I usually have a few books going at the same time: there’s the audio book in the car, the novel at bedtime, the non-fiction I sneak in at other times during the day (I can’t read non-fiction at bedtime. I begin arguing with it and then can’t fall asleep). I usually have a separate book with me in synagogue — my personal rule is that it has to have Jewish content, and that I can remove the dust jacket so it’s not so obvious that I am reading “Without Feathers” during davening.
Here’s my current diet:
Audio: “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis. Ira Glass said it was brilliant, and I feel it’s my duty to understand the financial crisis. It is compelling, although whole paragraphs fly by that I don’t understand at all. Sample sentence:
If he wanted to buy insurance on the supposedly riskless triple-A-rated tranche, he might pay 20 basis points (0.20 percent); on the riskier, A-rated tranches, he might pay 50 basis points (0.50 percent); and on the even less safe, triple-B-rated tranches, 200 basis points—that is, 2 percent.
I mean, I understand the words. But it’s like reading a sports novel about cricket — I get the idea who’s winning and losing, who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy, but I’m not sure I can picture the action.
Non-fiction: “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry” by Gal Beckerman. An exhaustive and spookily self-assured history by a writer who can’t be more than 30. I was supposedly reporting on this stuff as it happened, but on every page I realize how little I knew or understood about Jewish life in Russia, the refusenik culture, the diplomatic maneuverings in this country, and the various tensions among American Jewish groups. And Beckerman writes like a dream.
Misc.: “How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less,” by Sarah Glidden. A charmingly illustrated and often very funny non-fiction graphic novel chronicles the author’s experiences on a Birthright Israel trip. Glidden arrives deeply critical of Israel and the occupation, but through the course of the tour is tossed about by the conflicting histories and “truths” on both sides. This isn’t pro-Israel propaganda, but does make the case to the Left and the Right for at least acknowledging the complexity of Israel’s, and the Palestinians’, dilemma.
Fiction: “To the End of the Land” by David Grossman. Some are calling this the defining Israeli novel of the moment, if not of its generation. Grossman is one of her best living writers, and the recent New Yorker profile about him was great and tragic and inspiring and troubling. But I have to tell you — I have tried to read his challenging, elliptical fiction in the past and just can’t do it. Six pages into the book and I can’t figure out the setting or who’s talking. I can’t keep it up for another 400 pages.