Traditionally I am not one for books about/surrounding religion, however when the sisterhood at my synagogue started reading Lucette Lagnado’s The Arrogant Years, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Mainly because Judiasm, and all the rituals/limitations that come with it in the 1950s, served as the backdrop for what is really a multicultural story about a young girl from Cairo who makes her way to New York. Throughout her life, she is forced to reconcile her Jewish heritage with the changing world view of the religion as well as feminism at its height in the 1960s and 70s.
Lagnado, aka Lou Lou, is the youngest in her family of Orthodox Jews. Add to that the fact that she’s a girl, and her early years are marked by separation and less rights as the men in her family as well as male peers. Beginning in Cairo, the Arrogant Years is a fascinating depiction of Orthodox life from the view of a girl bold enough to question “the way things are” and desperate to change them. At the same time, she is torn between the traditions that Jews pride themselves on and her desire to adapt to the changing face of women’s rights around the world.
As a Jew myself, though a reform one at that (i.e. not as conservative as the Orthodox), I found the book especially interesting insofar as I can relate to their traditions and the pride Lou Lou’s family had in their traditions. On the flip side, I learned a lot more about the history of a more conservative sect of Judaism. Being raised in a reform congregation, I was never subject to the separate of men and women or pressure to marry young that is illustrated here.
My only gripe about the book is this: while it is written in first person narrative,t he photo captions are all in third person! Small potatoes, I know, but I would have liked to see more consistency. It made me question whether the author threw in the photos out of a desire to bring her tales to life with a real face, or if the editors did it later to add more color.
Like many other readers, whether male or female, I love a nice easy read in the summer. This past season I discovered a new author, for my repertoire at least, who offered everything I was looking for: romance, a little suspense, laughter, and happy endings.
Sherryl Woods has written multiple series centered around the tales of the residents of small towns like The Sweet Magnolias in South Carolina, and the O’Briens in Chesapeake Shores, Maryland. Each book within the series chronicles the journey of one of the town’s characters to self discovery and romance. While each book has as formulated plot line (intro to main character, strife, enter handsome man, cue the attraction, add in some difficulty, wrap it in a nice package), the books are nonetheless entertaining reads. It’s like delving into a marathon of your favorite sitcoms on TV. Not as intellectually stimulating as a documentary or drama, but entertaining and a short escape from your own life.
Each book I read (and that would be upwards of 10) offered me the chance to escape to small town life and contemplate whether it would be a fit for me. Not sure I could do the small-town life for the long hall, but we long for a sense of community like those Woods develops. And thankfully I can get a taste of what it would be like to fall in love with the boy I overlooked in high school from the comfort of my D.C. studio via any of Woods’ books. The fantastical lives, where everyone has a wealthy friend ready to help them when things get tough (how nice that must be!), are hardly realistic on the large sense—this is a romance novel after all—they are presented in such a way that a reader naturally identifies their friends within the novel’s cast of characters. Those who are there for you when life is wonderful and its time to celebrate, and when you need a shoulder to cry on or a partner-in-crime.
Final verdict: Ladies, if you want to escape from your own reality for a little while, or just daydream, pickup a Woods’ novel and travel to South Carolina or Maryland.
Really great book festival coming to Bethesda Row next week. Check out the lineup:
The National Book Festival dominated the National Mall this past weekend. More than 200,000 people stopped by the tents between the Washington Monument and Capitol to buy books, hear from their favorite authors and poets, and get their newly-purchased items signed by the author.
The massive, two-day event is coordinated by the Library of Congress with nearly 500 Junior League volunteers helping keep attendees in line (literally and figuratively) while they waited to get their books autographed by the likes of R.L. Stine, Michael Connelly, and others.
I was able to stop by on Saturday for a couple of hours and was super impressed with the execution, layout, and overall attendance. Plus it was BEYOND exciting to see so many people interested in books! In such a digital age where there are so many other entertainment avenues, it really is great to see that books and literature are still alive and well. We may be reading via kindles, nooks, and iPads, but at least we’re reading and, hopefully, getting our children to read as well.
Here are a few links to more in-depth coverage of the festival:
The Washington Post
Katie Crouch, the author behind The New York Times bestseller Girls in Trucks, has started the newest of female-target trilogies with the creation of The Magnolia League. The novel follows 16-year-old protagonist Alexandria as she moves from a commune in California to the proper southern society of Savannah, Georgia. Her grandmother is the matriarch of the book’s namesake social club, the be-all-end-all for all affluent Savannah ladies across three generations.
Growing up in a commune clearly has an effect on Alexandria’s wardrobe as well as her way of looking at life, which is naturally quite different form the prim and proper society in which she finds herself. With the help of two frenemies, (there really is no better way to describe her teenage cohorts) she learns the ropes and many-a-dark secret of the way things work for the seemingly perfect Magnolias. And yes, these are secrets beyond what you would begin to guess.
As someone born and raised below the Mason-Dixon line, I must commend Crouch on her ability to paint an accurate picture of life in South. While my upbringing did not mirror the image of life she creates in Savannah to such a strong degree, the sense of propriety (both in manner and dress) as well as the social circuit is not unfamiliar and I know many whose description of their southern life is nearly on-target with Crouch’s world. Just substitute the Magnolia League for the Junior League (minus one BIG Magnolia secret) and it’s pretty on target.
Is the writing the best I’ve ever read? No. But I don’t believe that was Crouch’s goal to begin with. Many people want to read a book and expect it to live up to the highest level of literature imaginable. Well guess what? Not everyone can, or should, be Tolstoy. Long before we had television and movies, books were a source of entertainment to pass the time. That is precisely what this book does: entertain. And considering I couldn’t wait to download the sequel, The White Glove War, to my kindle the second I finished proves that The Magnolia League was just that. It will leave you with a sense of enjoyment, a bit of suspense, and—if you’re from the South and not living there—just a bit of homesickness.
Attention foodies! Ever wonder what the life of your favorite chef is really like–both in and out of the kitchen? New York journalist Charlotte Druckman— known for her pieces in the Wall Street Journal and Travel and Leisure among others—gives you an inside look at the lives of 73 female chefs in her new book: Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen.
Two of the chefs interviewed in the book Ann Cashion, a James Beard Award-winner, and Top Chef‘s Carla Hall will host a book signing for the author on October 18 at Johnny’s Half Shell in Capitol Hill. Tickets for the soiree are $45 and include a copy of the book as well as two hours—from 6 to 8 p.m.—of wine, specialty cocktails and hors d’oeuvres created by the hosting chefs.
A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation, an organization designed to help disadvantaged youth through tennis.
After a year+ break to move cities and get settled with a new career, this journalist/ad-specialist/book lover is back in action with a slew of reviews ready to come your way. I’ve continued reading at an exponential rate throughout the past months, formed a new book club in the District, and am excited to share my thoughts—and theirs—with you once again.
In addition to the new club perspective, you’ve probably noticed I’ve changed the name and rebranded the blog. Everything must evolve, as we do each day, and this blog is no exception. I was thrilled to share TheBelleBeat with you and hope you’ll continue reading Books, Etc. All of your favorite book reviews and southern living tips, tricks, and musings are still accessible in the archives for those looking for a trip down memory lane. Books, Etc. will also have a ton of new initiatives including:
- News on upcoming book signings, events, and controversy
- Discussion questions
- Views from the Club
…and much more!
As the site continues to evolve, I look for your feedback and suggestions on what you’d like to see here. Feel free to email me at email@example.com