Seeing My Heart on a Page: Diversity in Poetry and Rabbi Brody’s “Etz Chayim She”

Since it’s a holiday and I don’t have time for a normal post, it seems like a good time to recommend a book which came out recently which doesn’t exactly fit in with what I normally talk about on this blog (that is, scifi and fantasy), but which does have to do with something I am very passionate about. And while I’m talking about this book, it seems like a good time to talk a little bit about diversity in poetry, and what that means. And get ready, because I’m also going to be talking a little about my own experiences with religion and gender.

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How I Found a Book I Didn’t Know I Was Looking For

When I was younger, around 13 maybe, my mom handed me a book. She gave it to me because the protagonist was a Jewish teenage girl, and it is not easy for a young Jewish girl to find books where she can see herself in the protagonist. It may have been a very good book, but I don’t know. I never read it.

Instead, I took one look at the back cover copy, put it on the shelf, glared at it, and never looked at it again. It was historical fiction, which one strike against it–I read enough historical fiction in school, and I didn’t want to read about what my grandmother’s life had been like. I wanted to read fantasy, or science fiction, or even realistic fiction–but set in the present, not the past.

It also mentioned the Holocaust. When I was little, I had owned several distinctly Jewish children’s books, but as I got older, books like that got harder to find, and what I did find was almost always about the Holocaust. By that age, most everything I heard about my people–on tv, in books, at school, everywhere that wasn’t at synagogue (a place I couldn’t go as much as I wanted), all I heard about was how terrible it was to be Jewish. How much everyone hated us. How we were victims who had to get rescued by other people. My parents spent my childhood trying to find me stories that didn’t put girls in that position, I didn’t want to be shoved into it now because of my ethnicity.

So I put the book away, and I never read it. And it was a long time before I found the book I was looking for, or even figured out exactly what it was. The complaints listed above I had not yet figured out how to put into words, I only knew that I didn’t want to read the book I’d been given, and that, for whatever reason, it made me feel very very angry.

Recently I met a woman named Shira Glassman. I learned that she was writing a series which might be exactly what I was looking for. Not only were the main characters Jewish, one of them was a lesbian. And also there was a dragon. I was very excited about the dragon. I quickly placed both the first book, The Second Mango, and its sequel, Climbing the Date Palm, near the top of my To Read list. In the next few weeks I’ll be reviewing these books, which have quickly become some of my favorites.