Holiday Reading List

Snowman with a book
book jacket for: All Quiet on the Orient Express

All Quiet on the Orient Express

by Magnus Mills

Michael Levy,Associate Director, Law Library; Lecturer in Residence

I've recommended British author Magnus Mills' books to any number of people and I can never quite answer the question "so what's this book about." — All Quiet on the Orient Express is no exception. An unnamed narrator is camping in - again - an unnamed village in the Lake District before embarking on a motorcycle trip to India. He begins to help the owner of the campsite with a series of simple tasks, that always lead to more difficult, absurd and sometimes inexplicable jobs, in conjunction with the always slightly off kilter denizens of the village. The style has been described as Kafkaesque, and the reader feels an impending sense of doom as the minimal action progresses through the novel. The prose is sparse and tight with a delightful deadpan humor pervading the text.

book jacket for: Bookhunter


by Jason Shiga

Robert C. Berring, Jr., Walter Perry Johnson Professor of Law

Someone gave me a copy of Jason Shiga's Bookhunter this fall. It is not a new book, but it is still in print and it is an absolute delight for anyone who knows and loves libraries. Mr. Shiga worked at the Oakland Public Library in the binding division and he has produced a graphic novel of suspense based on what he learned there. The drawing is stylized and the story of the relentless (and highly valued) Book Police is a delight. It is an alternative reality where book theft is seen for the dastardly crime that it is. There are allusions to almost every aspect of library operations as the detective tale unfolds. Each person to whom I have given a copy has a favorite page. I was impressed that the story remained complex until the end. How often does one find a graphic novel that uses library jargon and has an exciting chase scene?

book jacket for: Born Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite

Born Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite

by Frank Bruni

Ramona Martinez, Boalt Express

I promise not to sink into the depths of cliché in my review of this fantastically engaging memoir of Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic from 2004-2009. I will not say I devoured it – Nigella Lawson beat me to that one. I will not call it a feast of a book – Tom Perotta gets credit for that one. I will say that I related to this story as I haven't related to anything else in quite some time.

The author grew up in an Italian family with a mother, grandmother and aunts that sound very much like my own. Food equaled love and all the Brunis seemed to be in some insane competition to love the family to death. Frank had an intense love-hate relationship with food and his body for much of his life. He deluded himself into thinking his friends didn't notice he fled to the bathroom after overindulging in food. He talks about trips to Tijuana to get "Mexican speed" to suppress his appetite. His description of the meals he ate while covering George W. Bush's campaign is mind-boggling. The thought processes behind the sizes of clothing he was willing to buy sounded very familiar. His hatred of mirrors and his dread of seeing a doctor and getting on a scale hit home in a very real way.

I was fascinated by his journey back to a healthy weight and I was actually concerned about how he would maintain his healthier lifestyle while working as a restaurant critic eating in "special occasion" restaurants every night. I will leave you in suspense about that and I will highly recommend this book as a great read – even (or especially) during the holidays.

book jacket for: Canterbury Tales collection

Canterbury Tales collection

by Paul Doherty

Joe Cera, Reference Librarian

When I am in the mood for a good mystery, I turn to Paul Doherty (aka: Michael Clynes, C.L. Grace, Ann Dukthas, Paul Harding, Anna Apostolou, or Vanessa Alexander). His Canterbury Tales collection consists of stories told by characters from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. In P.C. Doherty's version, the travelers have a story telling contest for frightening stories told at night after traveling and telling stories in Middle English all day. These mysteries aren't like the Murder on the Orient Express where you are constantly trying to guess who did it and then find out at the end that everyone was in on it. *Retroactive spoiler alert.* These mysteries are for those who just like to sit back and enjoy a good story without being bothered by thinking about who did it. There are twists and turns but only because they make the story better not to try and trick you to throw you off the trail. The guilty parties are usually known early on but the story is in the details. How did the murderer make it all happen? Read the book and find out. The books are a quick read because they are difficult to put down. Doherty has mastered the art of ending each chapter in a way that makes you want to read the next one instead of going to sleep or doing work that needs to get done. Each story begins with the pilgrims talking to each other and deciding who will tell that night's story. The stories are regularly interrupted by the pilgrims, adding depth to the series and often adding details to the mystery of the story.

The currently available stories include:

  • An Ancient Evil (1994) – The Knight's Tale
  • A Tapestry of Murders (1994) – The Lawyer's Tale
  • A Tournament of Murders (1996) – The Franklin's Tale
  • Ghostly Murders (1997) – The Priest's Tale
  • The Hangman's Hymn (2001) – The Carpenter's Tale
  • A Haunt of Murder (2002) – The Clerk's Tale
  • The Midnight Man (2012) – The Physician's Tale
book jacket for: Coffee Cakes: Simple, Sweet, and Savory

Coffee Cakes: Simple, Sweet, and Savory

by Lou Seibert Pappas

Ellen Gilmore, Reference Librarian

I have a sweet tooth and I love the aroma of something delicious baking in my oven, especially during the holidays. One of my favorite books is "Coffee Cakes: Simple, Sweet, and Savory", by Lou Seibert Pappas. It's full of beautiful color photographs and the recipes are creative without being too complicated. The instructions in this book are well-written, and the recipes are easy to read and include helpful notes and tips. The cranberry-pecan-orange coffee cake is wonderful, perhaps because it uses thawed, undiluted, frozen orange juice concentrate instead of regular orange juice. I love the unusual combination of ingredients in the apricot-pistachio-lemon coffee cake, which I have varied for Christmas by substituting dried cherries. The mocha-cappuccino marbled coffee cake is, of course, perfect to enjoy with a cup of coffee. May your holidays be filled with the fragrance of fresh-baked sweets!

book jacket for: Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm

by Stella Gibbons

Chris Tarr, Head of Cataloging

If you haven't read Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons, you really ought to. Written in 1932 as a parody of the rural novels ("loam and lovechild") then popular, it stands on its own as a very funny, good-natured book. It begins this:

The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.

Flora decides following the funeral to write to all her relatives to see where she should "bestow herself and her hundred pounds a year" and ends up at Cold Comfort Farm, with her cousin Judith Starkadder and various other members of her household, including diaphanous Elphine, the rustic cowhand Adam, the cows themselves, Graceless, Pointless, Feckless and Aimless. Flora solves the melodramatic problems of the Starkadders with common sense. It's funny, and ultimately sweet. Worth reading.

book jacket for: Fire Season

Fire Season

by Jon Loomis

Roxanne Livingston, FSU

Jon Loomis is an engaging storyteller and this mystery novel has the it all; great characters written with a sharp sense of humor, a town with its own share of eccentric residents and a middle-aged protagonist with a younger pregnant girlfriend. The premise of the book is that the main character, Frank Coffin is serving double duty as a detective and the police chief for the Provincetown, Massachusetts police force. The mystery he must solve includes a firebug loose in town and the murder of some local seals all while dealing with a middle-aged lifestyle drama in his personal life. Loomis writes about adult relationships with wit and perception giving the story some added depth. The antics of his colorful characters give a view of the real P'town that is as empathetic as it is amusing. This is the third book in the series and all three books provide great entertainment.

book jacket for: Following Atticus

Following Atticus

by Tom Ryan

Kathryn Ferrier, Human Resources Manager

This is a true story of boy meets dog, except instead of a boy, it's middle aged, overweight, cynical newspaperman Tom Ryan who, along with miniature schnauzer Atticus M. Finch, ends up scaling the many peaks of the White Mountains for both personal and philanthropic reasons. This odd couple friendship is both touching and hilarious as Atticus takes the lead, whether on the hiking trail or in town checking out the treats that the shopkeepers set aside for him, ever vigilant that Tom is dutifully behind him. I must admit that I'm still in the middle of this book but I want to add this to the Holiday Book List because I am enjoying it so much. Mr. Ryan writes of everything that crosses his path, including his own family relationships, town politics, and his many adventures with Atticus, making this not just a story about a dog or about hiking the mountains, but more about finding your home again and rediscovering the spirit that you thought you might have lost along the way. Nothing better than curling up with this book in front of the fire - and having a little dog snuggled against your side is extra bliss. Add this to your holiday happiness!

book jacket for: Guilty Pleasures - Detective Fiction

Guilty Pleasures - Detective Fiction

Robert C. Berring, Jr., Walter Perry Johnson Professor of Law

Reading detective fiction is a guilty pleasure, no doubt about it. Like the siren song of chocolate, crime fiction calls out to me, and I answer. I decided to lump together some of my favorite titles from the last six months. (The six months referring to when I read them, not when they were published.)

The Cut by George Pelecanos

Pelecanos writes elegant gritty fiction about life in Washington, D.C.. Since he worked on the triumphant television series The Wire, his fame has reached outside the world of crime novels. But he is still a central figure. This book is less dark than some of his earlier work and presents us with a fascinating new protagonist, Spero Lucas. Spero finds things for people. The book muses on the gentrification of D.C., and even skates over characters from Pelecanos's earlier series. It is a fine read.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This book was hard to put down. Talk about flawed narrators, here for much of the book it is hard to figure out what is going on. Some reviewers think that the book is really about marriage, some see it as a mystery, some as a straight up piece of fiction. The prose sparkles but it cuts too. A few readers complain that there are no likeable characters, but I disagree. I would never want to mess with Nick or Amazing Amy. The book has an amazingly twisted ending. Not much blood here, but many psychic wounds.

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Another title that is classified as a mystery but which is more of a psychological thriller. I quite like the protagonist, a hard working Dublin policeman, but the story is far more than a police procedural. The book is about the collapse of the Irish economy and the disillusionment of those who believed in the Irish Dream economy. French writes with panache and sucks the reader in. You may start hearing noises in the wall if you read late into the night as I did.

Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham

This book blew me away. The heroine, Detective Chief Inspector Fiona Griffiths, is a wonder. Not a drinker, smoker or a sloppy mess as so many heroes and heroines are in this genre, she has problems but she is smart and focused. She is good at working things out and her colleagues on the force tolerate her eccentricities because of her brilliance. Her secrets are fascinating and make for an exciting ending. Bingham is reportedly working on a second book in this series and I cannot wait. Not a great deal of bloody violence here. Fiona does not carry a gun. But she does have friends.

book jacket for: King of the Mound

King of the Mound

by Wes Tooke, Children's Book

Keri Klein, Reference Librarian

King of the Mound by Wes Tooke is a great read (or read-aloud) for any child age 8 and above, especially one who loves baseball. The story is absorbing and the individual characters are extremely well drawn. Additionally, the historical context of the story, the economic strife, polio scare, and racial prejudice of the 1930s adds a lot of depth to the narrative. The story begins with twelve year old Nick leaving the hospital after a year spent recovering from polio. The former star baseball player walks with a pronounced limp and must wear a brutally uncomfortable brace. Nick's father, a longtime minor league catcher cannot cope with the change. He does not hide his disappointment or shame and his parenting is extremely harsh.

Nick is incredibly resilient despite his crushed hopes and physical pain and winds up working for Churchill, the successful, boisterous manager of the local minor league team. There, Nick meets Satchel Paige, arguably the best player in baseball, who encourages Nick to overcome his physical disability and pitch again. Paige is flamboyant and supremely self-confident despite the extreme discrimination that he faces: he is unable to play in the major leagues due to segregation and deals with sometimes dangerous social bigotry. Nick is also befriended by a neighbor girl, Emma, with family trauma of her own. Emma surprises Nick with her baseball skills, and teaches him about loyalty and acceptance. Nick ultimately returns to the mound and the book ends with him being asked play a game for his old team.

book jacket for: The Kissing Game: Short Stories

The Kissing Game: Short Stories

by Aidan Chambers, YA Fiction

Fiona Lewis, 9th Grade

The short stories in this collection are all quite different and unique. In one, a boy saves a girl from a fire and then realizes she died a hundred years ago. In the title story, The Kissing Game, a very shy boy gets up the nerve to talk to the girl next door who can never go outside supposedly due to an anxiety disorder and finds out it's actually something much more terrifying. Chambers' stories are quite provocative, and you end up wanting to talk about them with friends. I hate to say it but this would actually be a good book to talk about in English class. In short, amazing.

book jacket for: The Langton Quartet

The Langton Quartet

by Martin Boyd

William Benemann, Library Archivist

Australian literature is ignored by most Americans. Unless a novel is made into a major motion picture, writers from Down Under tend to remain largely unknown. That should not be the fate of Martin Boyd (1893-1972). Boyd's four novels published as The Langton Quartet (The Cardboard Crown, A Difficult Young Man, Outbreak of Love, and When Blackbirds Sing) are a multi-generational tale much along the lines of Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga. Boyd's narrator, Guy Langton, inherits the family estate outside of Melbourne, and with it a box containing the volumes of a journal that his grandmother began keeping in the 1880s. Most of the entries are standard fare for a Victorian lady of means, but interspersed are passages written in a minuscule hand, in French. Langton takes out a magnifying glass, and family secrets buried for decades are slowly revealed. The novels are out of print, but used copies can still be found. They are well worth searching out.

book jacket for: Men in Eden

Men in Eden

by William Benemann

We have an author! The law library is proud to recommend a book by one of its own – library archivist Bill Benemann. As reported in the Berkeleyan, Benemann is the author of Men in Eden, the story of a "19th-century Scottish nobleman who pursued adventure and sexual freedom in the freewheeling milieu of the American West. Subtitled William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade, the book traces Stewart's travels, in the early 1830s, from Perthshire, Scotland, to the American Rockies. There he visited a rollicking annual meet-up of mountain men and fur traders known as "the rendezvous," having such a grand time that he ended up spending the better part of a decade with hunters and trappers. Among them was the highly skilled French Canadian-Cree Indian hunter, Antoine Clement, who became his intimate companion.

Men in Eden offers, in one reviewer's words, "a welcome and invigorating addition to the field of gay history/sexuality studies" — welcome in part, perhaps, because gay histories of this period have largely focused on Europe. Police surveillance of gay communities there, Benemann explains, led to sodomy prosecutions with richly detailed court testimony. In the U.S., however, the first police forces were just getting formed in the 1830s and '40s, so the written record on homosexual lives is much thinner.

"Most people have assumed that therefore it's almost impossible to do research on early gay American history," says Benemann, who came out in 1969, while an undergrad at Berkeley. "I just decided that probably was not the case."

book jacket for: Mortality


by Christopher Hitchens

Monique Macauley, Acquisitons/Serials

Never one to shy away from telling the truth as he saw it, Christopher Hitchens approached his imminent death from esophageal cancer in the same way. This collection is made up of a series of columns written for Vanity Fair and addressing his imminent death.

Once Hitchens finds himself slipping over the border from the "country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady" he explores illness and all the changes that come with it. The disappointments when treatment doesn't work. How illness changes our interactions with the world and those around us. The ennui of waiting for the end.

What would seem to be a very sad and depressing topic is transformed by Hitch's wit and intelligence and his ability to step back from his situation long enough to look at it philosophically. It is a short read but there is so much going on inside you won't realize it until you are done. This book is in the library's non-fiction bestseller collection. Check it out!

book jacket for: Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook

Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook

by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann

Ellen Gilmore, Reference Librarian

A few years ago my friend gave me a crock pot for Christmas. I was rather disappointed by the gift as I already had a 30 year old, bulky, avocado green, hard to wash crock pot languishing in the back of one of my cupboards, a sad wedding present that never saw the light of day. My friend, however, reassured me that my new pot would turn me on to slow cooking - and she was right. The pot she gave me is white, good sized, can be removed from its base, and is very easy to wash. I discovered that there is a new generation of inexpensive crock pots, and they are available in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Sure, you can buy an All-Clad Deluxe Slow Cooker for $250, but you also can buy a Rival Crock Pot like mine for about $30, and it works just fine.

The gift started me on a slow cooking journey, and I explored many cookbooks. My favorite is "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook", written by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. My copy is dog-eared and full of post-its and annotations and smudges of food - all signs of a well-loved book. It has very useful instructions at the beginning, including information on the different sizes of pots, cooking times, and directions such as how to thicken dishes or remove the fat. There are plenty of recipes for herbivores and carnivores alike, and while there are no pictures, the recipe layout is easy to read and the directions are clear. It's also well indexed (I am a librarian, after all). My favorite dishes include soups such as vegetarian split pea and chicken tortilla, entrees such as chili with beef and beans, Thai pork with peanut sauce, and barbeque ribs, sides such as Spanish brown rice, and pasta sauces like chunky tomato basil sauce. I've also tried the honey and apple bread pudding with golden raisins, which, much to my surprise, was a very good dessert. My future plans include experimenting with the recipes for jam, chutney, and oatmeal. Happy slow cooking!

book jacket for: Olive, the Other Reindeer

Olive, the Other Reindeer

by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold, illustrated by J. Otto Seibold

Ramona Martinez, Boalt Express

Olive, a dog and the protagonist of the story, has a Mondegreen1 moment while listening to the Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer song. She assumes she must be a reindeer and therefore must report immediately to the North Pole for duty. This new interpretation of the Rudolph story explores the unique abilities a dog could bring to the table as a service to Santa on his yearly round-the-world trip delivering toys to all good boys and girls. Fog plays a role in this story as in the original but Olive uses her strong sense of smell to navigate the sleigh. Her chewing and acute hearing are also put to good use.

I am a sucker for a good pun so Olive's story has stuck with me and I am reminded of her whenever I hear the lyrics, "All of the other reindeer." It happens every year.


book jacket for: The Secret Keeper: A Novel

The Secret Keeper: A Novel

by Kate Morton

Edna Lewis, Reference Librarian

In 1960, 16 year old Laurel, hidden in a tree house, witnesses a shocking crime at her family's farm in the English countryside. Fast forward to 2011. Laurel, now an accomplished British actress, finds at her mother's nursing home bedside a 1941 picture of her mother with an unknown woman, which she learns her mother has asked to be brought from a locked trunk at home. Laurel, still confounded by what she saw in 1960 and how inexplicable it seems in light of the loving, family centered mother she knows, tries to reconstruct her mother's life and what might have led to the fateful day. Told in flashbacks focusing on her mother Dorothy and Vivien, the enigmatic woman in the photo, Laurel gradually unravels the story. Morton, author of The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden is known for her gothic storytelling and her ability to immerse the reader in a time and place, in this case wartime London. And, as with Morton's other books, nothing is as it first seems and the book's twists and turns will keep you hooked until the last sentence. I found myself going back and rereading parts of the book and admiring how cleverly Morton presents the mystery. This is the perfect holiday break book – curl up on the couch with a glass of wine and one of those plush throws every retailer is pushing this season and enjoy.

book jacket for: Shadow Country

Shadow Country

by Peter Matthiessen

Jill Sowards, 3L

Shadow Country traces the mythic rise and fall of a frontier legend, E.J. Watson, who haunts the Everglades from the Civil War to the Great Depression. It is a rare book, one that challenges the reader's expectations about good and evil, and whether we can ever escape our past. Shadow Country is comprised of three "books" corresponding to separate novels written by Peter Matthiessen between 1990 and 1999. Mr. Matthiessen revisited the trilogy in this current publication, wrestling the longer novels into an incredibly imagined story of family tragedy, racism and environmental damage -- evocatively paralleling the failings of the feared and respected planter Watson with America's own tragic history of growth.

The three books are beautifully rendered, displaying Mr. Matthiessen's skillful narrative and remarkable ability to immerse his readers in a time and place. Book I begins with Watson's death, and is carried by the testimony of 12 first-person narrators, whose characters return throughout the series. The section establishes many of the rumors that follow Watson throughout the book, and is worth reading slowly to enjoy Matthiessen's "ear" for the mix of dialects converging in the Everglades. Book II follows Watson's favorite son, Lucius, and his search for the truth about his father's dark past, and his own role in its end. Finally, in Book III, Matthiessen allows Watson to narrate an account of his own life, settling the rumors behind Bloody Watson and revealing, to the reader alone, the man behind the legend.

book jacket for: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Edna Lewis, Reference Librarian

In connection with the recent movie release of Lincoln (a superb film BTW), I'd like to recommend Goodwin's 2006 book on which the movie is based. Goodwin gives us the back story of how Lincoln, a relatively unknown, unsophisticated Illinois lawyer, triumphed over more experienced rivals (William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates) to capture the presidency. Lincoln then commandeered these outspoken critics for his cabinet and, astonishing the lot of them, emerged as a political genius and a true statesman during our country's most divisive period. The battle for passage of the 13th amendment (on which the movie focuses) is a remarkable tale of political gamesmanship as Lincoln and his team wheel and deal to garner the necessary votes. It's a cliché, but history truly comes alive. One cannot help but mourn once again Lincoln's assassination and think how different Reconstruction might have been had Lincoln been able to steer the course. Read the book, see the movie. See the movie, read the book. Just in time for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. And if you're feeling particularly adventuresome, consider attending the Gettysburg Summer Civil War Institute. Battle dress optional.

book jacket for: They Eat Puppies Don't They?

They Eat Puppies Don't They?

by Christopher Buckley

Monique Macauley, Acquisitions/Serials

Another rollicking Washingtonian outing from Christopher Buckley! In They Eat Puppies, Don't They? we are introduced to Walter "Bird" McIntyre, Washington lobbyist for a defense contractor. He and his neocon accomplice Angel Templeton hook up to create anti-Chinese sentiment in the U.S. so Bird's former (but not really) employer can get an appropriation for their new drone, Dumbo, passed through congress. This just scrapes the surface of this wonderful piece of satire. Buckley is on target when he skewers the defense industry, lobbyists, horse jumping Olympic hopefuls, the media, just about everybody. This title can be found in the law library's bestsellers collection. Check it out!

book jacket for: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots—A Memoir

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots—A Memoir

by Deborah Feldman

Kathleen Vanden Heuvel, Adjunct Professor of Law; Director, Law Library; Associate Dean, Capital Projects

This is a fascinating autobiographical account by a young woman who was brought up in the Satmar sect of a Hasidic community, in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Although Feldman describes much that is frightening and wrong with her Hasidic upbringing, her memoir is not an expose. It is an incredibly personal, complex, nuanced story of her motherless1 and (nearly) fatherless childhood, her arranged marriage at the age of 17, the birth of her child at the age of 19, and her decision to leave her Hasidic life behind at the age of 22. What I find stunning is that Feldman wrote this memoir between the ages of 22-24.

Feldman tells us that she learned in school "that God sent Hitler to punish the Jews for enlightening themselves. He came to clean us up, eliminate all the assimilated Jews, all the frei Yidden who thought they could free themselves from the yoke of the chosen ones. Now we atone for their sins." She was taught that the only way to prevent another Holocaust was to become a model Jew, like in the "olden days." Assimilation was the ultimate danger and worst sin. To prevent it, her upbringing was devoid of most accoutrements of modern life: no television, movies, radio, computers, secular books, music, newspapers. Feldman, however, longs for a sense of shared humanity. When she secretly begins to visit libraries she discovers both a space in which to think and the books that inspire her. "In the library, it is so quiet and still that I feel my thoughts expand in the space that the tall ceiling provides."

In the Satmar community females are severely constrained from participating in public life or from making their own choices. Feldman feels increasingly alone and out of sync in this world. She is overjoyed when she encounters Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Betty Smith, all of whom wrestle with and resist these same constraints on their lives. When Feldman reads Jane Austen for the first time there are no historical barriers or cultural divides preventing her from understanding what Austen is talking about. She too is living in a world where females have no hope, no prospects, no life, if they don't marry well, and where they have little to say about whom they marry and when. Feldman is reading Jane Austen as if she were Jane Austen. As a result, I not only learned a lot about Feldman's world from reading unorthodox, I learned a lot about Jane Austen's.

It is sometimes hard to remember that Feldman is on the same time line that I am, so engrained are my own assumptions about the world. At one point, for instance, she describes a disagreement among Satmar rabbis about whether it is possible to erect an eiruv (a symbolic fence surrounding public property that allows the area to be considered private, so that Hasids can carry their children, their house keys, etc. on Shabbos). Many young Hasidic men are incensed at what they consider to be a loophole in the law. In response, they attack women who carry their babies in public on Shabbos. As I read this I feel that Feldman is recounting historical events that took place in an ultra Orthodox community in late 19th century Germany, or a Russian village 500 years ago. But Feldman jolts me back to reality when, in the next paragraph, she describes how her 12 year old self felt on September 11, 2001, the day the Twin Towers were attacked and destroyed. All of this is happening at the same time, in the 21st century. I experienced an exhilarating, disorienting sensation as I read her memoir. She makes me feel like a time traveler, but also reminds me that there are worlds that co-exist with my own, about which I know nothing.

Feldman is brave, naïve, reckless and passionate, possessed of laser-like insights and a righteous anger that is not only the result of her Hasidic upbringing. She shares a deep longing for freedom and independence with Heloise d'Argentille, Jane Austen, Kate Chopin, Katharine Hepburn, and countless other women who simply could not bear to subordinate their intelligence, passion, talent, and ambition to the rules made by men, for men. Her story is absolutely compelling, her writing often elegant and charmingly elaborate. She tells it from the inside out, pulling no punches. It is a tantalizingly youthful story that feels like it is just the beginning. Her Zeidy may be right that she has yet to face the worst danger--assimilation into the all consuming mono-culture that Feldman is now free to be part of (Buñuel's Viridiana comes to mind). I hope that in her quest to escape her past Feldman never loses it. As I think she already knows, it is the stuff both dreams and nightmares are made on.

1Since the publication of her book the accuracy of Feldman's story has been called into question, especially by her former community. For instance, Feldman claims her mother left the community when she was a young child, but other evidence suggests she did not leave until Feldman was 17. I have not delved deeply into the claims that Feldman's story is more a work of fiction than a true biography, but the accusations are easily found with a Google search. Feldman stands by her story and says that it is the truth, even if a few details are disputable. My own view is that if the internet had been around when Rousseau wrote his Confessions there would have been questions raised about the factual accuracy of his revelations. (e.g he claims to have given away all his children, but there would be those who would say he was sterile or impotent and never had any children). I am not sure sorting out the facts would have been all that useful in determining truth.

Snowman ascending stairs

The Snowman
has left the building.

See you in 2013!