2018-08-15 / Columns

Spend the remaining days of summer with these great reads


Last month we offered suggestions for summer reading. Fortunately, there are plenty of summer days still ahead, so here are further ideas for lazy-day reading pleasure.

AMY: Summer is a time for weddings, and here are some stories about the complications of getting married. The setting is 1991, a suburb of Boston. It’s the night before poet Adam Cohen is to marry Eliza Barlow, and the Cohens are hosting a rehearsal dinner in Grace Dane Mazur’s “The Garden Party.” Could the two families be more different? Maybe, but the Jewish, academic, artistically inclined Cohens and the WASPy Barlows (all of whom are attorneys) are quite a combination when they and the other invitees gather for a celebration that creates a number of new alliances. The entire story takes place over the course of one night and one day. The novel is amusing and well crafted: A perfect summer read.

IRENE: Here is another wedding story that is ripe with humor and poignancy. Marilyn Simon Rothstein brings us “Husbands and Other Sharp Objects.” This is a follow-up book to “Lift and Separate,” but it can be read as a standalone. The story focuses on Marcy, who is planning her daughter’s wedding at the same time as she navigates her own divorce. She is trying to make everyone happy including her daughter, ex-husband-to-be, and some new in-laws. This story is about marriage, divorce, siblings, loss, and friendship, masterly told as Rothstein weaves both a funny and sad tale with very real characters.

AMY: Jewish, beautiful, rich Elizabeth Gottlieb and not- Jewish, handsome, rich Hank Jackson are getting married. But in “We Are Gathered” by Jamie Weisman, the focus is not on the bride and groom. Instead, the story is told through the multiple viewpoints of wedding guests. There is Elizabeth’s close childhood friend, her Holocaust-survivor great-aunt, her wheelchair bound grandfather, and her mother. With humor and intelligence, Weisman creates a colorful, interwoven cast of characters.

MINNA: Not all love stories end in marriage. “The Summer I Met Jack” by Michelle Gable is historical fiction touching on one of America’s best-known families—the Kennedys. Alicia Darr, a Polish-Jewish artist, goes from a German displaced persons camp to a job as a housekeeper in Hyannis Port in 1950. Her love affair with Jack Kennedy ends with his father’s discovery of her origins. The novel goes on to trace Alicia’s life in Hollywood, her marriages, including her inheritance of the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, and ultimately the search for an heir to Alicia Corning Clark after her death in 2016.

IRENE: From love and marriage we move to family life. In her thought provoking and somewhat disturbing first novel, Joanne Serling takes us to an upper-middle-class suburb in “Good Neighbors.” The story focuses on four families who become a neighborhood clique. On the surface there is perfection, but quickly we become privy to their human frailties. Paige and Gene Edwards, one of the couples, adopts a four-yearold Russian girl and the dynamics and relations change. The other couples question whether she is being treated properly, or does their new adoptive daughter have behavior issues. Are the neighbors nosy, intrusive, and judgmental, or is something amiss with the child? “Good Neighbors” is sad, suspenseful, and damning all at once.

MINNA: Let’s move away from the suburban drama to a novel set in China. American businesses sending their manufacturing overseas is a ripped-from-the-headlines story. Author Spencer Wise, a fifth-generation member of a shoe manufacturing family, drew on his personal experience working in a Chinese shoe factory to write “The Emperor of Shoes.” The 26-year-old protagonist, Alex Cohen, travels from Boston to Guangdong, where he becomes involved with Ivy, a Chinese seamstress and labor organizer, in this debut novel.

IRENE: And finally, what would summer be without summer camp? In her debut novel, “The Optimistic Decade,” Heather Abel invites us into the world of Camp Llamalo, a utopian Jewish summer camp high in the Colorado Desert. Set in the 1990s, this is a coming of age story that looks at idealism, activism, class, and disappointment in a humorous and light fashion. Charismatic leader Caleb Silver is on a mission to teach others to live simply but comes into conflict with his neighbors about the land that the camp occupies. According to the New York Times book review, it is a metaphor for the conflict over the land of Israel. Look carefully at the name of the camp, it is a Hebrew expression “lamah lo”—why not? Why not look at things in a new light?

For more information, contact us: Irene Afek at the Sanders Memorial Library of the Katz JCC (iafek@jfedsnj.org) and Cong. M’kor Shalom (library@mkorshalom.org); Minna Siegel at Temple Beth Sholom (msiegel@tbsonline.org); and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org). 

Return to top