Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

Here are our top ten recommendations if you are looking for the best books to read in Jewish Literary Criticism. We have made sure our list is diverse to cater to the interests of different types of readers.

1. Philip Roth: The Biography

Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

New York Times Bestseller The renowned biographer’s definitive portrait of a literary titan. Appointed by Philip Roth and granted independence and complete access, Blake Bailey spent years poring over Roth’s personal archive, interviewing his friends, lovers, and colleagues, and engaging Roth himself in breathtakingly candid conversations. The result is an indelible portrait of an American master and of the postwar literary scene. Bailey shows how Roth emerged from a lower-middle-class Jewish milieu to achieve the heights of literary fame, how his career was nearly derailed by his catastrophic first marriage, and how he championed the work of dissident novelists behind the Iron Curtain. Bailey examines Roth’s rivalrous friendships with Saul Bellow, John Updike, and William Styron, and reveals the truths of his florid love life, culminating in his almost-twenty-year relationship with actress Claire Bloom, who pilloried Roth in her 1996 memoir, Leaving a Doll’s House . Tracing Roth’s path from realism to farce to metafiction to the tragic masterpieces of the American Trilogy, Bailey explores Roth’s engagement with nearly every aspect of postwar American culture. 100 photographs

  • Author: Blake Bailey
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 6, 2021)
  • Genre: Literature & Fiction, History & Criticism
  • ISBN: 978-0393240726
  • Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.9 x 9.6 inches


2. Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi

Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

Jesus was a skilled storyteller and perceptive teacher who used parables from everyday life to effectively convey his message and meaning. Life in first-century Palestine was very different from our world today, and many traditional interpretations of Jesus' stories ignore this disparity and have often allowed anti-Semitism and misogyny to color their perspectives. In this wise, entertaining, and educational book, Amy-Jill Levine offers a fresh, timely reinterpretation of Jesus' narratives. In Short Stories by Jesus , she analyzes these "problems with parables", taking us back in time to understand how their original Jewish audience understood them. Levine reveals the parables' connections to first-century economic and agricultural life, social customs and morality, Jewish scriptures, and Roman culture. With this revitalized understanding, she interprets these moving stories for a contemporary listener, showing how the parables are not just about Jesus, but are also about us - and when understood rightly, still challenge and provoke us 2,000 years later.

  • Author: Amy-Jill Levine
  • Genre: Christian Books & Bibles, Bible Study & Reference, Bible Study, New Testament, Jesus, the Gospels & Acts


3. From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family

Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

This "thoughtful, timely, and comprehensive biography" (Jennifer Weiner, New York Times Book Review ) of All-of-a-Kind Family author Sydney Taylor highlights her dramatic influence on American children’s literature "Delves deeply into historical context, including Jewish immigrant experiences. . . . An uncommonly intimate portrait. . . . Deeply empathetic."—Elissa Gershowitz, Horn Book This is the first and only biography of Sydney Taylor (1904–1978), author of the award-winning All-of-a-Kind Family series of books, the first juvenile novels published by a mainstream publisher to feature Jewish children characters. The family—based on Taylor’s own as a child—includes five sisters, each two years apart, dressed alike by their fastidious immigrant mother so they all look the same: all-of-a-kind. The four other sisters’ names were the same in the books as in their real lives; only the real-life Sarah changed hers to the boyish Sydney while she was in high school. Cummins elucidates the deep connections between the progressive Taylor’s books and American Jewish experiences, arguing that Taylor was deeply influential in the development of national Jewish identity. This biography conveys the vital importance of children’s books in the transmission of Jewish culture and the preservation of ethnic heritage.

  • Author: June Cummins
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (June 22, 2021)
  • Genre: Literature & Fiction, History & Criticism
  • ISBN: 978-0300243550
  • Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches


4. A Walker in the City (Harvest Book)

Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

A literary icon’s “singular and beautiful” memoir of growing up as a first-generation Jewish American in Brownsville, Brooklyn ( The New Yorker ).   A classic portrait of immigrant life in the early decades of the twentieth century, A Walker in the City is a tour of tenements, subways, and synagogues—but also a universal story of the desires and fears we experience as we try to leave our small, familiar neighborhoods for something new.   With vivid imagery and sensual detail—the smell of half-sour pickles, the dry rattle of newspapers, the women in their shapeless flowered housedresses—Alfred Kazin recounts his boyhood walks through this working-class community, and his eventual foray across the river to “the city,” the mysterious, compelling Manhattan, where treasures like the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum beckoned. Eventually, he would travel even farther, building a life around books and language and literature and exploring all that the world had to offer.   “The whole texture, color, and sound of life in this tenement realm . . . is revealed as tapestried, as dazzling, as full of lush and varied richness as an Arabian bazaar.” — The New York Times

  • Author: Alfred Kazin
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; First edition (March 19, 1969)
  • Genre: Kindle Store, Kindle eBooks, Literature & Fiction


5. To Pray as a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer Book and the Synagogue Service

Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

A distinguished guide to Jewish prayer Why do Jews pray? What is the role of prayer in their lives as moral and ethical beings? From the simplest details of how to comport oneself on entering a synagogue to the most profound and moving comments on the prayers themselves, Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin guides readers of To Pray as a Jew through the entire prescribed course of Jewish liturgy, passage by passage, ritual by ritual, in this handsome and indispensable guide to Jewish prayer. Unexcelled for beginners as well as the religiously observant, To Pray as a Jew is intended to show the way, to enlighten, and hopefully to inspire.

  • Author: Hayim H. Donin
  • Publisher: Basic Books (August 13, 2019)
  • Genre: Literature & Fiction, History & Criticism
  • ISBN: 978-1541674035
  • Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.45 x 8.3 inches


6. Jews and Words (Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization)

Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

A celebrated novelist and an acclaimed historian of ideas, father and daughter, unravel the chain of words at the core of Jewish life, history, and culture Why are words so important to so many Jews? Novelist Amos Oz and historian Fania Oz-Salzberger roam the gamut of Jewish history to explain the integral relationship of Jews and words. Through a blend of storytelling and scholarship, conversation and argument, father and daughter tell the tales behind Judaism’s most enduring names, adages, disputes, texts, and quips. These words, they argue, compose the chain connecting Abraham with the Jews of every subsequent generation. Framing the discussion within such topics as continuity, women, timelessness, and individualism, Oz and Oz-Salzberger deftly engage Jewish personalities across the ages, from the unnamed, possibly female author of the Song of Songs through obscure Talmudists to contemporary writers. They suggest that Jewish continuity, even Jewish uniqueness, depends not on central places, monuments, heroic personalities, or rituals but rather on written words and an ongoing debate between the generations. Full of learning, lyricism, and humor, Jews and Words offers an extraordinary tour of the words at the heart of Jewish culture and extends a hand to the reader, any reader, to join the conversation.

  • Author: Amos Oz
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (February 25, 2014)
  • Genre: Literature & Fiction, History & Criticism
  • ISBN: 978-0300205848
  • Dimensions: 7.09 x 0.67 x 7.59 inches


7. A Tale of Love and Darkness

Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

The International Bestselling memoir from award-winning author Amos Oz, "one of Isreal's most prolific writers and respected intellectuals" ( The New York Times ), about his turbulent upbringing in the city of Jerusalem in the era of the dissolution of Mandatory Palestine and the beginning of the State of Israel. Winner of the National Jewish Book Award"An ingenious work that circles around the rise of a state, the tragic destiny of a mother, a boy’s creation of a new self."??―??The New YorkerA family saga and a magical self-portrait of a writer who witnessed the birth of a nation and lived through its turbulent history. A Tale of Love and Darkness is the story of a boy who grows up in war-torn Jerusalem, in a small apartment crowded with books in twelve languages and relatives speaking nearly as many. The story of an adolescent whose life has been changed forever by his mother’s suicide. The story of a man who leaves the constraints of his family and community to join a kibbutz, change his name, marry, have children. The story of a writer who becomes an active participant in the political life of his nation."One of the most enchanting and deeply satisfying books that I have read in many years."??―??New Republic

  • Author: Amos Oz
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; First edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Genre: Literature & Fiction, History & Criticism
  • ISBN: 978-0156032520
  • Dimensions: 5.31 x 1.42 x 8 inches


8. Open Heart

Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

A profoundly and unexpectedly intimate, deeply affecting summing up of his life so far, from one of the most cherished moral voices of our time. Eighty-two years old, facing emergency heart surgery and his own mortality, Elie Wiesel reflects back on his life. Emotions, images, faces, and questions flash through his mind. His family before and during the unspeakable Event. The gifts of marriage and children and grandchildren that followed. In his writing, in his teaching, in his public life, has he done enough for memory and the survivors? His ongoing questioning of God - where has it led? Is there hope for mankind? The world's tireless ambassador of tolerance and justice has given us this luminous account of hope and despair, an exploration of the love, regrets, and abiding faith of a remarkable man.

  • Author: Elie Wiesel
  • Genre: Literature & Fiction, History & Criticism, Regional & Cultural, Jewish


9. To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)

Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

Nobel laureate Saul Bellow’s revealing interviews and meditations, steeped in history and literature, on the unique spirit and challenges of Israel A Penguin Classic A powerful, stimulating testament, To Jerusalem and Back is a rigorous attempt to come to grips with Israel’s history and future. Immersing himself in the landscape and culture of this “small state in perpetual crisis,” Bellow records the opinions, passions, and dreams of Israelis of varying viewpoints—Yitzak Rabin, Amos Oz, the editor of the largest Arab-language newspaper in Israel, a kibbutznik escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto—and adds his own reflections on being Jewish in the twentieth century. Saul Bellow’s journey is not merely an exploration of a very beautiful and very troubled city; it is a major literary work, and an urgently important one. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

  • Author: Saul Bellow
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (May 1, 1998)
  • Genre: Literature & Fiction, History & Criticism
  • ISBN: 978-0141180755
  • Dimensions: 7.76 x 5.1 x 0.56 inches


10. Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism

Top 10 Best Books to Read in Jewish Literary Criticism - August 2021

How the rabbis of late antiquity used time to define the boundaries of Jewish identity The rabbinic corpus begins with a question–“when?”―and is brimming with discussions about time and the relationship between people, God, and the hour. Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism explores the rhythms of time that animated the rabbinic world of late antiquity, revealing how rabbis conceptualized time as a way of constructing difference between themselves and imperial Rome, Jews and Christians, men and women, and human and divine. In each chapter, Sarit Kattan Gribetz explores a unique aspect of rabbinic discourse on time. She shows how the ancient rabbinic texts artfully subvert Roman imperialism by offering "rabbinic time" as an alternative to "Roman time." She examines rabbinic discourse about the Sabbath, demonstrating how the weekly day of rest marked "Jewish time" from "Christian time." Gribetz looks at gendered daily rituals, showing how rabbis created "men's time" and "women's time" by mandating certain rituals for men and others for women. She delves into rabbinic writings that reflect on how God spends time and how God's use of time relates to human beings, merging "divine time" with "human time." Finally, she traces the legacies of rabbinic constructions of time in the medieval and modern periods. Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism sheds new light on the central role that time played in the construction of Jewish identity, subjectivity, and theology during this transformative period in the history of Judaism.

  • Author: Professor Sarit Kattan Gribetz
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 17, 2020)
  • Genre: Literature & Fiction, History & Criticism
  • ISBN: 978-0691192857
  • Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.25 x 9.5 inches