This year, like every year we’ve read a lot of books at Lilith, from memoirs to historical mysteries to family dramas.
Just in time for end-of-year reading and Hanukkah gift-giving, we’ve compiled this list of some of our favorite reads of 2023, with links to their original Lilith reviews– perfect for Jewish feminists of all ages!
Space is at the center of Hillary Leichter’s newest novel. As a family’s city apartment begins to magically expand and contract, they must wrestle with both physical and emotional distances. In Terrace Story,” Kate Schmier remarks, “the expansiveness of Leichter’s imagination reveals a dazzling range of possibilities.”
In We Must Not Think of Ourselves, Lauren Grodstein follows her characters throughout years in the Warsaw Ghetto, as they begin to suffer increasingly unimaginable horrors. Grodstein tells a “crucial, compelling, and important” story of hope, love, doing what we can to survive.
“James McBride has done it again,” writes Leah Grishman. The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store tells the story of a community of African-Americans and immigrant Jews as they reckon with a murder in their small Pennsylvania town. “Part murder mystery, part great American novel, part blistering social commentary, and all heart, readers won’t be able to put the latest installment of McBride’s oeuvre down.”
A grandmother is visiting her grandson in picturesque Southern California when the COVID pandemic first hits. With nowhere else to go and no one else to talk to, the two delve into conversation about everything from family history to future plans. “Schine’s work is full of glimpses of joy,” Elizabeth Michaelson Monhagan writes for Lilith. “Her stylish prose describes the pains and absurdities of daily life with a clear-eyed humor, leaving readers with a writer’s greatest gift: stories that delight.”
In The Postcard, French actress and writer Anne Berest “plumbs her Jewish heritage after a lifetime of ignoring it, unravels the dramatic life of her maternal grandmother, and opens a slice of her present.” A masterfully woven family story covering five generations of women, The Postcard is a true story that reads like a novel, and a historical narrative with lessons still relevant to today.
In 2023, we took girlhood seriously. Allegra Goodman’s novel Sam does the same, as it tells a powerful coming-of-age story of girlhood in early 2000s in suburban Massachusetts. “Through Goodman’s tightly controlled point of view, which matures along with Sam,” Bethany Ball writes, “we fully inhabit Sam’s world.”
A family saga across “fifty years and four countries,” Elizabeth Graver’s newest novel is a love letter to Sephardi songs and the Ladino language, and an exploration of the meaning of home. “Kantika, like the songs Rebecca sings, is full of sorrow and joy— and very beautiful,” says Rachel Hall.
In Ruth Madievsky’s debut novel, two sisters wrestle with addiction, inherited trauma, and the complicated dynamics of sisterhood. Beyond the satisfaction of its psychological acuity,” Jessica Gross calls All-Night Pharmacy “a pleasure to read.”
Take What You Need by Idra Novey The novel of Appalachia and metal-welding from Novey is a critical darling in 2023. “This quietly powerful novel leaves the reader with a final question: Is the act of making art itself enough, or is what an artist needs most of all a viewer, an audience, a witness?” asks Rachel Zarrow. Novey spoke to Lilith’s Yona Zeldis McDonough, saying, “This novel provided a welcome occasion to research more about rural Jews.”
Broad City, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are just some of the fan-favorite shows Samantha Pickette dives into in her book Peak TV’s Unapologetic Jewish Women. An academic take on Jewish feminist comedy, Helene Meyers writes, “I think most readers will find themselves eager not only for the next generation of Jewish TV but also for Pickette’s commentary on it.”
From Whispers to Shouts is a history of cancer. More accurately, it examines how the stories we tell ourselves and each other about cancer shape patients’ experiences with treatment. Martha Anne Toll says, “The depth and breadth of this book’s research puts both familiar and unfamiliar history into context to make for an enlightening read.”
In Lilith’s Summer issue, Chanel Dubofsky explored two powerful books about a topic near and dear to many hearts: Jewish summer camp. “Individually and in concert,” she emphasized, “Jews of Summer and Chosen should be required reading. The fact that one is an academic work and the other a memoir makes them even more essential; each is a compliment to the other, a past to be reckoned with and a future for the shaping.”
In her self-described “memoir-in-miniature,” Jennifer Lang isn’t afraid to dive into big topics. She tells the story of navigating a relationship across time, space, and identity. As Nina Lichtenstein puts it, “At its core, this is a love-letter to the survival of a couple, and to our heroine’s survival as a woman, wife, and mother. But most of all as herself”
Gillman’s memoir of her father, the famous and complex theater critic,” hits home not just as an insider’s chronicle of a notable literary family, but as a depiction of the pain a broken marriage inflicts,” writes Alice Alexiou.
Shoham’s Bangle, written by Sarah Sassoon and illustrated by Noa Kelner, is a children’s book based on the true story of Sassoon’s grandmother, who was one of the 120,000 Jews airlifted from Iraq to Israel in 1951. This endearing story of familial connection through meaningful objects is perfect for young audiences.
This young adult novel tells the story of Ida, a Palestinian-American girl who gains the power to magically transition between her new home as an immigrant to the U.S. and the Palestinian village her parents grew up in. Especially important for all audiences at this time, “this novel exposes a side of the terrible Israeli-Palestinian conflict many Jewish readers might not be accustomed to seeing rendered so empathically,” writes Naomi Danis.
And one final book…
Frankly Feminist: Short Stories by Jewish Women From Lilith Magazine offers forty years of fiction from Lilith’s archives. “Original, entertaining, thought provoking,” says Midwest Review.