Arts and Culture

Summer reading: droll essays, a haunting novel and NY in fact and fiction

Here are some hot summer reading suggestions from your AJP editors.

For me, the public library is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures waiting to be discovered.

book_guinea pig diariesA recent find on a recommended reading display was “Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment,” a 2009 title by A.J. Jacobs, author of the bestsellers “The Year of Living Biblically” and “The Know-It-All” (for which he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica). “Guinea Pig Diaries” includes insights from those two works, along with nine other life-altering challenges he undertook as an editor for Esquire magazine, such as outsourcing his life to India for a month, submitting to a nude photo shoot, living by George Washington’s 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior” and attempting Radical Honesty, a movement that encourages people to remove the filter between brain and mouth.

Jacobs blends tidbits of information with a quirky sense of humor. The Washington experiment showed him that contemporary society overvalues “authenticity” — if Washington had stayed true to his baser instincts, “he’d have been an angry brat all his life.” In a chapter on giving up multitasking, which Jacobs found insanely difficult, he ends up recounting an intriguing theory on attention and mating that derives from a study of baboon behavior.

“Guinea Pig Diaries” may not change your life as much as it changed Jacobs’, but it will entertain you and make you think.

book_golem and jinniBonus title: My daughter had been telling me for almost a year to read “The Golem and the Jinni,” a debut novel by Helene Wecker. She’s right: Set amid the pushcarts of New York’s Lower East Side at the end of the 19th century, this tale of immigrants both ordinary and supernatural is a rollicking good read.

— Phyllis Braun, executive editor

book_love and treasureThe twists and turns in “Love & Treasure” follow the true history of the Hungarian Gold Train and the fictional life of American-Jewish World War II Lt. Jack Wiseman. Author Ayelet Waldman (“Red Hook Road”) has once again enthralled me with her storytelling.

“Love & Treasure” challenges the reader: What are your responsibilities to yourself, Jewish heritage and society at large? Stationed in postwar Salzburg, Austria, Wiseman is determined to guard the Gold Train’s treasure, so that its tons of precious gems, Shabbat candlesticks, paintings, furs and household goods pilfered by the Nazis can be rightfully returned to the ancestors of murdered Hungarian Jews. Yet some American military higher-ups are taking those remnants of Jewish lives lost.

While on duty in Salzburg Wiseman falls in love with Ilona, a Hungarian refugee who is certain of what must be done with the train’s treasures. Pre-state Israel plays its part, too. What were the fruits of war, in Europe and in the fledgling state? Waldman expertly leads readers through intricate relationships from postwar Europe to present-day America and back to Budapest. Through it all, one mysterious pendant painted with a peacock — presumed to be a bad omen — connects the years.

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book_a bintel briefBefore the Internet, before television, the Yiddish newspaper The Forward was a lifeline for Jewish immigrants in New York during the first half of the 1900s. The column “A Bintel Brief” was introduced in 1906 by the paper’s editor, Abraham Cahan. Letters from forlorn readers about how to survive in New York, their love lives, and practical necessities, later became a book by the same name. Now there’s a new version: “A Bintel Brief. Love and Longing in Old New York,” the recently published “nonfiction graphic novel” by Liana Finck, transmits the flavor of Jewish immigrant life in words and pictures.

— Sheila Wilensky, associate editor