My Year in Books 2021

Hi there,

I hope everyone is well and managing the ongoing pandemic in good health.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written here. My last post was my 2020 book list. I had plans then to start a newsletter instead, the technology of which continues to elude me. The next thing I knew it was this past Sunday and sorry about that. Thank you for understanding.  

I do write regularly on Facebook. If you’d like, we can stay in touch there until I get the newsletter off the ground. https://www.facebook.com/merri.ukraincik/

In the meantime, the book list is the book list, so here we are.

My 2021 reading was up and down. There were months when I had my head in a book non-stop; others when I hardly had the headspace to read at all. Mostly, I read what struck me in the moment (Dickinson, Godwin) or what a friend handed to me as she cleaned out her basement (Styron, Kaling), or what I picked up from a random box of books marked “Free” (Tyler, Cole) while out walking.

My favorite piece of writing wasn’t a book at all. It was this gem of a prayer, scrawled by http://Isaac Bashevis Singer on the back of a rent slip.

All in all, despite the chaos happening out there in the world, reading was as it always is – a balm and a joy.  

Looking forward to hearing what you read this past year, and what you recommend.

Oh, also, we finally bought a new couch – a small miracle, given the supply chain situation – so I’m looking forward to doing a lot of reading on it in the future. A friend gave me book-themed pillows for my birthday. A girl couldn’t ask for anything more.

With love and books,

Merri

My 2021 Year of Books

First, the forgotten titles from 2020, or least the ones I finally remembered:

Bread and the Knife: A Life in 26 Bites by Dawn Drzal – Food as metaphor in this wonderful memoir in essays.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk – A novel of longing (for many things) in a small Turkish town, set against the rising threat of Islamic extremism.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – I love Patchett, but it wasn’t easy to read a book about folks stuck in one kind of lockdown while we were stuck in another.

And here’s 2021:

1.   A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – A classic I last read in my adolescence, better appreciated this time around.

2.   Fifty Names for Rain by Asha Lemmie. Beautifully written, engaging story with a lovely title, though I wished for a different ending.

3.   The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. Well-done mystery that unfolds in an upscale New York City neighborhood. Great afternoon distraction.

4.   The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Quick-going novel about a female spy network that operated in France during World War II. Read this a few years ago; reread now for book club.

5.  The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet – Moving story of twin girls and racial identity in the segregated American South. Glad to have read it, but struggled with the second part of the book.

6.  The Patron Saint of Liars by Anne Patchett – Patchett’s first novel, about a woman who abandons her husband. Themes of reinvention and self-preservation. I’d probably find Patchett’s grocery list enchanting.

7.  House of Glass by Hadley Freeman – Freeman pieces together her family’s Jewish past. Memoir as mystery.

8.  The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner – The answer when people ask why we need another book about the Holocaust. Stunning writing.

9.  The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce – A love story set in a music shop.

10. The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter – Comedic novel about the financial crisis, as told by a business reporter turned poet. Wasn’t my thing.

11. A Blessing on the Moon by Joseph Skibell – Spectral story narrated by a man murdered during the Holocaust who cannot get to Heaven. Mixed feelings about this one.

12. The Magician’s Assistant by Anne Patchett – A novel of love, magic (the characters’ and Patchett’s), healing, and redemption.

13.  A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel – Rediscovered memoir, originally published in 1945, of Frenkel’s escape from the Nazis. The story of the book’s reappearance at a flea market makes for a wonderful preface.

14. The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams – A quirky novel about how words come into being and how language becomes a kind of currency.

15. Hunger by Roxane Gay – Gay’s memoir is hard, but necessary, and her voice is astounding.

16. Who Is Michele Obama? by Megan Stine – Biography for children, interspersed with stories about previous first ladies. This was a fun book gift, given to me with #40.

17. The Book of Jeremiah by Julie Zuckerman – Endearing novel told in stories that flit back and forth in time and reflect the spectrum of human emotion. Wonderful titular character, poignant (and funny!) ending.

18. A Wealth of Pigeons: A Cartoon Collection by Harry Bliss & Steve Martin – A few cute cartoons. The rest were meh. Or maybe I’ve lost my sense of humor to the pandemic.

19. Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown – I enjoyed the relationship between the Yiddish-speaking immigrant mother and her American daughter.

20. Darkness Visible by William Styron – Memoir about the author’s depression and recovery.

21. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh – Hilarious, quirky graphic memoir that also tackles tough topics, including mental health.  Plus, there’s a goose.

22. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger – Heartbreaking coming-of-age story.

23. News of the World by Paulette Jiles – Quick read about a Civil War veteran who gives live newspaper readings. Struck me as written for the film version.

24. The Last Jews of Berlin by Leonard Gross – Powerful accounts, written by a journalist, of U-boats, Jews who hid in Germany during the war.

25. The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg – Berg’s writing is beautiful. But she diminishes the impact of abuse on familial relationships.

26. Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland – I liked so much about this Jewy story, set in Atlantic City during World War Two, except one story line that struck me as untrue to the characters.  

27. A Gift for a Ghost by Borja Gonzalez – Odd graphic novel, especially the faceless characters who connect across time.

28. Poems by Emily Dickens – Just what I needed in that moment to help usher out a Shabbos.

29. The Takeaway Men by Meryl Ain – Novel by my fellow Jewish Week alum Meryl Ain about memory and Jewish identity in mid-20th century Queens.

30. Memoirs by Kinglsey Amis – I could not read past the preface, though I tried. The silver lining was the sweet bookmark from a shop in Madrid that fell out of my used copy.

31. Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou – Memoir of Angelou’s complicated, but ultimately redemptive and loving relationship with her mother.

32. All My Sons by Arthur Miller – Play. A short read and good conversation starter about the way a secret can destroy a family. Painful in its way.

33. The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery – Beautifully written, fascinating, but a long-read essay would have been enough for me. My fault, not the book’s.

34. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling – A gift from a friend. Not my usual read, but a fun afternoon distraction.

35. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich – Homage to the author’s grandfather, who fought against Native dispossession from North Dakota. But the story was all over the place and hard to follow.

36. The Jewish Husband by Lia Levi – Set in Fascist Rome in the 1930s, the tragic story of a young Jewish man who marries into a Catholic family that supports Mussolini.

37. The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories by Penelope Lively – I abandoned this a few stories in.

38. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner – This resonated, the language of loss and the emotions, and the fact that I, for reasons different from the author, have cried in H Mart.

39. A Palestine Affair by Jonathan Wilson – A chance find at a library book sale. Read this romantic thriller set in Mandate Palestine in one sitting.

40. How the World Looks to a Bee by Don Glass – A companion of short, topical science pieces that I enjoyed one or two at a time.

42. Wartime Lies by Louis Begley – A raw Holocaust novel. Begley’s afterword is powerful.

43. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks – A beautifully written novel of love and war that spans from World War I to the present.

44. SlaughterhouseFive by Kurt Vonnegut – Vonnegut’s classic anti-war science fiction novel. I reread it for the first time in decades after visiting Vonnegut’s library.

45. The Good Husband by Gail Godwin – Compelling story of marriage, intellect, love, and loss.

46. How to Make a Life by Florence Reiss Kraut – Historical novel about several generations of a Jewish family and the challenges of immigration.

47. The Children’s Bible: A Novel by Lydia Millet – Societal collapse, climate disaster, dystopia. Not for me.

48. The Sabbath World by Judith Shulevitz – Part spiritual memoir, part historical/religious exploration. Lovely to read.

49. Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Enchanting tale. Enjoyed it, though I usually find fantasy unsettling.

50. Blankets – Craig Thompson – Coming-of-age, autobiographical graphic novel.

51. The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor – Heartbreaking, but gorgeous. Trevor is an astounding writer.

52. The Layers Project: Personal Narratives of Struggle, Resilience,and Growth by Jewish Women by Shira Lankin Sheps – Narratives of challenge and triumph, as told by 30 women living in Israel. Important read, stunning photographs.

53. The Door by Magda Szabo – A haunting novel, translated from Hungarian, about the relationship between a writer and her housekeeper. This book! Be prepared.

54. The Patriots by Sana Krasikov – So much to say about this book, a mother-son tale, a story of secrets, a sweeping historical novel. One of my favorites this year.

55. At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracey Chevalier – A peculiar story about a broken family and a lot of apples.

56. When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains by Arianna Newman – Newman uncovers her father’s war story. Reads like a thriller.

57. Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank – I was late to the game of reading this very popular book from 1999, about the comic-tragic dating dance.

58. Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom – A novel about a white indentured servant from Ireland and a plantation master’s illegitimate slave daughter in the American South.

59. The Traveler by Daniel Simkin and Darren Simkin – A small fable of a book about the lessons of living.

60. Out of Egypt by Andre Aciman – Memoir, beautifully written, about growing up in a Jewish family in Egypt.

61. World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil – A collection of lovely essays that feature nature as memoir. Completed in an afternoon over several cups of tea. 

62. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles – The odyssey of four boys who really get nowhere, but the storytelling and the living are the point. Towles is brilliant. Still, I was troubled by the ending.

63. Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret? by Judy Blume – I loved this book as a girl and decided to reread. Let’s just say, sometimes, you can’t go home again, even in a book.

64. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter – A wonderful story of love and social satire, set in a seaside Italian village and Hollywood.

65. House on the River: A Summer Journey by Nessa Rapoport – Lovely, evocative memoir about the power of memory to shape the author’s life. 

66. The Boston Girl by Anita Diament – Novel about a spirited daughter of Jewish immigrant parents in early 20th century Boston.

67. Under My Hat by Sally Berkovics – The author sensitively explores the challenges of balancing Orthodoxy and secularism.

68. Swann by Carol Shields – A literary odyssey about an uneducated farmer’s wife who is murdered shortly after handing her poems over to a small press.

69. On the Heart of the Seas by S.Y. Agnon – A spiritual legend about a group of Chasidim who travel to the Holy Land in the early 19thcentury. A divine read.

70. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – This thriller asks who owns our stories. It creeped me out. Also, the trajectory was predictable, though maybe that was the point.

71. The Tide between Us by Olive Collins – The novel hinges on the little-known history of the 2,000 Irish children deported to Jamaica as slaves in the 1800s. Roughshod editing and the second part left me wanting.

72. After Rain by William Trevor – A touching collection of short stories. Trevor writes as if he can see into the human heart.

73. Open City by Teju Cole – A novel about a Nigerian-German psychiatrist in New York, and the stories we write about ourselves. The descriptions of the city are stunning.

74. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – I could not get through a novel about the world destroyed by a flu pandemic. Wrong timing.

75. Wow, No Thank You – Samantha Irby – She’s clever and funny. Yet, though I’m not prudish, I wasn’t in the mood for something so crass.

76. Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler – The story of a loving, imperfect family with a wonderful, middle-aged mother at its helm.

77. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – Brilliant classic novel of World War I, and the tragedy of war.

My 2020 Year In Books

Hi there,

Here I am again, though I know it has been a long while, and now suddenly, just like that, it’s the end of December. I hope you and your families are well, and that you have been managing under the circumstances that have defined your experience of the pandemic.

Many of you have reached out, wondering if I still planned to send out my annual book list. I am glad to say that in this, at least, I have succeeded. I may have lost track of time and let go of many things over the past year. But I stayed on the ball when it came to reading. And as always, I’m glad to share.

Books were the silver lining of 2020. We haven’t had guests since the beginning of March, so I’ve filled the Shabbos day with stories. I haven’t read this luxuriously since adolescence. In fact, I’ve read and read and read, books providing a wonderful escape when the anxiety of it all felt like too much.

I enjoyed so many of them. My favorites? Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House, Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, and Max Gross’ The Lost Shtetl, though E.B. White’s Here is New York runs a close second. Two other novels, R. L. Maizes’ Other People’s Pets and Frederik Backman’s Anxious People, were both perfectly suited to the times.

As we close out the year, I’ve just started Asha Lemmie’s Fifty Words for Rain, which shares real estate on my nightstand with Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, my book club’s current selection, which I last read in high school.

So enjoy the list and talk to me about you. What books did you read this year? What did you love, and what didn’t you care for? And tell me more about how reading has gotten you through the pandemic.

Wishing you all a healthy and happy 2021 –  in reading and in all things.

Love,

Merri

P.S. I have big plans for the blog, once I get my act together. In the meantime, if you’d like, follow me on Facebook, where I’ve been writing regularly. https://www.facebook.com/merri.ukraincik/.

My 2020 Year In Books

I should start with the books I read at the end of 2019 that I forgot to include on that list – Tara Westover’s Educated and Lori Gottlieb’s You Should Talk to Someone. Unlike nearly every other human who read it, I struggled with the former. I enjoyed the latter, my laughter often waking my husband up while I was reading in bed, though by now he’s used to that.

1.The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. I enjoyed this often humorous story about a kind widow’s struggle to open a bookshop in an English seaside town that does not want one.

2.Warlight by Michael Ondaatje. The book seemed to read more like a collection of eerie memories than a story. Ondaatje’s a brilliant writer, though, and I learned from his sentences.

3.The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. Not my usual genre, this psychological thriller landed in my lap while we were away for Shabbos (in the days when we could still do that) after I finished the book I’d brought with me.

4. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Much ado about this book, but it didn’t resonate with me. Plus, the font was difficult to decipher.

5. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. Moving novel about identity and community as two African-American families are brought together by the birth of a child.   

And then came lockdown…

6. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. Haunting historical novel based on the true story of the Mirabel sisters, who became symbols of the resistance against Trujillo’s dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. So good.

7. The Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht. Novel about two Jewish boys in London who become friends on the eve of World War Two. I wanted a different ending.

8. Guts by Raina Telgemier. Spot-on graphic novel for middle schoolers, or readers of any age, about an 11-year-old who learns to cope with anxiety.

9. The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry. This novel grabbed me as it plumbed the depths of guilt as a raw human experience. How did I not know of Barry before?  

10. Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food by Ann Hood. Collection of personal essays and recipes about life lived and the power of a good meal to save, heal, and uplift, among other things.

11. Doppelgänger by Daša Drndić. Short, caustic novel about a passionate encounter between a retired Yugoslav army captain and a Holocaust survivor. Powerful, as her fiction is.

12. The Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin. Novel about Turkish diplomats who rescue Turkish Jews trapped in France after the Nazi invasion. I wish it had been more nuanced and dimensional.

13. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Beautiful, heartbreaking story of love, murder, and coming-of-age.

14. The Comet-Seekers by Helen Sedgwick. Quirky, but engaging novel about love, loss, a tapestry, comets, and ghosts.

15. All Whom I Have Loved by Aharon Appelfeld. The haunting story of an Eastern European Jewish family on the eve of the Holocaust, as told by a 9-year-old boy.

16. The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec. An unsentimental culinary adventure that ends in love.

17. The Family Orchard by Nomi Eve. Lovingly written, multigenerational historical novel in which the city of Jerusalem is also a character.

18. The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. Whimsical novel about a gentleman who finds the owners of misplaced objects. Sweet story. As a keeper of lost things, Hogan had me at the title.

19. Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks. I wanted so much to like this collection, but did not.

20. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. One of the classics I reread this year. Struggled with it in high school when it was assigned. Saw the genius in it this time around.

21. Mr. Theodore Mundstock by Ladislaw Fuks. A raw, tragicomic novel about the war. Mr. Mundstock’s tries to find an escape from “the Jewish history of suffering” as transports carry Jews out of the city. Excellent.

22. Miriam’s Kitchen: A Memoir by Elizabeth Ehrlich. I loved the tastes, aromas, and emotions of Ehrlich’s religious awakening in her mother-in-law’s kitchen.

23. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Not a beach read or a pleasant diversion. But I’m grateful for the way Gawande engages us in this must-have conversation. 

24. In the Woods by Tana French. Well-written crime story that enthralled me until the end. What I needed to read that weekend.

25. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro. I was pained for Shapiro while reading this memoir about secrets and self-discovery. I’m still not sure how I feel about the book, but I know 23&Me is off the table for me personally.

26. House on Endless Waters by Emunah Elon. A mournful, touching historical novel about a family, a painting, and the Jews of Amsterdam.

27. Two She-Bears by Meir Shalev. A multilayered story of love (between people, between people and the land of Israel, and between people and the earth beneath their feet). Also, there’s a murder.

28. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Hard to read this novel about a mother and son who escape as undocumented immigrants from Mexico to the United States without hearing the noise of the controversy surrounding it. I’m glad to have read it.

29. The Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev. A tale of two love stories that take place half a century apart. Also about war and the meaning of home. Reread for my book club. It has stuck to my heart.

30. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. The startling, serendipitous story of a young woman and the interesting characters she encounters as she transforms herself in post-Depression New York. A great view of the city. A Gentleman in Moscow is still my favorite of his books.

31. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Another classic I’m pleased to have reread.

32. Lies My Father Told Me by Benjamin Allen.  Paperback based on the film. Not sure how I came to own this. Meh.

33. A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot. A young woman’s heartrending search for her fiancé after World War One. Be sure to read the book before watching the film.

34. The Dance of Genghis Cohn by Romain Gary. A must-read novel about a police officer in postwar Germany, a former Nazi, who is possessed by the ghost of a Jewish comedian he executed during the Holocaust.

35. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. A paradise lost story about a brother and sister and a glorious mansion in a Philadelphia suburb. Wonderful.

36. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I’d forgotten how much I loved this.

37. The Two-Family House by Linda Cohen Loigman. Multigenerational story about a misguided choice that unravels a friendship. The misguided choice makes for good conversation.

38. Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. Funny how differently I perceived this coming-of-age novel when I first read it as I myself was coming of age, versus now, when I reread it as a parent.

39. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi. Story of a young woman’s escape from an abusive marriage in rural India. Quick read, but I didn’t find myself invested in the characters.

40. The Rebbetzin: The Story of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer. An opportunity to learn more about her life and mission. Though her face does not appear on the cover of the book, which bothered me, her elegant image appears throughout.

41. Homesick by Eshkol Nevo. Multilayered narrative about love and history and the different meanings of home.

42. Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel. Sorrowful, moving novella about the unlikely friendship between an East Asian refugee in France and a local man he meets on a park bench. Ends with an extraordinary twist.

43. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart. His descriptions of the pianos may make you long to buy one, but the story itself didn’t hold me.

44. Writers and Lovers by Lily King. I missed this novel, about a young writer searching for meaning while trying to move past loss, long after I’d finished reading it. Plus, geese feature prominently in the story.

45. The Ruined House by Ruby Amdar. Someone is going to call me a Philistine for saying this, but I feel he could’ve made the book more relatable while retaining its brilliance.

46. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Another reread, this one leaving me to wonder how we ever came to think of this as a story for children.

47. The Oppermans: A Novel by Lion Feuchtwanger. Published in 1934, this brilliant novel depicts the life of a German Jewish family as Hitler rises to power. Everyone should read this.

48. Goliath by Tom Gauld. The biblical story as graphic novel. Food for thought.

49. Elevation by Stephen King. A story that strives to be an antidote to societal divisiveness, but the premise that launches it unsettled me.

50. The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason. A medical student falls in love with a field hospital nurse during World War I, with interesting, detailed descriptions of medical practices and early treatment of PTSD.

51. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. An older woman reflects on the pleasures and regrets of her promiscuous youth in New York during the 1940s.  Engaging and charming, but probably not for everyone.

52. Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters by Elie Weisel. Tales, legends, and reflections, much of it nostalgia for a lost world.

53. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Another reread, but enough time had passed, and this book is so worthwhile.

54. Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin. Fictional account of Truman Capote’s headline-making friendship with socialite Baby Paley. I did not like the story, but that was Capote’s fault, not the author’s.

55. Other People’s Pets by R. L. Maizes. A delightful, clever novel about a girl who relates better to animals than she does to people.

56. Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. I was going through the college volumes on our shelves and decided to reread this. Couldn’t get through the oddness of it this time.

57. We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. I had a hard time with this one. The characters were all too perfectly portrayed and the plot read more like an adventure story than a historical novel about the Holocaust.

57. How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed by Slavenka Drakulić. I’ve wanted to read this witty, personal, modern classic on communism and feminism for decades and finally did. 

58. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Another reread, this time with my book club. Still relevant and important.

59. Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills. There are interesting details here, biographical bits about the Lees I would never have known. But there was also too much repetition, and the story often loses its thread. Still worthwhile.

60. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell. I needed a thriller to distract me from the news.

61. Here is New York by E. B. White. A stunning love letter to the city.

62. Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent. I first read this when I was too young to understand it. Achingly painful yet hilarious story of a woman both pursuing and pushing back against the traditional life she’s been programmed for.

63. Out of the Shadow by Rochelle Garfield. Gift from the author. Story of an acclaimed psychologist who runs an innovative anorexia clinic.

64. The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman. It probably it wasn’t such a good idea to read a book about a woman who takes away people’s children during a pandemic.  

65. The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel.  A talented young forger helps Jewish children flee the Nazis. Harmel writes an engaging story.

66. The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani. A journalist travels to India to cope with loss and, in the process, uncovers a family secret. Some parts move slowly, but the multigenerational story ultimately comes together in a meaningful way.

67. The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross.  I fell head first into the fictional world of an Eastern European shtetl that manages to evade modern history and immediately felt the story had been written as a gift just for me.

68. Group by Christie Tate. I’m no prude, but at times it seemed like Tate was oversharing. Still, she’s an engaging writer and I’m glad her life turned out as it did.

69. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. Heartbreaking, breathtaking novel about marriage, family, and the loss of boy whose name becomes the title of one of the most celebrated plays of all time.

70. Anxious People by Frederik Backman. Eight anxious strangers get caught up in a crime that never takes place. I enjoyed the story, characters, and emotions. And what a title!

A Little Reflection on Heroes

There are three women I consider the heroes of my lifetime so far.

The first was my grandmother, who from the very beginning, planted the seeds of grit deep down in my spine, who always said to keep my chest out to project confidence even if I didn’t feel self-assured, and to wear lipstick every time I left the house. She taught me to smile even when it’s hard, that I’d catch more flies with honey, that I would never be too old to learn new tricks, and that it’s good to know how to make things with my hands.

Then came Wonder Woman, played by Lynda Carter on our television one night a week. She showed me that costumed or not, each of us possesses unique strength – that it’s up to us to know this is true, that we should never wait for someone else to say so, and that we should use it to do our part to save the world. Our lives may be ordinary, may never be the basis for a movie, but we all have stories worth telling and we are all worthy of surrounding ourselves with people who will love us enough to listen and hold us dear, no matter how the plot twists and turns.

Then came RBG, who despite her short stature, struck me as the tallest person in the room, who had poise and always knew the right thing to say, who fought and won so many battles for women, precious things we now take for granted – which we should not, not now, not ever, not anywhere, for so many reasons, mostly so we’ll never let them slip through our hands. But she also stood up for others struggling to climb the ladder of equality, sharing her strength and conviction with generosity, knowing she had enough of it to go around.

So last night, I crocheted a collar in Ruth’s memory, put on lipstick for the first time in eons (no one sees it behind the mask, so why bother?) to honor my grandmother’s, and wore a cuff to muster some of Wonder Woman’s strength.

This Shabbos, I pray we all find the hero inside ourselves, that we will use our individual powers to make choices for the greater good, that our voices will take flight, reaching G-d’s ear, and that He will grant us the light to see and the wherewithal to patch up all the places where our world is broken.

Gut Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!

❤ Merri

  • I made the collar by adapting a pattern by Kristen Stein/ModernLaceCrochet for use with a thicker weight wool.

Getting Used to a New Kind of Silence

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. But the pandemic lockdown has rendered my sense of passing time wonky at best. It is hard for me to believe it’s already Labor Day weekend, and that Rosh Hashana is nearly here. I could’ve sworn it was still March and that I’d just sent out a blog post about Pesach.

Over the past several months, I have been thinking a lot about changes I want to make, though I haven’t made most of them. I haven’t felt any pressure to do so, which is good. Still, there are rooms I daydream about reconfiguring, closets I hope to declutter, and projects I want to undertake, among them a face lift for my website and a new format for my conversations with you.

For now, though, my focus is elsewhere, for I awoke to a loud, sudden quiet in our house this morning.

It’s not the quiet I recognize, the one that would echo after our boys, then small, had left for school. Nor is it the tired, afternoon silence they shattered when they’d come back home, arriving like pots and pans falling out of a cabinet onto the kitchen floor. Hungry. Loud. Edgy. Bumping into corners. Clomping down the stairs.

Delighted to see them, I still longed for the hush that would settle over the house again only at bedtime, when the stars would come out and we would read their favorite stories, then read them once or twice more. I would ask the angels to watch over them during the night, and I’d sing to them, to my boys, knowing I was still the center of their world.

This silence, the one I hear now as I begin to prepare for our first Shabbos as empty nesters, is unrecognizable. It’s like a new sweater I’m trying to break in, stretching the wool and folding up the cuffs on the sleeves so it fits just right, like an arm around my shoulders.

I have a flash of memory of my young sons shrieking with delight at the sea, gathering rocks and crabshells and jumping through waves, darting in and out of the water until they have exhausted themselves, falling fast asleep before our minivan reaches the highway. My heart has frozen that moment in time, just as I can still hear the sound of their youthful breathing in my head as I walk through their rooms now to straighten up, murmuring my prayers and eyeing their vacated beds with a pang in my chest, knowing this emptiness around me is the way things are meant to be.

We love them, care for them, trust in the strength of our relationship with them, praying that it will always hold, and then we let them go. It’s the natural order of things, and like breath itself, it is a gift of gifts to know they have grown, that they are men in the world, and that I am no longer the center of their corner if it.

And yet, this is a silence that will take some getting used to.

I look forward to sharing the ways I hope to fill it in the months to come.

Gut Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!

❤ Merri

Trying To Do Nothing At All

Hi everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve written and it feels good to be back with you in this space. I hope you are all safe and healthy and managing well.

This week was exhausting. Lots of doing with little progress, as if I’d been running in place.

I cooked like a short-order chef, cleaned until the house smelled of Clorox, ran the bajillionth load of laundry since we locked down, and choreographed a series of staggered grocery deliveries to arrive between now and Shavuos. One night, I colored my hair, but missed a splotch of grey. The next morning, I gave myself a mediocre pedicure. I tried to write, but instead spent two days trapping an elusive fly the size of a fighter jet that buzzed non-stop around my office. I told him he could have my chair before I gave up and left the room. I sunk a basil plant into the ground, knowing I haven’t the energy to fight off the bunnies. And after reading too many articles about the pandemic, I resolved never to leave the house again.

But more than anything this week, I was sad. I schlepped that hopeless funk around – daydreaming in mid-vacuum, worrying about the present, worrying about what comes next. I felt conquered. I cried. I wished for certainty, or at least a window of clarity, both of which seem to have slipped through my hands, if they were never mine to hold in the first place. I sat outside in the late afternoons to get some sun, to bring in a bit of light, but it didn’t help as much as I’d have liked. And I prayed, asking G-d for a lot. Maybe even a chutzpadik amount.

As the week draws to an end, I’m starting to think I’ve gotten it all wrong. Maybe sad isn’t the right word for what I’ve been feeling. Perhaps it’s more apt to call it the frustration born of trying to move forward, only to discover that all the roads are being repaved, that the map of the world has been redrawn, that we really know very little for sure. Yet my gut tells me that it’s likely also acceptance of my own very human limitations at the hardest of times.

Thank G-d, thank G-d, Shabbos is here, come to save me from myself. To remind me that I don’t always have to be strong, that I can lean into my faith to keep me standing, that I don’t have to carry the weight on my own. That it’s okay if I can’t always hold the pieces together. That sometimes, doing nothing at all is what gets you where you need to go.

Wishing you all a beautiful Yom Yerushalayim and a restful, peaceful Shabbos.

Love,

Merri

A Horseradish Reversal

Every year, I take the head from the horseradish root we use at the seder and plant it deep in the ground. But inevitably, just as the new greens emerge the following spring, one of the garden-eating wild things in our yard will devour the entire plant, root and all, leaving us with nothing.

By now, our recent sedarim feel as ancient as our slavery in Egypt and we no longer require fresh horseradish. Like so much else that’s gotten lost in our COVID-induced isolation, I’d forgotten about the root I planted right after last Pesach until this morning, when I noticed these bursts of green in the garden.

Shocked that they’d not been eaten (perhaps the hose has served as a fortress), I brushed away some of the dirt to check on the roots. They have to stay a little longer in the dark underground to fill out, to be ready for picking. But still, there they were in all their hideous, knobby-topped glory, and I smiled a smile I haven’t mustered in weeks.

The leaves are another story. Unbothered by rabbits and deer, they stand, when fully grown, like a proud gathering of fans, rippled at the edges and ribbed in the center. A verdant crown atop such an ugly, biting vegetable is a lesson unto itself — about silver linings and finding good and not allowing bitterness to consume us. To have played the tiniest role in bringing something forth from the earth, a bit of new life, gives me the taste of something hopeful, and that’s no small thing right now.

Who knows what this week will bring, our dishes packed away and Pesach behind us? Perhaps the animals will leave the plants alone, finding something sweeter to nosh on, and I will be able to offer friends fresh horseradish root with which to prepare an array of quarantine condiments. But mostly it’s the hope I’m clinging to. I’ll lop off the tops and stick them back in the ground.

Wishing the whole wide world a peaceful day of rest, and a Shabbos filled with hope.

Gut Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!