a man on the Moon.

As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives-they continued to rally together, and the wives have now been friends for more than fifty years. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history.
GENERAL DISCUSSION: The ABC tv network has optioned The Astronaut Wives Club for a scripted drama series.  So far, they have ordered 10 episodes.
Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures by Karen Bush Gibson
( When Valentina Tereshkova blasted off aboard Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963, she became the first woman to rocket into space. It would be 19 years before another woman got a chance—cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982—followed by American astronaut Sally Ride a year later. By breaking the stratospheric ceiling, these women forged a path for many female astronauts, cosmonauts, and mission specialists to follow.
Women in Space profiles 23 pioneers, including Eileen Collins, the first woman to command the space shuttle; Peggy Whitson, who logged more than a year in orbit aboard the International Space Station; and Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space; as well as astronauts from Japan, Canada, Italy, South Korea, France, and more. Readers will also learn about the Mercury 13, American women selected by NASA in the late 1950s to train for spaceflight. Though they matched and sometimes surpassed their male counterparts in performance, they were ultimately denied the opportunity to head out to the launching pad. Their story, and the stories of the pilots, physicists, and doctors who followed them, demonstrate the vital role women have played in the quest for scientific understanding.

The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran
(  When Deng Xiaoping's efforts to "open up" China took root in the late 1980s, Xinran recognized an invaluable opportunity.  As an employee for the state radio system, she had long wanted to help improve the lives of Chinese women.  But when she was given clearance to host a radio call-in show, she barely anticipated the enthusiasm it would quickly generate.

Operating within the constraints imposed by government censors, "Words on the Night Breeze" sparked a tremendous outpouring, and the hours of tape on her answering machines were soon filled every night.  Whether angry or muted, posing questions or simply relating experiences, these anonymous women bore witness to decades of civil strife, and of halting attempts at self-understanding in a painfully restrictive society.  In this collection, by turns heartrending and inspiring, Xinran brings us the stories that affected her most, and offers a graphically detailed, altogether unprecedented work of oral history.