5774 has launched and the Day of Atonement is nigh; the time for self-reflection is upon us. We can never feel too guilty, of course, so in case your sins aren’t doing it, behold our ten favorite Heeb books of 5773, full of wisdom you may have neglected to read. Conveniently, they’re all available for download to your portable electronic device of choice. But you’ll need to shut off Netflix for a few minutes, OK?
Beginning with a patriarch who feeds his son plutonium hoping to compensate for his own failure to become a superhero by turning the boy into one, Sattin’s hilarious and smart debut follows three generations of Irish-Jewish Sykophsky men as they defend an ancient, secretive tome called the Mannaton from a vague enemy entity known as T.H.E.Y. Postmodern macho manifesto? Comic book/Victorian novel hybrid? Religious satire? With lush prose and a smattering of intricate illustrations, League of Somebodies is a category unto itself.
Check out our excerpt, in which the son is accused of masturbating at school and his purple-spandexed father purports to rescue him from the nurse, here.
2. The Retrospective by A.B. Yehoshua
Fans of Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled can go to Amazon, order a copy of The Retrospective, and move on to number three. Everyone else, especially folks with mixed feelings about The Unconsoled, rest assured that in Israeli powerhouse Yehoshua’s latest to reach our shores in English (translated from Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman), the narcissistic projections of a creative-type visiting a strange town to showcase his work is easier to follow, not to mention several hundred pages shorter. A successful director watching his early movies in a foreign language and justifying his past bad behavior might not sound like a page-turner, but the drama–a mistreated lover, a spurned friend and a mysterious painting–doesn’t suffer for not hewing to facts.
3. The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker
An un-moored female Golem (Jewish mythological clay creature) and an accidentally-freed Jinni (Syrian mythological fire creature) find their way in immigrant-packed, turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York. No spoilers here, but the mystical characters come vividly alive on the page–historical fiction meets magical realism that’s truly magic and real.
4. The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
A suburban Jewish family with a food-obsessed matriarch whose health problems exacerbate the stereotypes in her children and estranged husband. Enjoy the many laughs along the way because beneath them this story is bleak, as a good tale of suburban Jewry should be.
5. Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller
After losing his son and wife, an aging Jewish misunderstood Korean war vet is transplanted by his granddaughter from New York to Norway, where his persecution complex and possible dementia interface with a war criminal and a little boy. Imagine Philip Roth coming out of retirement, inventing a protagonist that’s less his alter ego and writing a fast-paced thriller.
Speaking of whom….
5 1/2. Philip Roth: Novels 2001-2007: The Dying Animal / The Plot Against America / Exit Ghost (Library of America #236) & Philip Roth: Nemeses: Everyman / Indignation / The Humbling / Nemesis (Library of America #237)
I’m not actually keen on fancy-clad definitive volumes of combined works, but to commemorate the sad occasion of the author of The Counterlife’s retirement last fall I’m including him on this list.
6. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel by David Rakoff
Rakoff passed last August
But left behind a book
Loosely-linked characters’ triumphs and heartbreaks
In rhyming couplets, worth taking a look
He could have written a memoir
But wrote about life instead
While dying—if you liked him on NPR
You’ll hear his voice in your head.
[Note: Rakoff’s verse is way better than mine.]
7. Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora by Emily Raboteau
“With masterful prose and insights bursting from every page, Searching for Zion explores the history of black yearning as well as the nature of its relationship to Jews.”
“An investigative odyssey disguised as a youthful expat’s travelogue.”
“She isn’t focused on finding a suitable mate, refreshingly, and she demonstrates that Zion is much more elusive than love.” Read our full review here.
8. The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
A literary look at life in the Israeli Army from the long-overdue female perspective.
9. The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty
More Golems! Though traditionally made of clay, Mur Lafferty, in her first novel, makes them out of anything. Seriously, anything. The Shambling Guide is the first in a planned series, which is great news for people who like their urban fantasy with a healthy dose of sarcastic humor.
And while we’re on the subject: might Golems be the next big thing in undead?
10. The Astor Orphan: A Memoir by Alexandra Aldrich
An Astor heir turned Orthodox Jew spills the beans about growing up on her family’s estate, her adopted religion’s stricture against loshon horah notwithstanding.
Honorable Mentions, Fiction
Liar’s Gospel by Naomi Alderman
The Unknowns by Gabriel Roth
Spectacle: Stories by Susan Steinberg
Honorable Mentions, Non-Fiction
My 1980’s and Other Essays by Wayne Koestenbaum
Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max (Wallace went to church like a Jew shopping around for a temple.)
Honorable Mentions for the Teen in Your Life Who Spends Too Much Time Tweeting
Jewish Summer Camp Mafia by Malina Saval
Since You Left Me by Allen Zadoff