Neighborhood Watch


‘The Odd Woman and the City” by Vivian Gornick (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is a memoir, a meditation on her urban, literary life. She unfolds her story with great candor, humor and a tough edge. “I prize my hardened heart,” she writes. A walker in the city, she finds herself preferring the West Side, where there’s “all that intelligence trapped inside all those smarts.”

“On the Move: A Life” by Oliver Sacks (Knopf) is a memoir by the brilliant physician, professor of neurology and award-winning author. It spans his early life, when he was sent to a British boarding school, to his years of medical training and life of discovery in New York City, where he enjoyed swimming near his City Island home. In all of his pursuits, he’s an intriguing, powerful storyteller.

A historical novel set on the Bowery, “Saint Mazie” by Jami Attenberg (Grand Central) is the story of Mazie Phillips, the all-knowing, big-hearted proprietress of a city movie theater who showed great kindness during the Depression. She keeps a diary, which is found 90 years later by a documentarian. The novel is inspired by a profile of the real Mazie by Joseph Mitchell in The New Yorker.

The title character in “Oreo” by Fran Ross (New Directions) is a young woman raised by her maternal grandparents in Philadelphia while her black mother tours with a theater group. Her Jewish dad disappeared, leaving a mysterious note that inspires Oreo to try to find him. The dialog mixes English, black vernacular and Yiddish.

“In the Unlikely Event” by Judy Blume (Knopf) takes place in Elizabeth, N.J., where the celebrated author grew up. Here, a woman named Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown after 35 years, thinking back to a time when a series of airplanes fell from the sky. Blume imagines the lives of those affected by the disasters, which were actual events in the early 1950s.

Set in her native Azerbaijan, composer and singer Ella Leya’s first novel, “The Orphan Sky” (Sourcebooks), is about a Jewish young woman coming of age under Communism in the late 1970s; it’s a story of arts and culture, romance, spying and betrayal.

“Prayers for the Living,” by National Public Radio commentator Alan Cheuse (Fig Tree Books), is narrated as a series of conversations between a grandmother, the matriarch of a three-generation family, and her friends. Around her, the lives of family members — including her son the rabbi — aren’t turning out as expected. Novelist Tova Mirvis contributes a foreword.

In “Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate (Feminist Press), Letty Cottin Pogrebin turns to a love story. At his mother’s deathbed, a leftist son of Holocaust survivors vows that he’ll marry a Jewish woman, but instead falls in love with a black talk show host.

A historical novel, “The Bridal Chair” by Gloria Goldreich (Sourcebooks) follows the life of Ida Chagall, the only daughter of the painter who “used his brush over the years to create a visual journal of her life.” When Ida falls in love for the first time, Marc Chagall creates the painting named in the book’s title to show his disapproval. In the background of Ida’s growing independence, the Nazi invasion of France looms.

“Alexandrian Summer” by Yitzhak Gormezano Goren (New Vessel Press), is translated from Hebrew to English for the first time by Yardenne Greenspan. Goren evokes the aura of the city of Alexandria in 1951, as Jewish families are escaping from Egypt to Israel. Included is an introduction by André Aciman.

A tale of three sisters who share an apartment on the Upper West Side, “A Reunion of Ghosts” by Judith Claire Mitchell (Harper) tells of four centuries of a family haunted by bad luck. Mitchell writes with humor and a deep understanding of families and sisters, as the trio tries to break the curse.

One of the leading scholars of American Jewish art, Matthew Baigell, has written “Social Concern and Left Politics in Jewish American Art, 1880 – 1940” (Syracuse University Press), which is illustrated with expressive cartoons and prints. He focuses on a generation of Jewish artists, some well known and others largely forgotten, whose Jewish tradition and radical politics were deeply connected.

“Jewish New York: A History and Guide to Neighborhoods, Synagogues and Eateries” by Paul M. Kaplan (Pelican) is an area-by-area guide to the markers of New York City’s Jewish history, great for reading and self-organized walking tours. It covers museums, monuments, archives, historic synagogues, cemeteries, restaurants, theaters, shops and more.