AJFF's Summer Reading and Watching List, Part 2


Even though summer vacation now at an end, we hope to liven-up the remainder of the season with more summer reads you might’ve missed with a Jewish connection. So, as we promised, here’s Part 2 of our summer reading/summer watching list, brought to you by one of our valued Summer interns, Ariel Adler. (You can find Part 1 here.

1) Norse Mythology  - Neil Gaiman (Refinery 29 Summer Reading Recommendation)

Jewish author Neil Gaiman, most recently in the spotlight as the man behind the source novel of Starz’s new hit show American Gods, revitalizes the world of Odin and Thor with his newest novel. He weaves myths of betrayal, trickery, and cunning into a beautiful tapestry of novelistic storytelling, beginning with the Norse creation myth and ending with the Norse apocalypse, Ragnarok.

Why Do We Recommend It?

With Thor: Ragnarok hitting theaters this November, now’s the perfect time to read up on your Norse mythology. But, this isn’t your “typical” book about Norse mythology. The New York Times praised Gaiman for inserting “emotions, motivations, and snappy dialogue” into the traditionally morose Norse mythos, as well as “sprucing up the roles of the goddesses” to align more with modern gender roles. Gaiman adds a freshness to the myths, which is impressive considering they’ve been around for a millennium. So, before the apocalypse arrives, we propose indulging in these updated myths of passion, vengeance and divine drama.

Thor (2011)

Before seeing Thor: Ragnarok, it seems natural to go back to the beginning with the fourth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) which sees Thor, the arrogant heir to the Asgardian throne, banished from his home and exiled to live amongst humans in Midgard (Earth). Stripped of his mighty hammer, Thor must rely on his new friends to help him regain his powers and stop his mischievous brother, Loki, from wreaking havoc in Asgard and beyond. The film stars Chris Hemsworth in his first appearance as the mighty Thor and co-stars Jewish actress Natalie Portman as his love interest, Jane Foster.

The Vikings (1958)

Viking Prince Einar, played by legendary Jewish veteran actor, Kirk Douglas, battles against the slave Eric, played by Jewish actor Tony Curtis, for the affections of Janet Leigh’s Princes Morgana. Prince Einar, however, does not know that his most fearsome enemy is also his half-brother, which, in following with Norse tradition, leads to great bloodshed and tragedy.

2) Startup - Doree Shafrir (Huffington Post Summer Reading Recommendation

In her debut novel, Jewish author and BuzzFeed editor Doree Shafrir, takes the world of tech start-ups and packages it into a deconstruction of institutionalized misogyny. Mack McAllister, a tech entrepreneur who struck gold with his hit mindfulness app, TakeOff, is ready to take his business to the next level. While corralling investors, however, his inappropriate relationship with a female employee threatens to go public. Things get even more complicated for the ambitious CEO when investigative journalist, Katya Pasternack, gets wind of the story. As the scandal unfolds, Katya works to write the story of the century.

Why Do We Recommend It?

Shafrir skewers the tech world with this farcical debut and introduces her readers to Katya – a brilliant and determined young journalist. Inspired by Shafrir’s own experience at BuzzFeed, the character of Katya confidently traverses her male-dominated workplace as she investigates the transgressions of one Mack McAllister. Katya’s fight for female empowerment is an enthralling read and certainly worth checking out this summer.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

After stumbling upon some medical records placed in real estate files, unemployed single mother turned legal assistant Erin Brockovich uncovers a massive conspiracy involving a California power company, a contaminated water supply, and a local community experiencing devastating illness. Julia Roberts gives a powerhouse performance as the titular character, who almost singlehandedly took down energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in 1993. Co-produced by Jewish filmmaker Stacey Sher.

North Country (2005)

Inspired by the 2002 book Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler, the film stars Charlize Theron in her Oscar-nominated role as Josey Aimes, one of a handful of women who work at a local iron mine in Minnesota in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Following several years of sexual harassment and a range of physical and emotional abuse by her male co-workers, Josey makes the difficult decision to file what would become Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Company, the first major successful sexual harassment lawsuit in American history. The film is written by Jewish screenwriter Michael Seitzman.

3) Janesville: An American Story - Amy Goldstein (The Washington Post Summer Reading Recommendation

The people of Janesville, a small factory town in Wisconsin, face the onerous task of rebuilding and restructuring their local economy after the closing of the U.S.’s oldest General Motors’ Assembly Plant in 2008. Jewish author, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, and The Washington Post staff writer Amy Goldstein takes readers chronologically from the plant’s initial closure to present-day Janesville. Goldstein studies how the people of Janesville have adapted to their changing local economy and, in her research, frames their hardships into a broader commentary on the disappearance of the American middle class.

Why Do We Recommend It?

Beginning in 2008, the Great Recession caused skyrocketing unemployment and economic turmoil in communities throughout the United States. Janesville is just one of many of these communities (and the hometown of House Speaker Paul Ryan) hit hard by the recession. This novel, however, is not a political statement, nor an attempt to point fingers. It’s about people being laid off from jobs they’ve had for decades and still doing everything they can to provide for their families. It’s about a community coming together to get through tough times. Goldstein’s novel is a true “American Story” and a documentation of one of the most difficult times in American economic history.

Inequality for All (2013)

Jewish author, economist, professor, and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich examines the widening economic gap in income inequality in the United States. The film, based on Reich’s 2010 book Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, explores what effects this increasing gap has not only on the U.S. economy, but on the future of Western democracy. Featuring appearances by then-president Barack Obama and former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and George H. W. Bush.

Detropia (2012)

In their most recent documentary, director Heidi Ewing and Jewish filmmaker Rachel Grady examine the socioeconomic collapse of the city of Detroit. In the last decade, Detroit has lost nearly half of its manufacturing jobs, symptomatic of the decaying U.S. manufacturing base, and has struggled to find a new economic identity. Ewing and Grady document this search through revealing interviews that capture a city drifting aimlessly toward an unknown future.

4) Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy - Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant (Forbes Summer Reading Recommendation

Sheryl Sandberg is a Jewish author and activist, but she is perhaps known best as the chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook and the founder of Leanin.org. On May 1, 2015, her husband and CEO of SurveyMonkey, Dave Goldberg, died suddenly of an arrhythmia while exercising. Following his death, Sandberg sought the help of her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, and, with his guidance, built a pathway to recovery for her and her children. This novel, co-written by both Sandberg and Grant, inspires its readers with stories of resilience and strength and offers healthy methods for dealing with life’s challenges.

Why Do We Recommend It?

While we know a book about overcoming grief may not be first on your list for summer reading, this is a must-read. Sandberg has already blazed a path in the world of self-empowerment with her nonprofit organization, Leanin.org. Now, she hopes to use her story and others’ to show that happiness is possible, regardless of life’s misfortunes.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

In this tale of love and loss, Tom Hanks plays Sam Baldwin, a man who moves to Seattle following his wife’s death. With the help of his son, Jonah, Sam unwittingly becomes the man of every woman's dreams after discussing his feelings on a local Seattle-based talk-radio program. As a result, he captures the heart of the soon-to-be-married Annie Reed, played by Meg Ryan, who asks Sam to meet her at the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. Rom-com icon and Jewish filmmaker Nora Ephron directed this homage to An Affair to Remember, which tugs at viewers’ heartstrings and never lets go.

Beginners (2010)

Inspired by the true-life coming out of director-writer Mike Mills’ father at the age of 75, the film tells the story of Ewan McGregor’s Oliver, whose elderly father, Hal, reveals he has both terminal cancer and a young male lover. When Hal, portrayed by celebrated thespian Christopher Plummer, passes away a few years later, Oliver reflects on his father’s life while beginning a romantic relationship with Anna, played by Jewish actress Melanie Laurent. As they attempt to overcome their mutual fear of commitment, Oliver struggles to come to terms with his past. Christopher Plummer earned a long overdue Oscar win at the age of 83 for his role as Hal.

5) Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders (Wired Summer Reading Recommendation

Jewish author George Saunders, best known for his critically acclaimed short stories, crafts a hauntingly beautiful novel that combines the supernatural with the historical. After dying suddenly of typhoid fever in 1862, eleven-year-old William “Willie” Lincoln finds himself stuck in “the bardo” – the Tibetan place of limbo for souls unwilling to move on to the next life. Willie, trapped by his father’s grief, wanders aimlessly through purgatory and mingles with its ghostly residents, who do everything they can to convince Mr. Lincoln to let his son go.

Why Do We Recommend It?

“In comparison to the grief of America at war, it is infinitesimal, but at the same time, no less potent or real.” (NPR).

Prepare to be moved by Saunders’ first full length novel, which juxtaposes the tragedy of America’s Civil War with Lincoln’s own personal tragedy – the loss of his son. Saunders filters these events through the eyes of the bardo’s inhabitants, who offer a unique perspective to American history and act as unconventional witnesses to Lincoln’s life. It’s impossible to remain detached as these eccentric characters help Lincoln come to terms with not only the loss of his son, but the hundreds of thousands of sons and daughters lost in war.

Lincoln (2012)

Steven Spielberg’s historical epic takes a highly personal look at Lincoln’s life during the final months of the Civil War. As Lincoln fights to abolish slavery with the 13th Amendment, he faces pushback from his own cabinet and struggles with personal demons of his own. Daniel Day-Lewis gives an intimate, Oscar-winning performance as the immortalized figure, revealing Lincoln’s vulnerability while highlighting his strengths as a politician and leader.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

In 1900, young widow Lucy Muir, played by Gene Tierney, moves with her young daughter into a secluded seaside cottage. What’s meant to be a quiet life by the sea is interrupted by the ghost of the deceased former owner, sea captain Daniel Gregg, played by Rex Harrison, who haunts the house and its new inhabitants. Based on the 1945 novel by Josephine Leslie (under the pseudonym of R. A. Dick), the film tracks the relationship between Mrs. Muir and the ghost of Captain Gregg over the course of decades. As their relationship grows from friendship to something more. Captain Gregg does everything in his power to ensure that Mrs. Muir leads a full life. Directed by Jewish filmmaker Joseph L. Mankiewicz with music by legendary Jewish film composer Bernard Herrmann.

So, that’s it! Parts 1 & 2 of our Summer reading and watching picks. Stay tuned at AJFF.org for more of our regularly scheduled programming or with our monthly curated What to Watch picks.

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.