Season’s Readings
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Season’s Readings

From the libraries of Jerusalem to the hotels of the Catskills, a roundup of summer titles.

Sandee is the arts and culture editor at the Jewish Week.

Nonfiction

“The Spiritual Gardener: Insights from the Jewish Tradition to Help Your Garden Grow,” a first book by Andy Becker (Tree of the Field), includes gardening tips, stories from the author’s garden, quotations and teachings from Jewish texts and reflections on the bitterness of horseradish and sweetness of raspberry jam and more.

“Jerusalem: City of the Book” by Merav Mack and Benjamin Balint, with photography by Frederic Brenner (Yale University Press), explores the hidden libraries and archives of the city and the librarians who care for them, unfolding the history of the city through ideas developed there over centuries. The book opens with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

A detailed story of an act of brutal international terrorism in 1985, “An Innocent Bystander: The Killing of Leon Klinghoffer” by Julie Salamon (Little, Brown), delves into the destinies of three families whose lives were upended by this event. Klinghoffer had boarded a cruise ship with his wife to celebrate their anniversary, and was shot and then thrown overboard in his wheelchair. Researching the events, repercussions and the search for justice, Salamon interviews most of the participants who are still living, including one of the hijackers, and creates a powerful narrative.

“The Volunteer: One Man, An Underground Army and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz” by Jack Fairweather (Custom House) is the account of a Polish resistance fighter who infiltrated Auschwitz, organized a rebellion and assassinations of Nazi officers, smuggled out information and then managed to slip out of the camp to report on what was going on there. The author, who has been a war reporter for the Washington Post and other papers, explains that the story was erased from the historical record by Poland’s communist government, and has remained unknown until now.

An untold story of World War II, “Scholars of Mayhem: My Father’s Secret War in Nazi-Occupied France” by Daniel C. Guiet and Timothy K. Smith (Penguin Press), tells of Guiet’s father, who worked clandestinely behind German lines in France to coordinate aid for the French Resistance and also lead missions against German military efforts. Guiet learned that his father had been in the CIA, but only at the end of his life did his father, a native French speaker, begin to tell of his successful missions during World War II.

In “The Plateau,” anthropologist and performer Maggie Paxson (Riverhead Books) probes ideas about human goodness, selflessness and sacrifice, as she closely studies an area in south-central France, where villagers have a long tradition of providing refuge to strangers, particularly during World War II, and continuing today.

Inbal Arieli, who is a leader in Israeli high-tech and co-CEO of True Synthesis, a leadership assessment and development company, connects the country’s economic success — with its high concentration of start-ups — to the way Israelis are raised in a culture of risk-taking, independence, creativity and resiliency in “Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship” (Harper).

Fiction

“The Gospel According to Lazarus” by Richard Zimler (Peter Owen Publishing/IPG) is an imaginative retelling of how Jesus brought his friend Lazarus back from the dead, and then how Lazarus struggles to regain his previous identity, flashing back to the boyhood and close friendship of the two in Nazareth. The novel unfolds the story of the last week of the life of Jesus, through the perspective of Lazarus. Zimler, who lives in Portugal and is the author of “The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon” and other novels, brings mysticism and historical research to his telling.

A first novel by a distinguished journalist, “Fleishman is in Trouble” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Random House), is the story of a Manhattan marriage and divorce, carefully observed, funny and compassionate.

In celebration of the matriarch’s 70th birthday, the extended Feldman family take a cruise together in “The Floating Feldmans” by Elyssa Friedland (Berkley). Not exactly a celebration, the time sequestered together afloat on the Ocean Queen is filled with eating and feuding, as family secrets, rivalries and tensions surface. In alternating voices, the story unfolds with compassion and humor.

A first novel set in 1666 by an author who has published acclaimed short stories, “The Organs of Sense” by Adam Ehrlich Sachs (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) explores science, politics and family dynamics, layered with philosophy, historical facts and humor. Here a blind astronomer using the longest telescope ever built, encounters the young math genius Gottfried Leibniz, just before the predicted time of a solar eclipse that would result in total darkness.

“Death and Other Happy Endings” (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking) is the fictional debut of a 62-year-old author, Melanie Cantor, who previously worked as a celebrity press agent before hosting a television series on home design in Great Britain. In this romantic comedy, a woman who is told she has a terminal illness with three months to live sets out to put her affairs in order with unusual candor through letters to her ex-husband, ex-boyfriend and difficult sister.

Set in a weight-loss camp for adults in a Vermont mansion, “Waisted” by Randy Susan Meyers (Atria Books) tells of a group of women determined to lose extra pounds who agree to be filmed as they take part in a program promising dramatic results. This is a story of sisterhood and self-respect as the women conspire against those in charge.

A first novel of historical fiction, “A Bend in the Stars” by Rachel Barenbaum (Grand Central Publishing) opens in 1914 Russia, as war is in the air, and life is increasingly difficult for Jews. A pair of siblings – she is studying to be a surgeon and he is a physicist racing Einstein to prove relativity — face the tough decision as to whether to stay or leave, and how to protect each other and all they have learned. When he goes missing, his sister risks all to fight for him, in this story of love, adventure and science.

The sprawling Hotel Neversink is the crown jewel of the Catskills, founded in 1931 by a Jewish immigrant family who used every penny they could find to buy the grand mansion on top of a hill. Told through the voices of family members and others who have passed through the grand hotel, Adam O’Fallon Price’s “The Hotel Neversink” (Tin House) follows the family over a century, through ambition, mysterious vanishings, family secrets, comedy, love stories and a younger generation’s desire to keep the place alive.

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