Books On My Reading List This Week – February 8, 2022

Read Along with Me

February is off to a great start! I’m very happy to report the lowest level of my two-be-read cart is now empty. And my ‘Want to Read’ list on Goodreads is down to sixty-two titles. I’ve completed thirty books so far in 2022. I don’t want to set myself up for failure but I am on track to finish my ‘Want to Read’ list this year!

My list this week includes two books I’ll be reviewing: Shmuel’s Bridge by Jason Sommer and The Foundations of Judaism by Akiva Aaronson. In Shmuel’s Bridge, the author travel’s to Europe with his aging father who is losing his memory. The two embark on a journey, retracing Sommer’s father’s escape from a labor camp during the Shoah and visiting Auschwitz to remember family members lost there.

The Foundation of Judaism is a comprehensive guide to all things Judaism. Encompassing everything from the Jewish calendar, laws of kashrut, and Halachah to basics of Hebrew and Jewish thought. Just an initial thumbing through this rather compact volume has me intrigued as I see various maps and charts. I am really looking forward to digging into that one!

In honor of Black History Month, I’ll also be reading All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson. This is a YA memoir in which the author details their journey through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood as a queer person of color. I first discovered this book when I came across an article in Time about it being banned. Representation in literature is critical to the human experience and in my effort to be a better ally, I am adding books to my reading list that represent diverse voices.

The remaining books on my list this week are audiobooks. First, The Brothers Ashkenazi was originally published in Yiddish, in the 1930s. Unfortunately, my language skills are not strong enough to tackle it in the original Yiddish so I’ll settle for an English translation. If the Shoe Fits is also very interesting to me as the story centers on a woman exploring her sexuality and realizing her aversion to commitment with the string of men she’s dated may be a clue that something has been missing. And finally, The Secrets We Kept is set at the height of the Cold War when a Russian-American woman is pressed into service by the CIA for an unbelievable assignment.

Join the conversation by adding your comments at the bottom of the page! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the books I’m reading this week, your recommendations to add to my list, even your progress on your reading goals.


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Books This Week

Shmuel’s Bridge: Following the Tracks to Auschwitz with My Survivor Father by Jason Sommer
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Jason Sommer’s father, Jay, is ninety-eight years old and losing his memory. More than seventy years after arriving in New York from WWII-torn Europe, he is forgetting the stories that defined his life, the life of his family, and the lives of millions of Jews who were affected by Nazi terror. Observing this loss, Jason vividly recalls the trip to Eastern Europe the two took together in 2001. 

As father and son travel from the town of Jay’s birth to the labor camp from which he escaped, and to Auschwitz, where many in his family were lost, the stories Jason’s father has told all his life come alive. So too do Jason’s own memories of the way his father’s past complicated and impacted Jason’s own inner life.  
 
Shmuel’s Bridge shows history through a double lens: the memories of a growing son’s complex relationship with his father and the meditations of that son who, now grown, finds himself caring for a man losing all connection to a past that must not be forgotten.

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Foundation of Judaism by Akiva Aaronson

The fundamentals of Judaism in one book!

The Foundation of Judaism deals with the basics of Judaism ― Jewish thought, Jewish history, Jewish year and more, in one succinct yet comprehensive book. Written in a clear and readable style, with a wealth of maps and charts, it has been widely acclaimed as an essential teaching aid and a vital asset in every Jewish home and school.

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The Brothers Ashkenazi: A Novel by I. J. Singer
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In the Polish city of Lodz, the brothers Ashkenazi grew up very differently in talent and in temperament. Max, the firstborn, is fiercely intelligent and conniving, determined to succeed financially by any means necessary. Slower-witted Jacob is strong, handsome, and charming but without great purpose in life. While Max is driven by ambition and greed to be more successful than his brother, Jacob is drawn to easy living and decadence. As waves of industrialism and capitalism flood the city, the brothers and their families are torn apart by the clashing impulses of old piety and new skepticism, traditional ways and burgeoning appetites, and the hatred that grows between faiths, citizens, and classes. Despite all attempts to control their destinies, the brothers are caught up by forces of history, love, and fate, which shape and, ultimately, break them.

First published in 1936, The Brothers Ashkenazi quickly became a best seller as a sprawling family saga. Breaking away from the introspective shtetl tales of classic nineteenth-century writers, I. J. Singer brought to Yiddish literature the multilayered plots, large casts of characters, and narrative sweep of the traditional European novel. Walking alongside such masters as Zola, Flaubert, and Tolstoy, I . J. Singer’s premodernist social novel stands as a masterpiece of storytelling.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.

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If the Shoe Fits by E. J. Noyes

Jana Fleischer loves her life―wonderful family, best sister in the world, awesome soon to be sister-in-law, fabulous job, and a never-ending stream of men to chew through and spit out. So what if everyone says she’s too picky and she’s never had a real relationship?

When a chance meeting with Brooke Donnelly leaves Jana literally and figuratively off-balance, it doesn’t take long for her initial annoyance to turn into the first sparks of friendship. Jana always thought she was happy with her life, but the more time she spends with Brooke, the more she realizes something is missing. And maybe not just in the friendship department.

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But how do you make that leap when you’ve never even considered kissing a woman, and have spent your whole life avoiding romantic commitments? Being brave, taking the first step, and admitting she wants to try to make things work with Brooke is only the beginning. Whether it’s the beginning of a disaster―or everything Jana hadn’t realized she wanted―depends on if Brooke can also be brave enough…

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
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At the height of the Cold War, Irina, a young Russian-American secretary, is plucked from the CIA typing pool and given the assignment of a lifetime. Her mission: to help smuggle Doctor Zhivago into the USSR, where it is banned, and enable Boris Pasternak’s magnum opus to make its way into print around the world. Mentoring Irina is the glamorous Sally Forrester: a seasoned spy who has honed her gift for deceit, using her magnetism and charm to pry secrets out of powerful men. Under Sally’s tutelage, Irina learns how to invisibly ferry classified documents—and discovers deeply buried truths about herself.

The Secrets We Kept combines a legendary literary love story—the decades-long affair between Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya, who inspired Zhivago’s heroine, Lara—with a narrative about two women empowered to lead lives of extraordinary intrigue and risk. Told with soaring emotional intensity and captivating historical detail, this is an unforgettable debut: a celebration of the powerful belief that a work of art can change the world. 

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