THE 100 MOST JEWISH FOODS, edited by Alana Newhouse

April 19, 2019

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A Highly Debatable List 

From the publisher:

With contributions from Ruth Reichl, Éric Ripert, Joan Nathan, Michael Solomonov, Dan Barber, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Colicchio, Maira Kalman, Melissa Clark, and many more!

Tablet’s list of the 100 most Jewish foods is not about the most popular Jewish foods, or the tastiest, or even the most enduring. It’s a list of the most significant foods culturally and historically to the Jewish people, explored deeply with essays, recipes, stories, and context. Some of the dishes are no longer cooked at home, and some are not even dishes in the traditional sense (store-bought cereal and Stella D’oro cookies, for example). The entire list is up for debate, which is what makes this book so much fun. Many of the foods are delicious (such as babka and shakshuka). Others make us wonder how they’ve survived as long as they have (such as unhatched chicken eggs and jellied calves’ feet). As expected, many Jewish (and now universal) favorites like matzo balls, pickles, cheesecake, blintzes, and chopped liver make the list. The recipes are global and represent all contingencies of the Jewish experience. Contributors include Ruth Reichl, Éric Ripert, Joan Nathan, Michael Solomonov, Dan Barber, Gail Simmons, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Colicchio, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, Maira Kalman, Action Bronson, Daphne Merkin, Shalom Auslander, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Phil Rosenthal, among many others. Presented in a gifty package, The 100 Most Jewish Foods is the perfect book to dip into, quote from, cook from, and launch a spirited debate.


Since tonight is the first night of Passover, this seemed like a good opportunity to talk about this book. And it is a book that is begging to be discussed. Maybe not with your book group, unless it is a predominantly Jewish book group, because really, no one else is going to care. But if you belong to a synagogue, sisterhood, Hadassah, or JCC type book group, bring it on!

Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet magazine. They had posted just the list of foods online and the response was quick and passionate. Thus this book was born. Just FYI, I did not get the “gifty package” of this book; the publisher sent me the advanced reader copy which is a paperback and missing things like page numbers. But all the important stuff is there, certainly more than enough upon which to base this review.

Each food is discussed by a different author and while not all are Jewish, I would say most are. I didn’t know who most of these authors were, but there is a lovely “About the Contributors” section in the back of the book. Sprinkled in among the Jewish names I didn’t know are celebrity/TV chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Eric Ripert, and Dan Barber; famous Jewish foodies and cookbook authors like Ruth Reichl, Joan Nathan, and Gail Simmons, and Jewish notables like the always-in-my-heart-West-Wing (but many, many other productions,) actor Joshua Malina, fashion designer Zac Posen, and the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and star of Netflix’s “Somebody Feed Phil,” Phil Rosenthal. It is a fairly homogeneous group, and that is to be expected.

Each food is discussed and there are several recipes as well. Some are definitely controversial – let’s start with the obvious, bacon, but also Chinese food, and sushi. All right, it is “Kosher Sushi” so I’ll give it a pass.

I learned stuff, too, which is always a plus. Stella D’oro Swiss Fudge Cookies make an appearance in a piece written by Ian Frazier (who I know from his writing at The New Yorker). Silly me, I always assumed that Stella D’oro cookies were Italian, and the company was founded by the Zambetti family. But it was based in the Bronx in the 1930’s, in a very Jewish (80% he claims) neighborhood and they made cookies that did not contain dairy, thus rendering them pareve, and kosher. When the family sold the business to Kraft, they decided leaving out dairy was too expensive so they put it back in, lost the “pareve” label and sales plummeted. They went back to the original recipe, sold the company, strikes happened, they moved from the Bronx to Ashland, Ohio, and are still there. I loved the last line of this essay: “That the Swiss Fudge Cookie has its own story of suffering, exile, and survival makes it even more Jewish, I believe.” I believe, too.

All the usual suspects are here: lox, babka, chopped liver, schmaltz (and gribenes!), matzo, gefilte fish, challah, Hebrew National hot dogs, etc. And by usual, I mean Ashkenazic Jewish foods, the foods of my childhood, my life. But the Sephardim are also represented by pomegranate, Yemenite bread and soup, carciofi alla Giudia and more.

There is a lot of knowledge here but also a lot of laughs. This was also a nostalgic read, in a way, since a lot of these foods have disappeared from my life. I haven’t had kreplach since my grandmother died when I was a child. But I’ll be having matzo, chicken soup with matzo balls, charoset, chopped liver, macaroons, sponge cake and more tonight.

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For all my Jewish readers, I wish you a joyous Passover!

4/19 Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

THE 100 MOST JEWISH FOODS by Alana Newhouse. Artisan (March 19, 2019). ISBN: 978-1579659066. 256p.

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SAVE ME THE PLUMS by Ruth Reichl

April 13, 2019

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My Gourmet Memoir

Ruth Reichl has led a very food-centric life and has written extensively about it. In a bit of exciting news,

“Former Gourmet editor and New York Times critic Ruth Reichl says that a memoir about her early days as a food writer [Comfort Me With Apples] is going to be the subject of a new eight-part series on Netflix.”

This book is about how Ruth came to be editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, the changes she made, and how it all went away. In case you weren’t sure if she was traumatized by the magazine’s closing, Ruth has written a novel about it, Delicious! and a cookbook, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life (and I loved both those books.) Now she has finally written the memoir that she seems to have been avoiding, and it, too, is terrific.

As a long time fan of Gourmet magazine, I was sad when it shut down. But it wasn’t my life, as it was Ruth’s, so the feelings cannot even be compared. She starts at the beginning, from her first meetings with the publisher and owner, while she was still the New York Times restaurant critic. (I loved her book about that experience, Garlic & Sapphires.) She met with friends to discuss the possible job change, and when she finally got the job offer, the money was six times what she was making at the Times, and impossible to resist. Off she went and her life changed dramatically.

This book contains a few recipes, including one for a Jeweled Chocolate Cake, which sounded great. I was curious about the possibility of turning that cake into cupcakes. I held this review for a few days and tweeted at her, but sadly, I was ignored. I will figure it out myself – necessity is the mother of invention. And I have the Google-verse at my fingertips.

If you’ve read Reichl’s other memoirs, you will undoubtedly enjoy this one. If you haven’t, it’s as good a place as any to start. For foodie fans everywhere.

4/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SAVE ME THE PLUMS by Ruth Reichl. Random House (April 2, 2019).  ISBN 978-1400069996. 288p.

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THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean

April 5, 2019

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From the publisher:

A REESE WITHERSPOON x HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB PICK

WASHINGTON POST TOP 10 BOOK OF THE YEAR A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER and NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018

“A constant pleasure to read…Everybody who loves books should check out The Library Book.” —The Washington Post

“CAPTIVATING…DELIGHTFUL.” —Christian Science Monitor * “EXQUISITELY WRITTEN, CONSISTENTLY ENTERTAINING.” —The New York Times * “MESMERIZING…RIVETING.” —Booklist (starred review)

A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries—from the bestselling author hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post.

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.


This is a book beloved by librarians, to no one’s great surprise. On the other hand, I didn’t love it. Yes, it is an interesting story but I was not a fan of the writing. The book jumps all over the place, not moving back in forth in time but back, forth, sideways, back, forward, back, sideways, etc. It was dizzying at time. Why am I reading about this library director, I read about her several chapters ago. Now here is more info on another library director. I found it hard to get into this book and if my book group hadn’t picked it, forcing me to finish it, it would have been in my did-not-finish-and-certainly-not-reviewed pile. Yet here I am.

I started this book a few months before it came out. I put it down and picked it up several times, usually after reading a good review somewhere. But honestly, I don’t think a book written about librarians and libraries is ever going to get a bad review, at least not from the librarians who review for the journals like Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. On the other hand, I don’t have any restrictions.

It wasn’t a horrible book; the story was interesting, at least from what I could piece together. I read it over many months so I admit to forgetting some stuff as I went along. But I didn’t care enough to go back and reread any of it. I love libraries and usually like reading about them. I missed the story about this fire to begin with, as did most people as it happened the same day as Chernobyl, which pretty much guaranteed it would be a non-story. What Orlean does is take the story of the fire and interweave it with the history of the library, going back a few hundred years. But it was just too jumpy for me, I would have preferred a chronological telling leading up to the fire and beyond. I didn’t get that. For what it’s worth, I didn’t care for Orlean’s bestselling The Orchid Thief, either, and never finished reading it. And that book was also beloved and was even made into a very strange movie called Adaptation.

4/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean. Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (October 16, 2018). ISBN 978-1476740188. 336p.

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BECOMING by Michelle Obama

February 21, 2019

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From the publisher:

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.


When this book came out last year, I knew I would read it eventually, but I had to get myself into the right frame of mind. As regular readers know, I am not happy with the current administration. I look at this book, a great deal of which is about the Obama presidency, with longing and admiration.

It was like taking a journey back to a kinder, gentler time, at least during the Obama administration. Mrs. Obama is pretty candid and open about her foibles, her successes, and why it all mattered so much. She talks a lot about their marriage, their problems and how they solved them. She talks about her struggles with her career and juggling work and family. She explains why she’ll never forgive Trump for endangering her family and why she didn’t smile at his inauguration. She talks about Sandy Hook, the only day in Obama’s eight year presidency that he requested his wife’s presence in the Oval Office. She is as open and forthcoming as she always seemed to be while she was the First Lady. Her voice rings true.

Michelle Obama embodies the quintessential American story. We learn about her upbringing on the South Side of Chicago, her close knit family living in their small apartment. We learn about her education and the opportunities she was lucky to receive, the guidance from her parents, her close relationships with them, her brother and her extended family. The values that were instilled in her as a child have lasted a lifetime and how she passed those values on to her children, despite their growing up in the White House.

This was a very emotional read for me. I have been a great admirer of Mrs. Obama since she came on to the national stage and this book just reinforced those feelings. Her story made me laugh and made me cry, but most of all made me remember a better time in America. And best of all, hope of that happening again.

2/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BECOMING by Michelle Obama. Crown Publishing Group; First Edition edition (November 13, 2018). ISBN 978-1524763138. 448p.

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THE POLAR BEAR EXPEDITION by James Carl Nelson

February 20, 2019

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The Heroes of America’s Forgotten Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919

Nelson is a historian by profession and his book is a well researched study of a little known invasion of Russia by American soldiers occurring from the end of World War I for about a year. The American Expeditionary Force cold weather chapter, took place along with troops from England, France  Japan and Czechoslovakia.  There are several  versions of the reason for U.S. intervention but the one used by Nelson was in order to defend the enormous amount of supplies, including weaponry, against use by the Bolsheviks.  Russia was in the midst of a civil war, and the Reds (Bolsheviks) were fighting the Whites (those opposed to the socialism advocated by Lenin and Trotsky).

The foreign soldiers were landed in both Murmansk and Archangel both cities that enjoy bitter winters for most of the year. From there the Americans and their allies fought the Bolos (as the Bolsheviks were termed) in towns and villages along the northern portion of Russia. The Armistice ending the war between the allies and Germany was declared on November 11th, 1918. The not so small war in Russia dragged on for several more years with the troops involved wondering why they couldn’t join their fellow soldiers in going home.  The men could not find a reason to enter into this conflict, experienced low morale and just wanted out.

Dry and dusty this book is not.  Most of the Americans came from Detroit, Michigan and the research there by the author found many actual writings by the soldiers.  Most probably descendants of the troops readily made available diaries, letters and other writings.  Plus local Michigan newspapers in their archives would definitely  have had coverage of the conflict including references to the local men taking part in it.

The book is a description of a little known conflict occurring a century ago and mainly using the words of the combatants to describe it. The only reference to politics taking part in sending soldiers there is to lay blame on President Woodrow Wilson for allowing himself to be talked into sending soldiers with no real idea of what to do with them. Maybe so but Wilson is the president who campaigned for reelection in 1916 using the slogan “He kept us out of war” and than getting the United States into a blood bath in Europe shortly after his reelection. In any event, his blase attitude permeated the entire adventure into Russia with nothing really accomplished.  Moreover, Mr Nelson in summing up his book suggests that the Russian attitude towards the U.S for the invasion in 1918-19 is one of the reasons that America has been kept at a distance for more than a century.

2/19 Paul Lane

THE POLAR BEAR EXPEDITION by James Carl Nelson. William Morrow (February 19, 2019). ISBN 978-0062852779. 320p.

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41 REASONS I’M STAYING IN by Hallie Heald

February 4, 2019

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A Celebration of Introverts

From the publisher:

In a world of seemingly unending social obligations, we could all use a night off.

In 41 Reasons I’m Staying In, illustrator and self-proclaimed introvert Hallie Heald imaginatively portrays engaging and sometimes outlandish excuses to avoid leaving home.

With each page comes a new room and character, pursuing their obsessions, hobbies, interests, and sudden whims with gusto:

plotting world takeover, learning magic, mooning over a crush, evading taxes, and beyond.

This dark and humorous celebration of introverts offers a unique look into their private worlds and reminds us of the deep fulfillment and joy we can find in spending time alone.

 


I am not an introvert but even I enjoyed this charming book!

While the book looks like a children’s book, it is for adults. The illustrations are wonderful, as you can see. And I like the premise of the book. As much of an extrovert as I am, I, too, enjoy staying in on occasion – especially if I can look through a book like this. Buy it for the introvert in your life, they will thank you.

About the Author

2/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

41 REASONS I’M STAYING IN by Hallie Heald. Morrow Gift; 1st Edition edition (January 29, 2019). ISBN  978-0062749895. 96p.

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EDUCATED by Tara Westover

December 12, 2018

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A Memoir

From the publisher:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL, AND BOSTON GLOBE BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post • O: The Oprah Magazine • Time • NPR • Financial Times • The Economist • The Guardian • Newsday  • Refinery29 •   Real Simple • Bustle • Pamela Paul, KQED • Publishers Weekly • LibraryReads • Library Journal • New York Public Library  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S SUMMER READING • ONE OF BILL GATES’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR • LONGLISTED FOR THE CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE

An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

“Beautiful and propulsive . . . Despite the singularity of [Tara Westover’s] childhood, the questions her book poses are universal: How much of ourselves should we give to those we love? And how much must we betray them to grow up?”—Vogue

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.


The accolades for this book keep rolling in and what can I say, they are all well deserved.

It was a difficult read at times, the abuse Westover went through and the accidents that happened to family members were often told in gruesome, albeit necessary, detail. Unfortunately, I know first hand what it is like for a daughter to be estranged from her father. This is a book that will stay with me for a very long time.

I have spoken to many people who have read this book, and not one could say anything negative about it. It is a difficult story, beautifully told. Dr. Westover gave us all a gift, and I am most appreciative. Don’t miss it.

12/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

EDUCATED by Tara Westover. Random House; First Edition edition (February 20, 2018). ISBN 978-0399590504. 352p.


BEST. STATE. EVER. by Dave Barry

December 10, 2018

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Florida Man Defends His Homeland

From the publisher:

New York Times bestseller—a brilliantly funny exploration of the Sunshine State from the man who knows it best: Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry.

We never know what will happen next in Florida. We know only that, any minute now, something will. Every few months, Dave Barry gets a call from some media person wanting to know, “What the hell is wrong with Florida?” Somehow, the state’s acquired an image as a subtropical festival of stupid, and as a loyal Floridian, Dave begs to differ.

Join him as he goes in hunt of the legendary Skunk Ape; hobnobs with the mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs; and visits Cassadaga, the psychic capital of the world, to have his dog’s aura read (apparently, she’s “very spiritual”). Hitch a ride for the non-stop thrills of alligator-wrestling (“the gators display the same fighting spirit as a Barcalounger”), the hair-raising spectacle of a clothing-optional bar in Key West, and the manly manliness of the Machine Gun Experience in Miami.

It’s the most hilarious book yet from “the funniest damn writer in the whole country” (Carl Hiaasen, and he should know). By the end, you’ll have to admit that whatever else you might think about Florida—you can never say it’s boring.


I’m a long time Dave Barry fan. I read him when he was writing his column for the Miami Herald. I watched “Dave’s World,” the short-lived TV sitcom based on his life. I was delighted when my daughter found his books and read them all in a week, laughing the entire time. But I was surprised, and not in a good way, when I found out that the Literacy Coalition selected this book for Palm Beach County Read Together.

I had agreed to facilitate a book discussion at my library on whichever book they picked, as our publicity had to be in a couple of months before the selection was announced. After the announcement, the 20 or so regulars that attend my book discussions picked up their books, and shortly after that, began a parade of unhappy readers.

The book is cute, it definitely has its moments, but it is not, in any way, shape or form, a piece of literature in need of a discussion. One by one my book club participants returned the book and informed me they would not be attending the discussion. I understood, but my hands were tied. At the end, two of my regulars showed up, and half a dozen women who came because they thought Dave Barry would be there. Not my finest hour.

To make matters even more aggravating, the Literacy Coalition, for the entirety of this series, has made available on their website a downloadable discussion guide. But when I downloaded it, I found blurbs about the book, a brief, funny bio of Dave Barry, a handful of fun Florida facts and half a dozen Florida trivia questions. No discussion questions whatsoever. There is not a discussion question to be found for this book, and believe me, I looked. And it dawned on me that there really isn’t anything to discuss. There is no real substance here, and book discussion revolve around substance.

I didn’t love this book, which had nothing to do with the book discussion debacle. I found the essay on the Keys way too long and in need of serious editing. I liked the essay on the Villages and the one on shooting machine guns, gun hater that I am, because it was funny. But most of it just was Dave pointed out the silly things Florida is home to and the reasons people move here by the thousands. I was surprised to learn that Florida is the third most populous state in the nation so at least I learned something.

If you are a huge Dave Barry fan, then you will probably enjoy this book but then again, if you are that fan, you’ve probably already read it. And FYI, the reviews on Amazon are stellar.

12/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BEST. STATE. EVER. by Dave Barry. G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Reprint edition (September 5, 2017). ISBN 978-1101982617 . 240p.

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IMAGINE JOHN YOKO by John Lennon & Yoko Ono

November 12, 2018

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With contributions from the people who were there

From the publisher:

Personally compiled and curated by Yoko Ono, Imagine John Yoko is the definitive inside story-told in revelatory detail-of the making of the legendary album and all that surrounded it: the locations, the creative team, the artworks and the films, in the words of John & Yoko and the people who were there.

Features 80% exclusive, hitherto-unpublished archive photos and footage sequences of all the key players in situ, together with lyric sheets, Yoko’s art installations, and exclusive new insights and personal testimonies from Yoko and over forty of the musicians, engineers, staff, celebrities, artists and photographers who were there-including Julian Lennon, Klaus Voormann, Alan White, Jim Keltner, David Bailey, Dick Cavett and Sir Michael Parkinson.

“A lot has been written about the creation of the song, the album and the film of Imagine, mainly by people who weren’t there, so I’m very pleased and grateful that now, for the first time, so many of the participants have kindly given their time to ‘gimme some truth’ in their own words and pictures” Yoko Ono Lennon, 2018

In 1971, John Lennon & Yoko Ono conceived and recorded the critically acclaimed album Imagine at their Georgian country home, Tittenhurst Park, in Berkshire, England, in the state-of-the-art studio they built in the grounds, and at the Record Plant in New York. The lyrics of the title track were inspired by Yoko Ono’s “event scores” in her 1964 book Grapefruit, and she was officially co-credited as writer in June 2017.

Imagine John Yoko tells the story of John & Yoko’s life, work and relationship during this intensely creative period. It transports readers to home and working environments showcasing Yoko’s closely guarded archive of photos and artifacts, using artfully compiled narrative film stills, and featuring digitally rendered maps, floorplans and panoramas that recreate the interiors in evocative detail. John & Yoko introduce each chapter and song; Yoko also provides invaluable additional commentary and a preface.

All the minutiae is examined: the locations, the key players, the music and lyrics, the production techniques and the artworks-including the creative process behind the double exposure polaroids used on the album cover.

With a message as universal and pertinent today as it was when the album was created, this landmark publication is a fitting tribute to John & Yoko and their place in cultural history.

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Even though I requested this a couple of times, the publisher did not come through for me on this book. So I have my library’s edition in hand.

There is some strange stuff going on with this book. It shows as only being available from third party sellers on Amazon, which is very odd for a new book. There is a “collectors edition” with a different ISBN, but which looks identical, for $150 with a publication date of 11/13/18.

The reviews on Amazon, while positive, often refer to the sticking pages and the soiled cover. That said, my library cover is pristine and I am the first person to check out this book. The pages are heavy paper, but don’t feel especially of high quality, and are not sticking together in my library copy.

All you really need to know about me is that “Imagine” is my favorite song, the song I want played at my funeral. (Yes, I’m planning ahead.) It never fails to move me and will generally bring me to tears every time I hear it. This has been going on for decades. (Granted, I am an easy crier.)

I like the book. I like how, when closed, the end papers  form a blue sky with white, puffy clouds. I like all the pictures but wish some of them, all those tiny pictures, were enlarged a bit. Same with the sheet music. It is a large book, I don’t understand why so many pictures were miniaturized while a quote, “The guitar is all right as a hobby, John, but you’ll never make a living at it!” seen in many other books, is given a two page spread. But nobody asked me.

This is a book for die hard fans like me. Not sure who else would care. It’s on my wishlist.

11/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

IMAGINE JOHN YOKO by John Lennon & Yoko Ono. Grand Central Publishing (October 9, 2018). ISBN 978-1538747155.  320p.


SARA BERMAN’S CLOSET by Maira Kalman & Alex Kalman

October 31, 2018

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From the publisher:

Maira Kalman, the author of the bestsellers The Principles of Uncertainty and The Elements of Style, and Alex Kalman, the designer, curator, writer, and founder of Mmuseumm, combine their talents in this captivating family memoir, a creative blend of narrative and striking visuals that is a paean to an exceptional woman and a celebration of individuality, personal expression, and the art of living authentically.

In the early 1950s, Jewish émigré Sara Berman arrived in the Bronx with her husband and two young daughters When the children were grown, she and her husband returned to Israel, but Sara did not stay for long. In the late 1960s, at age sixty, she left her husband after thirty-eight years of marriage. One night, she packed a single suitcase and returned alone to New York City, moving into a studio apartment in Greenwich Village near her family. In her new home, Sara began discovering new things and establishing new rituals, from watching Jeopardy each night at 7:00 to eating pizza at the Museum of Modern Art’s cafeteria every Wednesday. She also began discarding the unnecessary, according to the Kalmans: “in a burst of personal expression, she decided to wear only white.”

Sara kept her belongings in an extraordinarily clean and organized closet. Filled with elegant, minimalist, heavily starched, impeccably pressed and folded all-white clothing, including socks and undergarments, as well as carefully selected objects—from a potato grater to her signature perfume, Chanel No.19—the space was sublime. Upon her death in 2004, her family decided to preserve its pristine contents, hoping to find a way to exhibit them one day.

In 2015, the Mmuseumm, a new type of museum located in a series of unexpected locations founded and curated by Sara’s grandson, Alex Kalman, recreated the space in a popular exhibit—Sara Berman’s Closet—in Tribeca. The installation eventually moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The show will run at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles from December 4, 2018 to March 10, 2019; it will open again about a month later at the National Museum of American Jewish History from April 5, 2019 to September 1, 2019.

Inspired by the exhibit, this spectacular illustrated memoir, packed with family photographs, exclusive images, and Maira Kalman’s distinctive paintings, is an ode to Sara’s life, freedom, and re-invention. Sara Berman’s Closet is an indelible portrait of the human experience—overcoming hardship, taking risks, experiencing joy, enduring loss. It is also a reminder of the significance of the seemingly insignificant moments in our lives—the moments we take for granted that may turn out to be the sweetest. Filled with a daughter and grandson’s wry and touching observations conveyed in Maira’s signature script, Sara Berman’s Closest is a beautiful, loving tribute to one woman’s indomitable spirit.


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I received this book in the mail from a publicist at Harper Gallery and was immediately fascinated. Was it a graphic novel? Was it an art book? I didn’t know quite what to make of it so I looked inside and there was no title page. I brought it to work at the library and showed it to Jessica, a co-worker who used to work as a children’s librarian. She said sometimes children’s books put the title page at the back of the book, and sure enough, that’s where it was. What I was looking for was the classification of the book, the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress numbers.

I was shocked to see it classified as “Juvenile fiction.” Jessica explained that the juvenile designation meant it was geared for young children through third grade, and the book was meant to be read by an adult to the child. At 128 pages, that seemed a bit much to me. I took the book home and sat down and read it.

The text in the book is in cursive writing, most children at that age would not be able to read it themselves and frankly I occasionally had some difficulty myself.  The subject matter, as explained above in the publisher’s synopsis, is not child friendly, to say the least. While I really liked the book and loved the artwork, I could not imagine this as a children’s book. Interestingly, Amazon has it classified thusly:

  • Books > Arts & Photography > Collections, Catalogs & Exhibitions
  • Books > Arts & Photography > Graphic Design > Commercial > Fashion Design
  • Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Specific Groups > Women

Someone took a good look at it and came up with categories that actually fit the book. I’m guessing that the publisher gave it the Juvenile classification and for the life of me, I don’t understand why. And if that’s correct, I’m really puzzled as how I came to be a recipient of a children’s book. I rarely review them and I’m not on most children’s publicists radar. Then again, this book isn’t published by a children’s imprint, but rather an art imprint.

All that said, I loved this book. It is beautiful, the story interesting and compelling, and I think it would make a good gift book for sure. Thank you, Katherine Beitner, for sending this to me. And maybe you can get with the Library of Congress and have the Juvenile designation changed to something more appropriate?

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SARA BERMAN’S CLOSET by Maira Kalman & Alex Kalman. Harper Design (October 30, 2018). ISBN 978-0062846402.  128p.

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