Summer is a Great Time: Summer Reading

THE NEXT SCOTT NADELSON, A LIFE IN PROGRESS by Scott Nadelson, © 2013, Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts, Portland, $16.95, original paperback (by Paul Haist.)

After the 2004 publication of his first collection of short stories, Oregon writer Scott Nadelson, a New Jersey native, still questioned whether he would ever do something worthwhile. No matter that his first book, Saving Stanley, won the Oregon Book Award and two coveted national awards. The sense of achievement and satisfaction that should have accompanied one’s first book was tainted – perhaps obliterated – by his fiancé having left him for a woman a week before the book’s publication, just a month before their wedding day.

“I was left reeling and broke, living in a furnished attic apartment whose ceiling was infested with squirrels. Not long after, my car’s brakes went out, and I discovered my cat was dying,” he writes in his latest book, his fourth, a memoir he calls The Next Scott Nadelson, A Life in Progress. The above passage reminded me of the James Kirkwood Jr. play/novel/movie P.S. Your Cat is Dead, which features a dying cat and the eventual transformation of a man who has just been dumped by his longtime girlfriend and who otherwise finds his life hopeless.

But any similarity between Kirkwood’s and Nadelson’s stories ends with those coincidences. Nadelson’s story of his years in Portland immediately after the disintegration of what he thought his life would be is a chronicle of and meditation on loss, grief, regret, despair, hope and eventual transformation – but don’t let that scare you away. It all seems written to a cool score by Townes Van Zandt and is a book that is hard to put aside. Nadelson explores his own character and experience with the same incisive sensitivity that made so vivid the many and diverse characters in his three collections of short stories.

Philip Roth usually comes to mind when I read Nadelson. Maybe it’s the two writers’ New Jersey connection or that there is something vaguely alike in the studied gravitas of their author photos. Or maybe it’s that Nadelson riffs on Roth in the memoir. I mention the Roth comparison because I think Nadelson is better compared with another writer, not Jewish. With Nadelson’s help, I suggest Ivan Turgenev, whom Nadelson mentions in his memoir, as a foremost candidate for a helpful insight into Nadelson. Nadelson especially admires Turgenev’s facility and proclivity for creating drama in which the central conflict is internal, within oneself. (See Nadelson’s online American Literary Review essay “Don’t Look Now: The Drama of Seeing,” english.unt.edu/alr/nadelson. html).

Good examples of internal conflict are found in Turgenev’s novella First Love and more clearly, for me, in his short story, “Meeting,” which left me astonished by its method’s deceptive simplicity. Nadelson sheds light on this technique and these works in his memoir, which is largely about
internal conflict. Turgenev may be a model for Nadelson, who shares the master’s Russian heritage, but Nadelson makes what he likes about Turgenev into something of his own. Nadelson is a pleasure to read. I like his wry wit, irony and his gift for deep reflection and introspection. He is modest
and candidly intimate and seems, like Turgenev, a meticulous craftsman who seeks and occasionally finds the sublime.

Readers of The Next Scott Nadelson may often see and hear themselves in the book’s central character and exult over the rediscovery – however maddeningly ephemeral – of our potential for selfrealization, finding our authentic self – whatever that may be; I can’t remember. Reading Scott Nadelson makes me want to read more Turgenev, but only while I eagerly await the next Scott Nadelson.

Author seeks to inspire family conversations with THE MIDDLESTEINS (by Elizabeth Schwartz)

We have all experienced the truth of author Thomas Wolfe’s posthumous novel, You Can’t Go Home Again. The passage of time, the fixed nostalgia of our childhood memories, and our own emotional and mental evolution prevent us from returning to where we grew up, even if its physical location remains largely unchanged.

Writer Jami Attenberg has discovered another way to revisit her past: capture it in words. Attenberg’s most recent novel, The Middlesteins, is set in the Chicago suburbs where she was raised. It has taken Attenberg 20 years of distance, both physical and emotional, to return to Buffalo Grove, IL, but she manages it through her characters, a multigenerational Jewish family struggling with the problems of aging parents, dysfunctional relationships, challenging family dynamics, obsessions, denial and, of course, food. Attenberg, who now lives in New York, will read from The Middlesteins at Powell’s City of Books on Northwest 10th and Burnside, Wednesday, June 26.

“I’m interested in telling stories that express a notion of compassion,” Attenberg declares. “I also like telling American stories. One review described me as ‘embarrassingly American,’ which I took as a compliment.” Attenberg’s humor, sympathy and razor-sharp realism illuminate her story of marriage, family and obsession. The dust jacket of The Middlesteins says the book “explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.” Although the Middlesteins live in Attenberg’s home burb, they are Attenberg’s creation, not thinly disguised versions of Attenberg or her family. “The Middlesteins are characters. I have an understanding of who they are and their perspectives on the world are true to them, but I’m not any of them.” At first Attenberg saw the book as an exploration of a place and a family rather than an overtly Jewish story. “When I was writing the book, I thought of it as a family drama, and I didn’t plan to write a ‘Jewish book,’ ” Attenberg explains. “I thought I wanted to write a family drama set in the suburbs of Chicago, but I never thought, ‘I’m going to make them Jewish.’ ” The Middlesteins embodies Midwestern perspectives, right down to family surname, while also tracing the different responses of one
Jewish family to its faith. “Jewishness doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody,” says Attenberg. “For some of the characters Jewishness is very inherent, but one character has rejected it, while one accepts it blindly. They’ve all got different responses to it.”

“They’re sort of average people,” Attenberg adds. “I think people who read the book will feel familiar with them, because they know people like them.” Attenberg wants The Middlesteins to serve as a springboard for deeper conversations. “I want people to communicate better with family members about difficult subjects. When you see a family member in distress it’s really hard. Sometimes it’s too late and we don’t have these conversations and that’s unfortunate.”

Ruth Tenzer Feldman’s THE BLUE THREAD shows dedicated Jewish women continuing the tradition (by Polina Olsen).

Standing next to a life-sized image of Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold, author Ruth Tenzer Feldman brought the stories of past generations of Jewish
women to an audience that ranged from toddlers to octogenarians. Her latest book, The Blue Thread, which recently won the 2013 Oregon Book Award for Young Adult Literature, provided the perfect platform for Portland’s historic and long-lasting Zionist group’s Dor l’Dor (generation to generation) April 28 event held at Elephants Deli on Northwest 22nd Avenue. The Blue Thread begins in 1912 Portland, and tells the story of teenager Miriam Josefsohn’s passion for the women’s suffrage movement.

A mysterious stranger named Serakh guides Miriam to her greatgrandmother’s Jewish prayer shawl, which provides passage back to the ancient holy land when the daughters of Zelophehad became the first women to own property in the Bible. This inspires Miriam to control her own destiny and champion causes she believes in. “I had written 10 books of nonfiction, and I wanted to lie,” Feldman says. “One of my last books was on Calvin Coolidge. I was trying to learn a lot about him, but I kept thinking, ‘suppose he did this instead?’

While the book’s characters are fictional and the story magical, Feldman’s research into early Portland Jewish life is meticulous. Upper-middle-class Miriam lives in the Northwest, attends Congregation Beth Israel and shops at Meier and Frank. Her father belongs to the Concordia Club, an elite organization for Jewish businessmen. Feldman writes about the South Portland neighborhood where Eastern European and Sephardic Jews made
their home.

The Hadassah women were delighted to learn about the role Jews played in the Oregon suffrage movement, a subject Feldman stresses in her book. The Oregon campaign started in 1871 when Abigail Scott Duniway and Susan B. Anthony organized the State Equal Suffrage Association. In addition to serving as president of the National Council of Jewish Women-Portland Chapter, Josephine Mayer Hirsch founded the Portland Equal Suffrage League. “She named herself president and invited the most prominent people in the city to join for $1 a year,” Feldman says. “Her gatherings made
the society page.”

Hadassah board member, Tamar Boussi, addressed the group: “I met Ruth a year ago at the Jewish Book Club organizing event. She’s an attorney, an editor and a dog lover. She writes about pivotal moments in history, public schools, presidential biographies and American wars. Her curiosity about the world is fascinating. Her new book, The Blue Thread, shows the strength of women and their ability to do what’s right despite the consequences – like Henrietta Szold.”

The Blue Thread, Ooligan Press, Portland, 2012, is available in local bookstores and online. For more information, visit ruthtenzerfeldman.com. For more information about Hadassah, visit portlandhadassah.org or call 503-244-6389.

NW BOOK FESTIVAL
The Fifth Annual NW Book Festival will be 11 am to 5 pm, July 27, at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland. Book festival organizer Veronica Esagui grew up in Portugal as a minority among less than 20 Jewish families in a largely Catholic country, and came to the United States in 1962. She is the author of Veronica’s Diary, The Journey of Innocence. Esagui says, “I’m hoping that … this year we can have a better presence of Jewish authors and Jewish literature.”

Applications from authors and writing organizations that would like to sign up for the festival are now being accepted. For more information, call 503-913-6006.

JEWISH BOOK MONTH SELECTION
The Portland Jewish Book Month committee has selected Philip Roth’s book Nemesis for the November 2013 One Book, One Community program. This will be the third year the community has created a series of events centered around one book to celebrate Jewish Book Month. Take some time this summer reading Roth’s 2010 book exploring the 1944 polio epidemic in New Jersey and how it affected the families in the close-knit area. Nemesis focuses on a young man who works at a city playground and is a hero to his young charges before he flees the epidemic to take a job at a rural summer camp. This short novel explores questions common in Roth’s other recent novels: What kind of choices fatally shape a life? and, How
does the individual withstand the onslaught of circumstance?

RABBI STONE'S NEW BOOK
Portland Congregation Shir Tikvah Rabbi Ariel Stone draws readers along a life-changing journey into their very souls with her new book, Because All is One. Rediscover yourself with this postmodern Kabbalistic guide to integral spiritual life. Join the author in climbing the ancient ladder of the Sefirot, creating a meaningful relationship with God and integrating your life and identity. Explore the teachings of the Kabbalist sage Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla. Because All Is One reaches the deepest questions of spiritual life in the 21st century as it embraces the abundant wisdom of mystics and academics within a vast vision of ultimate unity. Derusha Publishing LLC: DerushaPublishing.com.

EUGENE MAN'S SECOND BOOK
Eugene resident Arthur Mokin recently self-published through CreateSpace (Amazon.com) his second book, Meribah, a novel based on the Bible’s Book of Exodus. A Huffington Post blog notes, “What’s important is that Meribah is much more than a love story. It’s a fascinating meditation on great questions of morality and religion, some first confronted by Judaism.” Mokin’s first book, IRON CLAD : The Monitor & the Merrimack was published by
Presidio Press (Random House). For more information on the author and his books, visit arthurmokin.com.