Tag Archives: reading

My Friends: the books

In a recent piece on Tablet magazine, Ann Marlowe imagines what it would be like to walk into someone’s home, and not see any books. What do we end up assuming about that person? For those of us who are readers, do we jump to conclusions about our friends who do not line their living room with bookshelves? Like illicitly rifling through someone’s medicine cabinet, we delight in thumbing through friends’ libraries. It begins conversations, it sparks topics to explore with them over dinner, it tells us what these friends must think about when no one else is around–the sorts of things they occupy their minds with in the quiet moments. The rise in popularity of reading on a Kindle or an iPad affects the spaces in which we live, and it affects the modes in which we relate to other people. 

I’ve noticed this on the T, as well. First, when I took the train to and from school, like getting to see what was on my friends’ bookshelves, I enjoyed seeing what other riders were reading on their commutes. I read so much more when I had commuter time that I could spend reading, and I got many great next-read ideas from the book covers that strangers on the train carried in their hands. As I began to see more and more Kindles during a commute, I felt loss over the exercise of book-cover voyeurism. The ritual of reading is evolving right before our eyes, and for book lovers, that evolution causes growing pains. 

The evolution also affects the way we study. When I sit down with my weekly chevruta, we take out our iPads, click on the app with the book we have recently been working our way through, and begin our learning. I miss the days when we would run our hands over a nice crisp page, feeling the slight textural raise of the ink under our fingers. Yet, I also love that I have an entire library at my fingertips. We find ourselves debating something that involves a particular biblical word or biblical verse. Click, and we have all the examples from other verses that we need as fodder for the argument. Click, and we can see references to other texts we may want to get into. Click, and we have articles outlining various aspects for further discussion. I am nostalgic for a Jewish library that is warm, comfortable, and cozy, and at the same time I love that I have an entire beit midrash and then some in the palm of my hands.

Marlowe wants library spaces to continue, just as I do not want to give up that comfort of the beit midrash. She writes, “A library is a room or a portion of a room set aside for purposes higher than the everyday matter of life, just as a church or synagogue or museum or concert hall is.” For sure, spaces like need to exist in our homes, in our synagogues, and in the other critical venues in which we spend great swaths of time. Just because we are shifting away from the printed page does not diminish our status as the People of the Book. We need the space to perform the ritual of reading. Yet, just as how we are reading is evolving, that space too is bound to evolve.

In our apartment, I have my “magic chair.” It is where I spend a chunk of my Shabbat afternoon. Imagine a large arm chair that sits by the a huge picture window. Next to it is a small table, which is where I usually place the cup of coffee I drink while reading. Whether I’m reading on a Kindle or reading a paper book, one thing is constant: that is my space designated for the ritual of reading. On Shabbat afternoon, I grab a book or I grab my iPad, plop down in the chair, read a few paragraphs, and then promptly fall asleep. 

No matter the device, that is a ritual I’m not changing anytime soon.

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The Rabbis’ Good Reads

I know I accidentally posted this before we had the chance to edit it. So here you go! Rabbi Berry’s books have been added, we’ve changed a couple of other little things (you can treat it like a word search puzzle), and we hope that it gets the conversation going about what to pick up next!

Last year, we posted up a few books that each of us is currently reading. I find that it’s nice to check in with my colleagues to hear what books have been grabbing their attention. We were recently talking about this among us, and decided that it would be a fair time to share:

Rabbi Eric Gurvis is carrying around four books, as of late: John Lennon and the Jews by Ze’ev Maghen is an interesting take on Jewish thought, identity, and life by someone Rabbi Gurvis knew over 30 years ago. He’s also been reading the classic Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel, as well as a Hebrew academic text by Shalom Hartman faculty, Micah Goodman, The Secrets of the Guide for the Perplexed. Finally, let’s not forget a little bit of fun reading. Red Sox’s Truck Day was yesterday, which means that we’re getting ready for baseball season. To get ready for that, Rabbi Gurvis has been reading Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training by Charles Fountain.

Rabbi Allison Berry suggests a couple of titles: Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes. This is a novel written by the creator of my new favorite TV show Downton Abbey. The book is not the same as the TV show but also follows the lives of upper class British society from the 1930ties-1990ties. The First Year: Autism Spectrum Disorders by Nancy D. Wiseman; our son has recently been diagnosed and we are doing as much reading as possible from multiple perspectives. The Art Forger: A Novel by B.A. Shapiro – A mystery novel: this is the most fun I have had in a long time! It is about the art heist at the Isabella Stuart Gardener museum. A great way to learn more about the art world and the “craft” of forging art masterpieces. 

And then, I want to tell you about two books: I have long been a fan of reading thin, thought provoking books on theology. Someone recently directed me to Paul Tillich’s book, Love, Power, and Justice. It is a tough text, but it is worth the effort. Then, it discusses a heavy topic, but it is well worth the read: Columbine by Dave Cullen. In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook, I have been motivated to write and reflect more on gun violence as it occurs in the United States. Having been a high school student when Columbine occurred, this has been something that has shaken me to attention. It’s a disturbing read, but so well researched; it gives a whole different layer of perspective to the current debate.

We’d love to know what else is on your bookshelves. If you have anything we should be taking a look at, post it up in the comments section here!

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