An entertaining overview likely to inspire debate.

TYPICALLY JEWISH

A spirited examination of the essence of Jewishness.

Acknowledging that Jews “don’t know if we are a religion, a civilization, an ethnic group, a race, all or none of the above,” librarian and journalist Maxwell (Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship, 2006, etc.) maintains, nevertheless, that Jews share definable traits. Drawing on abundant sources, including the Talmud, Judaic scholars and historians, rabbis, a cadre of friends that make up her own “Jewish Jury,” and assorted figures from popular culture (Woody Allen, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, and Joan Rivers, among many more), the author brings a lively curiosity to her lighthearted investigation. Describing herself as a “spiritual-but-not-religious Jew” who married a non-Jew and has raised her daughter as a Jew, she feels an “unshakable loyalty” to her Jewish identity and sets out to discover what makes Jewishness distinctive. Worrying, she asserts, is a special Jewish trait, perhaps inspired by ancient disasters (the Ten Plagues, for example) or persecution. Other shared behaviors include taking pride in achievements attained by Jews; an affinity for joining social and charitable groups; and particular food choices, such as cheesecake, bagels and lox, and gefilte fish. Her assertion, though, that Jews have a “unique relationship” with food might surprise “an Italian Catholic momma” whose “religion doesn’t even esteem food as much as mine.” Comedy seems to Maxwell also particularly Jewish. “Over the past forty years,” she writes, “an estimated 80 percent of America’s leading comedians and writers have been Jews.” The search for typical traits leads, not surprisingly, to the stereotypical: Maxwell debunks the derogatory image of a “Jewish nose” but not the notion that Jews talk faster and louder than others. She asserts that verbal sparring results from Jews’ tendency “to trust that with enough talking, arguing, debating, and analyzing, the truth will emerge.” Besides examining traits, Maxwell considers her own apparently uncanny “Jewdar” that enables her to recognize other Jews. Urging Jews to talk about her book with others, she provides a 30-page appendix of hints to structure discussion.

An entertaining overview likely to inspire debate.

Pub Date: March 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8276-1302-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Jewish Publication Society

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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