I’m always trying to keep up with my independent reading in order to set a good example for my English students. Long vacations are an opportunity to unplug and just sit down with a good book. I brought two books with me on my recent spring break getaway.
I started off with New York 1, Tel Aviv 0, a collection of short stories by Shelly Oria. I found the book displayed on the featured new fiction table at Labyrinth Books in Princeton. The stories feature characters who are astride two worlds; most are Israeli expats living in New York. They are both Israeli and American, they think in English and Hebrew, and they are often bisexual to boot. The tales are often so direct in their frank delivery that you could accuse them of being too blunt, but that’s an Israeli personality trait that the the author occasionally references within the fictions themselves. I enjoyed the collection so much that I’d like to find one of the stories to share with my students this spring. (Many are too explicit, I’m afraid.)
I’ve wanted to read something by Edna Ferber for a long time. She is often an answer to NYTimes Crossword Puzzle clues (“______ Ferber, author of Giant“); they like four-letter words with useful vowels. While rummaging around the English department office looking at essay collections to use with my students, I found a musty old hardcover copy of Ferber’s So Big. Actually, the book was one of the ones owned by our school library and slated for the trash bin. I have a colleague who likes to rescue these books and rehabilitate them. In truth, I don’t think anyone was ever going to pull this copy of So Big off the shelf in our office if I hadn’t done so, but just by finding one additional marginal reader, my colleague has made his point. So Big is the kind of novel that I typically don’t like; a multi-generational tale of the rise and fall of the fortunes of an American family. But Ferber creates wonderful set pieces and describes early 20th century Chicago with such energy that I found myself engrossed. I wasn’t as emotionally involved as I was when I read Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons (which is a masterpiece of the genre), but I appreciate that the author’s moralizing was a little gentler.
I have a little under a week of vacation left. Maybe I can squeeze in one more book before it’s time to get back to class. Suggestions?