AdministratorMay 19, 2020 at 8:47 pm
So I’m Riva and I’m a compulsive overreader.
No, seriously. Well, sort of.
Fact is, I spent my entire elementary school years reading books under my desk. Ask my teachers!
Fact is, the house could have burned down around me and I would probably just calmly keep turning those pages!
Fact is, in my teenage years I acquired a list from my educated aunt called The Culture Vulture List and ticked off the hallowed classics, one by one, until I had nearly completed the whole list.
Fact is that I credit my writing to the vast amounts of reading that filled my mind and soul with words, beautiful words.
Between mommying and wife-ing and life-ing, my reading habit faded over time. It also became much more difficult to get my hands on good books–books that would upgrade my vocabulary and imagination without dumping any toxic waste in my system at the same time, if you get my drift! 🙂 (I’m way too snobby and much too critical to enjoy much of what frum literature has to offer, with some exceptions, of course! Which is one of the reasons I created Masterpiece, btw! More of that another time…) Not to mention that I moved to Israel so my beloved libraries became a thing of the past. For many years, I actually abandoned books entirely.
Gradually, though, I came to realize that something was lacking, not only in my quality of life, but also in my writing. Reading had fed the color and clarity of my work. I needed, one again, to imbue my spirit with the greatness of the literary greats. So I ran away from home one afternoon and, in a shameless orgy, cleaned out the classics section at the book store in the Mall. I have begun my feeding frenzy by sinking my teeth into Charles Dickens and am trying to savor it in delicious little bites so that my family doesn’t report me missing for hours on-end.
I created this Reading Room so that like-minded writer-readers can share about gems they pick up along the way. There are a couple of caveats that I’d like to mention here:
1. In keeping with our community guidelines, please make sure that the books you are recommending and discussing are considered, on the whole, appropriate fare for frum women. For example, if the book is considered by most people to be a clean, hallowed classic and is mostly comprised of non-questionable content, if it does have some scenes here and there and those are not being discussed, then it should be fine. However, if the book is known to be a love story or to have terrible language (eg. Catcher in the Rye), it should be avoided. Generally speaking, most books written in the 21st century would not pass muster for this forum, unless they are non-fiction, which is also fine for discussing here. If you are unsure about posting about a certain book, you’re welcome to run it by me privately beforehand to avoid making anyone uncomfortable.
2. I understand that there are some excellent writers who eschew reading secular books of any genre or era. I totally respect your view on this and my opening this forum is not meant, in any way, to endorse the reading of non-Jewish books. Everyone must act in accordance with their own standards and within the framework of their individual avodas Hashem.
3. I would like to keep the discussion focused on what we learn from the book or how we can try to incorporate the author’s magic in our own work, rather than dissecting the book a la watercooler fare. My vision for this category isn’t to turn it into a newsy Book Club.
Let’s see how it evolves! For now, I have some amazing insights into the book I’m reading which I will share soon.
How about you ladies? Any other compulsive overreaders out there? 🙂 I haven’t yet found a good support group!!!
MemberMay 19, 2020 at 11:31 pm
Hi Riva!!!! Kindred spirits OMG!
So I guess I’m not the only one who as a girl devoured the entire series of Anne of Green Gables, Little house on the prairie, secret garden, the little princess, etc etc etc??? Every week we went to the library to borrow books. I literally had to wedge the staggering pile of books between my chin and my arms to bring them to the checkout!
Yes really hard to find decent reading material on an adult level without being inappropriate. Actually saw in Ami that Rechy Frankfurter recommended reading the book Rememberings by Pauline Wengeroff. That was amazing, to be carried away a couple of hundred years ago when life was so similar yet so different. Shocking to see how the world modernized over her 100 years of life!
A fantastic Jewish book called Sun Inside Rain made a big impression on me. The quality of writing is top-notch. And obviously the books by Riva Pomerantz top the charts!! Which is why we are all here right?
Yes I definitely agree that reading is very important. I stopped reading for a few years. My vocabulary dropped and I found myself struggling to find the correct words to express myself with a constricted vocabulary! I guess language is like a muscle… If we don’t work it out, it atrophies!
And about the book club, I would actually love that! When I read a good book I always chalish to talk about with people… but bookworms are not so common and my friends are bored of my droshos about books already;-D!
MemberMay 20, 2020 at 12:45 am
Ye, so I think most of us here have the same “I read everything as a kid” story. And many of us have the “I stopped reading everything as an adult” story as well. I include myself in both those camps.
I didn’t read fiction for about 10 years, and only allowed myself the classics (that you’ll find in the classics section of the library) and non-fiction. I love reading books on behavioral economics and sociology and psychology. And food. Love to read about food. Hate cooking though, but I can tell you exactly how to make it and why the flavors work.
Anywho – started dipping my toes back into fiction the past few years, because if I want to write it – well, I gotta know the form better. I only read books that are recommended to me – no browsing the library for me (I’m afraid I’ve also lost my touch, like I’m not good at judging book jacket anymore, I’ve been away for too long). So if I can get some quality recommendations, I’d be a happy woman.
MemberMay 20, 2020 at 2:12 am
OMG Riva, I was about to post my thoughts on a book I read recently when I saw this latest room. Cool!
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” -(I saw this quote online. I can’t remember who said it.)
I feel like I’m echoing everyone’s sentiments about reading classics as a kid…
Yeah, Riva, I’m crazy critical too. It’s so hard for me to find good books to read.
How is masterpiece going to help with this? just curious… 😉
AdministratorMay 20, 2020 at 12:17 pm
One important caveat: It is not at all my intention to detract from frum literature in any way here, some of which is of exceptional quality and all of which, of course, is waaaaaaaay beyond compare in terms of hashkafah, hadracha, and morality than even the greatest secular work ever written. So there will be no frum-bashing here. My intention is just to highlight and extrapolate the lessons and chochma from secular literature.
Another point that maybe was not expressed expressly enough before: we are aiming for LITERATURE here, not just secular “books”. To be very clear, Harry Potter is not literature! 🙂 Just saying… 🙂
MemberMay 20, 2020 at 6:26 pm
I feel like with books there are two things: the writing and the plot, and how to balance the two so that the writing doesn’t overshadow the message being woven into the plot, and to make sure the writing doesn’t fall flat when focusing on the plot. Harry Potter, for example, has a phenomenal plot, which is part of the reason it became so famous. In that respect, I think it’s very interesting to study Harry Potter…I guess it depends on what a person’s goal is with their writing and what they are trying to accomplish with it.
I find that the more a person reads, the more they learn the art of plot. Even watching movies helps a person learn the art of plot. Because of lack of appropriate novels and movies, the frum world is not exposed much to the art of storytelling. But, I stumbled across a ‘story-telling code’ by Jessica Brody and eventually ordered her book ‘Save the Cat writes a novel’ I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn the art of story-telling without being exposed to non-Jewish literature. The negative is that she analyzes the plots of non-Jewish books there, some with inappropriate scenes, but it’s not necessary to read those sections to understand her method. Here is a brief summary of the ‘story-telling code’ taken from Jessica Brody’s website. I think it is so true, and it’s exciting when I see this pattern in my own life! (note: this ‘code’ is for any story, short stories and novels)
1. Opening Image – A before “snapshot” of your main character/hero and their world
2. Theme Stated – A statement made by a character (normally not the hero) that hints at what the hero’s arc will be (i.e., what the hero must learn/discover before the end of the book.)
3. Set-up – An exploration of the hero’s status quo life and all its flaws. This is where we learn what the hero’s life and world look like before its epic transformation.
4. Catalyst – An inciting incident that happens to the hero which will catapult them into a new world or new way of thinking.
5. Debate – A reaction sequence in which the hero debates what they will do next, usually presented in the form of a question.
6. Break into 2 – The moment the hero decides to accept the call to action, leave their comfort zone, try something new, venture into a new world or new way of thinking.
7. B Story – The introduction of a new character or characters who will ultimately serve to help the hero learn the theme.
8. Fun and Games – This is where we see the hero in their new world. Also called “the Promise of the Premise,” this section represents the “hook” of the story. Why the reader picked up the novel in the first place.
9. Midpoint – Literally the middle of the novel, where the “Fun and Games” culminates in either a “false victory” or a “false defeat.” Something should happen here to “raise the stakes” and push the hero toward real change.
10.Bad Guys Close In – If the midpoint was a false victory, this section will be a downward trajectory where things get consistently worse for the hero. If the midpoint was a false defeat, this section will be an upward trajectory where things get seemingly better. Regardless of trajectory, the hero’s inner demons or “internal bad guys” are also closing in.
11.All is Lost – The lowest point of the novel. This is an action beat where something happens to the hero that, combined with those “internal bad guys,” pushes them to rock bottom.
12.Dark Night of the Soul – Another reaction beat (similar to the Debate) where the hero takes a moment to react to everything that’s happened leading up to this moment. The darkest night before the dawn, this is the moment right before the hero figures out the solution to their big problem and learns the theme.
13.Break into 3 – The aha moment! The hero realizes what they must to do to not only fix all of the problems created in act 2, but more importantly, fix themselves.
14.Finale – The hero proves they have truly learned the theme and enacts the plan they came up with in the “Break into 3.” Bad guys are destroyed, inner demons are conquered, lovers are reunited. The hero’s world is not only saved…it’s a better place than it was before.
15.Final Image – A mirror to the “Opening Image”, this is the closing “snapshot” of who the hero is now that he’s gone through this epic and satisfying transformation.
MemberMay 20, 2020 at 9:28 pm
Oh my goodness, Riva, that was me! Always hiding under a table. reading! It was much more fun to ride dragons than be in this world! That’s why I wanted to be a writer – I wanted to take readers on a magical journey! I never really felt that feeling of awe when I read Jewish books. Besides ‘Sun inside rain’. Tziri, it’s my favorite Jewish book too. It’s because of the spell she creates with her writing. I read one of her pages describing music many times just to experience it again and again. Also the genre of real-life saga is not up my street, and that’s basically the genre of adult Jewish books. I hardly read anymore, besides when I steal my my kids’ books! I could read ‘A little princess’ a million times. I guess I never really grew up! I think that if that’s what I love, I should write for kids too.
MemberMay 22, 2020 at 1:40 pm
Oh, Riva! The relief of feeling validated for touching upon the topic of critiquing frum fiction. I felt scandalous for being such a fiction snob. But I must thank you for creating this thread to appropriately express my fandom to the frum authors who have left a mark on me. Like ahem, your own marvelous and bestselling novels that grace the bookshelves in so many Jewish homes. My list is lengthy, so I’ll only elaborate on some favorites for now. So without further ado, here goes:
Map the Starlight by Leah Gebber. After reading the serial in the Family First, the following sentence lingered in my mind until the story was finally published this year in book form and I got to read it in print again:
The men talked through the dusk and Aster cannot help but wonder if these men- Jocef too, – so adept at charting the oceans and the land, would ever know to map the heart of a woman (Gebber, 2020, p. 8).
Leah Gebber is blessed with the ability to convey so much emotion, so much depth, in one sentence. That’s a skill I shamelessly pine for.
Check out Gebber’s Sister under Siege, Chains, and her current running serial in the Family First called Rocking Horse if you’re interested in breathtaking prose and accurate historical detail that doesn’t bog down the story. Leah Gebber is a master of enabling the reader to connect with the characters on an intimate level while showing, not telling. My favorite characters by far are Chava and Yechiel from Sisters under Siege and Aster and Jocef from Map the Starlight. Man, Chava and Aster are something I would call bittersweet. They’ve both so biter? But sweet? Grab both books to get a feel for yourself I guess.
Can’t help but share another gorgeous paragraph with you (this time from Sisters under Siege):
They talk so easily, though Chava has split herself in half, and is listening to Yechiel and nodding and talking with one part of her while the other part is floating above, observing the pair of them and thinking of how Yechiel’s voice ripples; he is musical. And the part of Chava that is floating thinks of her and Tirtza as children, running through the hills, white kites streaming behind (Gebber, 2018, p. 11).
Dancing in the Dark by Shoshana Mael. This is a brutal and raw piece that will get your emotions flooding and tear ducts flowing. It’s the most talented piece of fiction written in first-person perspective (my opinion). For anyone who wants to master the art of memoir writing, this is a great book to learn how to create a strong voice. This book also conveys mental illness in an exact and realistic manner. I still can’t get over how Shoshana wrote something so perfect for her premiere novel. It’s an easily-re-readable-sorta-story (recommended, recommended). I don’t believe there are too many frum YA books out there and this one…just takes the cake.
Shortchanged by Etka Gitel Schwartz. Ah, Etka Gitel Schwartz. This story nourishes both literary cravings and the spirit as she masterfully manages to weave valuable lessons about Yiddishkeit throughout the book. The descriptives in the book are just so palpable? So original? Etka Gitel also tucks in mountains of historical details without you noticing until someone brings it to your attention that you’ve become an expert on the great depression era. You know those books that are info-dumps? This is not one of them. Prepare to wipe simultaneous tears of joys and sorrow. Check out Etka Gitel’s Full Harvest, Primer from Caravan (short story collection), and her most recent release, A Veiled Truth to study an original writing style that is uniquely Etka Gitel-y. Keep your eyes peeled for The Grey Lines and The Happiness Cipher to hit the market in book form (hope they will!). I also must mention her Purim story published in the Binah several years back. I think it was called Vibrant and it’s a great piece of surreal fiction and I still think about it occasionally.
A Stranger to My Brothers by Henye Meyer. If interested in learning how to write snarky, biting dialogue, and create a rebel of a character you keep rooting for until the end of the story (and after!), this book is for you. Witty and intelligent with painstaking accuracy of detail, this story ends with a useful lesson (if you notice it!). If you want to learn how to end a story that will make readers laugh and shake their head in amusement, you’ll find it here. Plus, take note of the killer title with a hidden meaning to it.
Here’s a sampling of her work for illustrative purposes:
“I’ve come for work,” he said, swaying a little; “the Kuaistor sent me.”
She was in a bad mood. “Another no-hoper! I didn’t ask for half-dead Franks, I asked for workers!” she yelled. “You’re not worth the food you eat!”
She launched into a burst of swearing that even in his semi-conscious state impressed Martin. She swore while she pushed him down in the shade and poured water over his head, and kept it up while she made him lick a lump of salt she put in his palm. Martin couldn’t catch her repeating herself once. She was a pro (Meyer, 2014, p. 187).
Rapport 55 by Dov Haller. Want to learn how to analyze and portray human thought and behavior? Watch Dov Haller’s characters try to get into each other’s heads to understand why they act the way they do. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Dov Haller is a psychoanalyst or psychologist. I refer to Haller’s works for learning how to master the art of sarcasm while writing third-person perspective. Check out Haller’s Captive Audience (short story collection) and Sundays @ 10. A favorite past serial is Shared Space and the current serial Encore.
Here is a flawless Calligraphy vignette (Road Trip) I’ve savored time and time again:
Jason took the marker and rummaged around. “Any alcohol here?” he asked.
Raffi straightened. Alcohol? Was that what they wanted?
In a small cabinet under the sink, Jason found a near-empty bottle of Drambuie and he poured some in a cup. He dipped the Sharpie into the liquid. “Here, it should work for now,” he said, “I’ll go get you a few more, though.”
Raffi tried the marker again. “Hey, it really does work!” he exclaimed.
“Yeah.” Jason winked. “Organic solvents tend to evaporate quickly. The alcohol will dissolve enough ink to get it flowing again,” he said as he walked out. “You learn a thing or two along the way.”
He stepped outside and spread his arms apart. “Hashem’s laboratory,” he said, then grinned like a father laying eyes on his new baby for the first time (Haller, 2018, p. 63).
All for now. Will tack on a bunch more on the list another time. But while I still have you here, let me explain my reading process to you:
Finish book. Find a clever soul or two with an appreciation for the literary arts to dissect and elucidate the writing style and structure. Examine the character. Evaluate the story. Stamp the book with my praiseful approval or condemnation.
How to make it on my approval list? Here are the secret weapons for a killer book:
- Language & structure. This is me when reading pretty words: “Oh, look at that beautiful butterfly, let me caress its wings” *turns another page*…”What a charming flower!” *pleasureful sigh*… Make your book be a walk in a garden where I can be distracted by all nature’s beauty. AKA, words. Smart words. Pretty words. You get the picture.
- Characters. Make me feel for them. Make me love them or be mad at them or both at the same time if you’re inclined.
- Story. Have I read this plot before? Ditch. Will the setting take me away someplace interesting? Let me sink into this, then. Does the story end with ‘it was all a dream?’ Toss. Does the story make sense? *satisfied sigh*. Is the ending cheesy or cliche? *Gags*
Who’s next to suggest their faves?
MemberMay 22, 2020 at 4:09 pm
elisheva, i second you in studying harry potter! i loved them- make that LOVE (as in, still do). i think they capture the mind and completely ensnare the reader. when i was younger, i enjoyed a good work of sci-fi… today, its hard to satisfy me with one… id love to create one… one day………………………
but i’m currently reading wildlands by m. kenan, and im devouring every sentence. she (i guessed she is a she:)) masterfully unravels the plot, dropping new info delicately and smoothly within the dialogue. anyone care to join me in this read?
thanx all u girls for the suggestions- always looking for new ones! fiction fangirl, ur parting guidelines are on target. good to share sentiments with a sister!
MemberMay 24, 2020 at 3:48 am
I loved the book Code One by Yitzchak Goldman- he is an amazing writer, his characters are witty, entertaining and well-developed and the plot is riveting. It’s the kind of book you want to reread as soon as you finish it. He’s written other books too, I just haven’t read all of them.
They say there 3 elements that books can be focused on: plot-based, character-based, and world-based (with a richly described, unique environment). HP is very strong in all three, which is I guess what makes it so popular.
Jewish books, I feel like, fall pretty much into one two of these categories: Male-oriented (usually plot-based) and female-oriented (usually character-based). World-based plots don’t seem to feature very much at all (except maybe in M. Kenan’s series- yes she is a she).
What I would love to see more of in Frum books is those that are very strong in both plot and character, and better yet also in world.
Not that they don’t exist, it just seems hard to find.
MemberMay 24, 2020 at 5:38 am
Oh My Goodness Fiction Fangirl!!! Are you me under a different pen name?? I’m reading your list of fave books and I feel like you typed up my list.
Yea!! to Leah Gebber! I rip open the family first to Rocking Horse and devour her words. I hope to purchase Map the Starlight asap to reread. I miss Aster.
Yea!! to Dancing in the Dark! My friend and I used to be able to recite chapters (!!) by heart. lol. Shoshana actually self published another book Wallflower which was also really great but nothing beats Dancing in the dark.
Yea!! to Shortchanged and Full Harvest!! I read these books too many times to count. Morris is my favorite man.
Yea!! to Henya Meyer! I did not read A Stranger to my Brother, but I did read This is America. I’ll definitely get my hands on this one!
I wish I knew who you are… Maybe someday when we will both be confident enough to let go of our pen names 😉 for now keep posting! I’m loving your style!
Another bestie of mine is Freefall by Miriam Zakon. I love the era she writes about.. I came upon very few that are so enticing. She also includes so many topics- the challenge of staying frum, child rearing, marriage and war.
I know a few of you have mentioned Sun inside Rain. But, I can’t talk about my favorite books without listing this one. I think the reason I read this book so many times- my family members sigh when they see me reading it ( “didn’t you read this one last week?”) is that the characters are so so real. I am heartbroken when Margo loses her brother and friend. I am elated when she finds Yiddishkeit. I am whooping and cheering when the two meet again. The story is so alive!! I hope to acquire that in my writings. Honestly, its hard work. By reading good material like those mentioned above I brush up on my skills.
Personally, I love ( like love love love ) reading Historical Fiction. Any suggestions for more such books would be sooo appreciated!
Riva, thanks a billion for this Reading Room. There is nothing like tearing apart every detail of a book.. I can do it all day (almost) 🙂
MemberMay 24, 2020 at 1:25 pm
[quote quote=17641]So I’m Riva and I’m a compulsive overreader. Welcome, Riva. No, seriously. Well, sort of. Fact is, I spent my entire elementary school years reading books under my desk. Ask my teachers! [/quote]
I have to stop here and comment: I did some long term subbing close to two years ago and I caught a seventh grader reading one of your books. (When our class went to the library, I had a whole lot of suggestions for her; I was kind of surprised that she had got to you without reading various classic books. But once she got to you, there was no going back.)
MemberMay 24, 2020 at 1:32 pm
I really enjoy Jewish historical fiction. I have to examine why.
I remember reading a secular book, the one and only by that author, and loathing it. Because of what I’ll call rule #1:
1. There was not a single likeable character in the book.
2. It’s painful to read about people making wrong decisions. At least the decisions should be logical. This rule #2 comes from another secular book.
I’ll probably come up with other rules later.
MemberMay 24, 2020 at 4:43 pm
I would just like to point out over here an observation I’ve made in the past and that seems to hold true here, too. Very often, disproportionately often, the ‘favorite Jewish books’ people discuss are historical fiction (think M. Kenan, Henye Meyer, Leah Gebber, Etka Gittel Schwartz…). And I think it’s because one has to have a real skill to be able to dive into a different time period and bring the characters and plot alive and relatable to the reader. Therefore, (generally) those writing historical fiction possess a unique and incredible talent. I was once discussing with someone why I love historical fiction, and I realized that more than the actual historical fiction, I enjoy the authors of historical fiction.
MemberMay 24, 2020 at 7:07 pm
Yes Annagrammer, I agree with you. Question: how do I become such a writer? What is there secret?
MemberMay 24, 2020 at 7:09 pm
Ouch typo lol. “Their” secret- I know it drives me crazy so I apologize:)
MemberMay 24, 2020 at 10:50 pm
I’m not saying I know their secret! Maybe ask them….? I personally don’t know if I have enough patience for all that technical research – you have to get a real feel for the time you are writing about. Besides the general tone/setting/characters, there are all those tiny, insignificant (yet SO significant) details; such as the cobblestone? brick? wooden? structures; the linen? silk? tweed? garments; the rhubarb? chestnuts? nutmeg?; and of course, the talk, the walk, the thoughts, the ambitions…. Who ARE the people living then? If I don’t know them, then I can’t be them enough to write them. The power of the pen lies in those details, woven inconspicuously into the text, dialogue, and plot. I feel like even if I were to research all that, my facts would come out sounding like facts, like I purposely stuck in that sentence over here to let the reader know that I know what kind of clothing they wore in the 16th century. However I’d word it, I’d somehow make it sound like I’m trying to show off what I know about the time period. Elementary. It’s an art to do it right, to bring out all that rich knowledge, yet in a palatable, unpretentious way. Wish I could do it…
MemberMay 24, 2020 at 11:01 pm
[quote quote=17841]I would just like to point out over here an observation I’ve made in the past and that seems to hold true here, too. Very often, disproportionately often, the ‘favorite Jewish books’ people discuss are historical fiction (think M. Kenan, Henye Meyer, Leah Gebber, Etka Gittel Schwartz…). And I think it’s because one has to have a real skill to be able to dive into a different time period and bring the characters and plot alive and relatable to the reader. Therefore, (generally) those writing historical fiction possess a unique and incredible talent. I was once discussing with someone why I love historical fiction, and I realized that more than the actual historical fiction, I enjoy the authors of historical fiction.[/quote]
But also, it brings you to a very different time and place. And a time and place that’s meaningful to US because of the window on our ancestors’ lives. Though I don’t know if there’s any Khazars in my bloodline. Those books are just good plain escapism, brilliantly done.
MemberMay 25, 2020 at 12:54 am
True, not taking away from the escapism aspect at all. That’s a (or the) huge part of the historical novel appeal. Just noticed that I personally appreciate the author behind the historical fiction more than the storyline per se (I find myself pausing as I go along to mull over a word, savor a sentence, dissect a paragraph). So if a historical fiction author would now choose to write present-day novels (or any other genres), I’d probably find myself devouring those as well.
Log in to reply.