Truly walking a mile in another person’s shoes is rarely possible, but when you want to take a stroll, biography and memoir are right here inside the doors of everyone’s favorite library. Aspiring to understand the Jewish experience, readers can check out materials with unique perspectives on Jewish heritage. Consider exploring the lives of three Jews raised in Brooklyn, New York.
In June 2013, Ruth Bader Ginsburg seized the rare opportunity to read a dissent from the bench of the Supreme Court. Wearing her “dissent collar,” she stated that the court’s majority opinion was a “demolition” of the Voting Rights Act. A slight 80-year-old woman with a soft voice, Justice Ginsburg was already legendary for her groundbreaking work on gender equality as well as her rigorous workout regimen, but her words were her superpower. She may have been the physical opposite of the deceased rapper Notorious B.I.G., but they both used language to pack a punch, and so the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr (a multimedia blog site) was born. Fact-checked by RBG herself, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, presents one of the most fun and inspiring biographies available. Packed with tribute art, photographs of folks in RBG costumes, judicial wisdom, and primary sources, tweens and adults alike can embrace this book. There is also a young readers’ edition.
Speaking of art, who does not love Where the Wild Things Are and New Yorker cartoons? Wild Visionary: Maurice Sendak in Queer Jewish Context, by Golan Y. Moskowitz, makes an in-depth journey into Sendak’s legacy. His upbringing and life as a Jewish gay man informed the futuristic outlook he brought to his books. Because they lost so much family in the Holocaust, Sendak’s parents were overly protective, and home felt as if it were filled with “dead Jews.” Considered a literary and artistic disrupter, Sendak believed that books were a way for children to safely explore their natural fears. Throughout his life, Sendak used his art to confront injustice, challenge prejudice, and engage readers in the gravity of children’s emotional lives.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant is New Yorker magazine cartoonist Roz Chast’s graphic memoir. The art is poignant and funny, provocative and familiar. Doesn’t every family have at least one closet so deep that we never know what was really in it until the person dies and the time comes to clean out its contents? Chast mines the contents of her life, including drawings, possessions, photos, letters, and family anecdotes to create an unforgettable portrait of her upbringing and a piercing view of death. Her relationship with her parents was fraught, making this an uncomfortable read at times. Chast’s dark humor in addressing challenging end-of-life issues resonated deeply with me. Her parents lived into their 90s, and she draws and writes about falls, elder law, dementia, nursing aides, financial fears, incontinence, bed sores, hospice. Filled with universal family truths, the book is one I’ve read and reread, rare for me. It’s a head-on confrontation with the circle of life.
Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.