During National Jewish Book Month in November, writers of all stripes will be trekking from coast to coast on the literary equivalent of the Borscht Belt, as more than 1,000 Jewish book fairs take place. This is one case where the size of a city doesn't necessarily indicate the size of its fair. For instance, there aren't any book fairs in some major cities with large Jewish populations, such as New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles. But the one sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit, November 5—16, is among the biggest in the country, now in its 52nd year.
For Elaine Schonberger, literary arts director of the Detroit fair, it's important to mix name-brand authors, like Rabbi Harold Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Avon) and controversial lawyer and Harvard University Law School professor Alan Dershowitz (Why Terrorism Works, Yale), with first-time writers. "Audiences do like celebrities," she told PW. "But we look for a variety of subject matter, well-written and important books." Among the novelists who cut their teeth as speakers at the JCC in Detroit is mystery writer Faye Kellerman. This year, Schonberger plans to introduce Dani Shapiro, author of Family History (Knopf, Apr.).
At the Leventhal Sidman JCC in Newton, Mass., which holds its fair November 4—18, special events coordinator Robin Stein prefers local authors. "One," she says, "we don't have to pay big travel expenses, and, two, we like to support our local writers." Of course, Stein is lucky to have a roster of townies that includes former Labor Secretary Robert Reich (I'll Be Short, Beacon) and Red Tent author Anita Diamant, whose mother is a book fair volunteer.
In San Diego, book fair coordinator and JCC program director Jackie Gmach compresses her program into just a few days, November 8—12 this year. "The book fair has become a major event," she says. "Fifty people arrive at 9 a.m. and stay until 10 at night. It's very intense." She books a broad mix of writers, from local author Richard Elliot Friedman (The Bible with Sources Revealed: A New View of the Five Books of Moses, HarperSanFrancisco, Nov.) to poet Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Lowercase Jew (Northwestern, Oct.). Similarly, Barbara Winnik, literary arts director for the JCC of Greater Washington, D.C., prefers a wide array of personalities. This year, her fair runs November 9—16, with authors ranging from Lauren Weisberger (The Devil Wears Prada, Doubleday, Apr.) to kosher cook Susie Fishbein (Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays and Every Day, Mesorah, May).
Since so many book fair titles are also successful in general bookstores, PW asked Jewish Book Council director Carolyn S. Hessel—along with Schonberger, Stein, Gmach and Winnik—to tell us which books and authors were in greatest demand this fall. If some notable "Jewish" books seem to be missing—such as memoirs by Senators Hillary Clinton and Joseph Lieberman or Tuesdays with Morrie author Mitch Albom's first novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven (Hyperion, Sept.)—that's because jobs and popularity have prevented their authors from accepting the many invitations to the fairs they received. And, yes, nonfiction does outnumber fiction; legal thrillers are preferred.
Madeleine Albright, Madame Secretary: A Memoir (Miramax, Sept.)
Warren Bass, Support Any Friend: Kennedy's Middle East and the Making of the U.S.—Israel Alliance (Oxford, Apr.)
Theodore Bikel, Theo: An Autobiography (Univ. of Wisconsin, Aug. 2002)
Howard Blum, The Eve of Destruction: The Untold Story of the Yom Kippur War (HarperCollins, Oct.)
Sidney Blumenthal, The Clinton Years (FSG, May)
Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel (Wiley, Aug.)
Anita Diamant, Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship, and Other Leaps of Faith (Scribner, Oct.)
Stuart E. Eizenstat, Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor, and the Unfinished Business of World War II (Public Affairs, Jan.)
Tirzah Firestone, The Receiving: Reclaiming Jewish Women's Wisdom (HarperSanFrancisco, Feb.)
Sue Fishkoff, The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch (Schocken, Apr.)
Ari Goldman, Living a Year of Kaddish (Schocken, Aug.)
Harold Kushner, The Lord Is My Shepherd: The Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm (Knopf, Aug.)
Daniel Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right (St. Martin's/Dunne, Nov.)
Michael Shapiro, The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together (Doubleday, Mar.)
Joseph Telushkin, The Ten Commandments of Character: Essential Advice on Living an Honorable, Ethical, Honest Life (Crown/Bell Tower, Aug.). According to the JBC's Hessel, "He's number one. He's the largest seller of Judaica in the country."
Leslie Epstein, San Remo Drive (Other Press/Handsel, Apr.)
Gregg Hurwitz, The Kill Clause (Morrow, Aug.)—a legal thriller.
Erica Jong, Shylock's Daughter (Norton, Sept. 2002)
Sol Wachtler, Blood Brothers (New Millennium, Sept.), cowritten by David Gould—a legal thriller with a Jewish theme.
Jonathan Wilson, A Palestine Affair (Pantheon, May)—a combination love story, murder mystery and history.