AJFF's Summer Reading and Watching List, Part 1


Summer is here! And with it are the dozens of lists for “summer must-reads,” “hot summer books” and “best beach books.” To help you decide what books to read this summer, our intern, Ariel Adler, went through, well, a lot of them, and she's proud to present to you the “best of the best” summer reads (all written by Jewish authors).

And, because we’re all about movies, you don’t think we’d leave it there? No, she's also come up with some recommended films with a Jewish connection to watch to accompany your choice of our summer reading picks! So, this summer, sit back, read, relax, watch, and enjoy!

1) You’ll Grow Out of It

Jessi Klein (New York Times Summer Reading Recommendation) In this new book of personal essays, You’ll Grow Out of It, Jewish comedy writer, author, and stand-up comedian Jessi Klein takes her readers on a relatable and laugh-out-loud journey from, as she puts it, “tomboy” to “tom man.”

Why Do We Recommend It?

Comedy writers are the forgotten children of show business. We rarely get to go behind the scenes of shows like Saturday Night Live and Inside Amy Schumer and get to know the people behind the sketches, but Jessi Klein is definitely someone you need to know.

As a former writer for SNL and the current head writer and executive producer for Inside Amy Schumer, Klien is a modern-day comedic powerhouse. Her adventures and experiences have inspired dozens of classic sketches and provided enough hilarious material for a New York Times bestselling book.  Grab a cocktail and be the first to go “Inside Jessi Klein” with this perfect summer read. And, when you’re through, check out the films below that show-off the comedic chops of Hollywood’s funniest females:

Bad Moms (2016)

Three overworked moms, played by Jewish actress Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn, decide to rebel against their “good mom” images and indulge in some comedic fun. They soon spark the ire of PTA queen bee Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) and her minions of seemingly perfect moms, leading to a showdown of epic proportions. The film is full of shenanigans and outlandish humor, but, most importantly, it is a celebration of the underappreciated hero known as “mom.” And, after you laugh your way through this 2016 smash hit, stay tuned for A Bad Moms Christmas coming to theaters this November.

Rough Night (2017)

In this hilarious cross between The Hangover and Bridesmaids, brought to you by the minds behind Comedy Central’s hit show Broad City, Rough Night follows a bachelorette party-gone-wrong after a male stripper dies. The film stars leading Jewish actress Scarlett Johansson and actress Ilana Glazer, along with an incredible ensemble cast including SNL darling Kate McKinnon, Zoë Kravitz, and Jillian Bell.

2) Perennials - Mandy Berman (Vanity Fair Summer Reading Recommendation)

Peppered with adolescent discovery and summer camp nostalgia, Jewish author Mandy Berman’s newest novel, Perennials, follows best camp friends Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin during their final summer as counselors at Camp Marigold. However, in the wake of a tragic event, the two women are forced to confront their pasts and prepare for an unknown future.

Why Do We Recommend It?

While we’re more than happy to indulge in a good old fashioned coming-of-age story, Perennials is so much more; it’s told from NINE different viewpoints, offering a plethora of perspectives to the girls’ physical and emotional changes, and boldly asks the objectively terrifying question, “Are we doomed to become our mothers?”

When you’ve put the book down but aren’t ready to let go, the below films also continue to tackle themes of adulthood and returning to one’s past. Note: we recommend the above and below with plenty of tissues and ice cream on hand (I prefer chocolate):

Stand by Me (1986)

Directed by Rob Reiner and loosely based on Stephen King’s novella, The Body, this drama centers on four boys who go on a hike to find the body of a missing child. The film stars Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell, with narration by Richard Dreyfuss.

Indian Summer (1993)

Old feelings resurface and nostalgia rules as seven friends reunite for a week to bid farewell to the beloved camp director and owner, “Unca” Lou Handler, played by Jewish actor Alan Arkin. Written and directed by Jewish filmmaker Mike Binder and filmed on location at Binder’s childhood summer camp, the traditionally Jewish Camp Tamakwa.

The Big Chill (1983)

Following their friend’s suicide, a group of seven former college friends reunite after fifteen years for his funeral. Written and directed by 2016 AJFF Icon Lawrence Kasdan and featuring an all-star cast including Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, May Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams, the film tells the story of what happens when baby boomers grow up.  

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria - Wendy Pearlman (Elle Summer Reading Recommendation)

Since 2011, the Syrian Civil War has dislocated millions of Syrians from their homeland. This collection of firsthand testimonies shines a light on the heartbreaking and breathtaking hardships Syrians face in the wake of the devastating conflict.

Over the course of four years, Wendy Pearlman, a political science professor at Northwestern University, interviewed hundreds of Syrian refugees throughout Europe, centering her novel on their personal stories and tragedies resulting from the Syrian Civil War.  

Why Do We Recommend It?

Pearlman’s novel is both a topical and informative read, revealing a part of the conflict not often depicted in the news. She replaces statistics with faces, reporting with storytelling. She gives a voice to the voiceless and tells their stories in a way that highlights why one shouldn’t look away. This summer, delve into this intimate look at the still ongoing humanitarian crisis.

After Spring (2016)

Executive-produced by Jon Stewart, the film follows two Syrian refugee families seeking asylum in Zaatari, the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world. As these families attempt to transition to life in the camp, aid workers fight against-all-odds to keep the camp up-and-running. Viewers watch as families affected by the crisis struggle to rebuild their lives in a place that was never meant to be permanent – a bandage for a conflict with no end in sight.

Fire at Sea (2016)

In his Oscar-nominated documentary, Gianfranco Rosi masterfully exposes his audience to the harsh realities of the European migrant crisis, a period beginning in 2015 in which millions of migrants and displaced persons from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East crossed the Mediterranean Sea seeking asylum in the European Union. The path to the EU, however, is a treacherous one, with many dying during their travels. Praised by renowned Jewish film critic A. O. Scott of The New York Times for its “hard, empathetic look at reality,” the film juxtaposes the lives of local residents of the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa, a key entry point for refugees from war-torn Africa, with shocking portraits of refugees fleeing persecution.

City of Ghosts (2017)

This documentary, directed by Jewish filmmaker Matthew Heinemann, centers on the efforts of “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently,” a group of anonymous activists, journalists, and Syrian rebels who risk their lives to uncover and document the atrocities committed by ISIS since their takeover in 2014. Holding a 100% “Fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes, this film delves deep into the realities of life undercover and gives unprecedented personal access into the everyday lives of these brave, unknown heroes as they fight to reclaim their homeland.

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate – Al Franken (The Hollywood Reporter Summer Reading Recommendation)

In his new memoir, now Senator Al Franken takes his readers all the way back to his days at Saturday Night Live and traces his unorthodox journey all the way from comedian to politician.

Why Do We Recommend It?

If you’re an SNL fan, a fan of U.S. politics, or a fan of lampooning U.S. politics, then Al Franken is a good person to know. After spending fifteen years at SNL between 1975 and 1995 as a writer and anchor of “Weekend Update,” Franken won the 2008 Minnesota Senatorial seat and is now a major face in the Democratic National Party. Love him or hate him, you’ve got to check out this brilliant collection of insightful personal memoirs, covering wide-ranging topics from SNL drug culture to debating policy on the floors of Congress. 

When you're through, here’s a few political comedies to accompany your reading:

Being There (1979)

Following the death of his wealthy employer, a simple-minded gardener (Peter Sellers) finds himself climbing the ranks of high society due to his quiet demeanor, which those around him mistaken for wisdom and intelligence. The film is based on a 1970 book of the same name written by Jewish author Jerzy Kosinski, who later adapted his novel for the screen.

Dave (1993)

In this now comedy classic, directed by Jewish director Ivan Reitman and written by Jewish screenwriter Gary Ross, Kevin Kline stars as Dave, an easy-going temp agency owner who shares an uncanny resemblance with the President of the United States. When the President goes into a coma, it’s up to Dave to take his place to avoid a potentially devastating scandal. Kevin Kline carries the film, playing the dual role of Dave Kovic and President Bill Mitchell. The film was nominated for the 2004 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Magpie Murders – Anthony Horowitz (AARP Summer Recommendation)

After receiving the manuscript for a new Agatha Christie-style mystery novel, London book editor, Susan Ryeland, uncovers a real-life mystery hidden in the pages of the manuscript. What follows is a murderously good read by esteemed fiction writer Anthony Horowitz in which the reader becomes the detective.

Why Do We Recommend It?

As we await the November film release of Murder on the Orient Express, dive into Anthony Horowitz’s new mystery novel, which revamps the classic English crime novel, taking a deliciously dark turn into the world of modern twists and shocking revelations. What better way to soak up the summer sun than by embracing your brooding, inner detective and indulging in a classic whodunnit?

Speaking of classics, we suggest turning to the TCM Criterion Collection for this one:

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Humphrey Bogart stars in this noir classic as detective Sam Spade. After taking on the case of a mysterious Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor), Detective Spade is thrust into the underworld of crime and deceit in his quest for the coveted Maltese falcon. Co-starring renowned Jewish actor Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo.

Dial M for Murder (1954)

An ex-tennis pro (Ray Milland) devises a masterful plot to murder his wife, played by the unequivocal Grace Kelly, in order to get his hands on her inheritance. After blackmailing an old acquaintance into committing the murder, he’s disappointed to see his wife alive and well, forcing him to improvise a plan B.  Accompanied by a beautiful, haunting score by Jewish composer Dimitri Tiomkin, one of Hollywood’s most distinguished and best-loved composers, this Hitchcockian classic will forever be one of the greatest crime thrillers of all time.

Charade (1963)

Audrey Hepburn stars as Regina Lampert, a woman pursued by several men in search of her late husband’s stolen fortune. The dashing Cary Grant co-stars alongside Hepburn in the film that guaranteed his spot in Hollywood history as THE romantic lead, defying any studio anxiety over his greying film persona. The two stars light up the screen in “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made,” and romance and suspense ensue as Ms. Lampert struggles to figure out who she can trust. The film co-stars Jewish actor Walter Matthau as Hamilton Bartholomew and was adapted for the screen by Jewish screenwriter Peter Stone.

So there you have it! A place to start reading and watching. Before the summer is out, we’ll have Part 2 ready to finish out your summer reading/watching requirements.

In addition to being a talented writer, Ariel Adler is a student at Wesleyan University and an AJFF intern; and you could be too. Interested? Let us know.