Category Archives: books

I’m on a high – want to know why?

Well, I can tell you that it has nothing to do with my caffeine intake today, or the fact that I watched 24 last night with my husband, or the fact that today is Friday, which is just one day away from Shabbat, and the air is pregnant with promise for possibly getting some sleep. Those are all good things, but the real reason why I am on cloud nine is because… I ordered five books today from Amazon! (Hope that wasn’t a letdown for you.)

I ordered the following books. If you have read these books, and LOVED them, feel free to tell me what a wonderful decision I made. If the books sucked, well, I’d rather not know at this point. Without further ado, here are the books I purchased:

1. Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

I admit to knowing very little about Picoult, but I went on a recommendation of a friend, who normally doesn’t steer me wrong. We shall have to wait and see.

2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I went ahead and did what everyone tells you not to do: judge a book by its cover. I liked the title, loved the cover, and the premise of the book seems interesting enough, so I decided to buy a novel about the circus.

3. Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

As well as the benefit of having Oprah’s seal of approval, I bought this book because I just finished reading another book of his, Before You Know Kindness. To give you an indication of how amazing a book it is, it took me less than a week to finish reading it. If you have kids, and work full time, you know what an accomplishment that is.

4.  Straight Man, by Richard Russo

Russo is an extremely talented writer; the type of writer who leaves such a lasting impact on you that every few months you search the Internet in hope that he has since published a new book. So far, I have read two other books of his, Empire Falls and The Risk Pool, and I am very excited to read his third, which is supposed to be a comedy.

5. Finally… I surprised myself by ordering this book.

Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution (Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters)

About ten years ago, I read Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True, which I can honestly say is one of the best books I have ever read. I devoured its 912 pages at record-breaking speed – over one Shabbat. Plus I have just finished watching the second season of Prison Break, so the subject is fresh in my mind.

Now I just have to find the time to read them….

Amazon, here I come

I have been given an Amazon gift voucher for my upcoming b-day, and rather than fritter away the gift on cosmetics or jewelry that are guaranteed, knowing my luck, to break or dissolve within the week, I have decided to remedy the problem discussed in this post. Yes indeedy. I am going to set my sights higher than Dani’s second-hand bookstore in Jerusalem, and order some books from Amazon, and spend a ridiculous amount of money for the privilege of having them sent directly to Israel.

Sooooo, if you have just read an amazing work of fiction (I edit non-fiction for a living, so reading non-fiction for fun is tantamount to cooking at home when you’re a chef…. or something like that), do share your thoughts.

Good reads

If you are curious what other people are reading, or want to find some good reading material for yourself, Goodreads is the place for you. Enjoy.

One aspect of living in Israel which really infuriates me – yup, it’s Friday the 13th, and I am in the mood for a rant – is the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, there are no English-language libraries that allow you to take out books FREE OF CHARGE. (If anyone does know of such a library within the Israeli borders, let me know, and I will happily make the trek over there.)

You won’t often hear me say very positive things on this blog about my hometown of Manchester, England, but it has to be said – the public libraries ROCKED. As a child, I would hand in the coveted library card that entitled me to take out as many books as I had plastic bags in which to carry them, and I used to leave the library about twenty pounds heavier, with a pile of books that were taller than me. And it was free. I mean, I suppose it stands to reason that they would provide such a service – what else is a girl to do in her free time in Manchester? Indoor activities were definitely the way to go in our cold, gray, and dismal climate.

In the English-language library in Modi’in, you have to pay a ridiculous 250 shekel (which is over $50) just for the privilege of becoming a member, and 50 shekel for the first book you take out, and 10 shekel for each subsequent book, and to add insult to injury, you can only take out 4 books.

For that money, I may as well head over to the local Steimatsky, Israel’s best-known book chain, and BUY brand new books that are not discolored with coffee and ketchup stains. Okay, I might not actually leave the store with the book I want, but at least it would be MINE, all MINE. Steimatsky may be Israel’s largest book chain, but do not mistakenly make any mental comparisons between this bookstore and Barnes & Noble. Unless you are interested in overpriced travel books, coffee table books about the history of Israel, and the odd Steven King novel, you’ll be lucky to leave the store with a book you can sink your teeth into. They don’t even have their own website. Sigh. I mean, even I have my own website. What is that all about?

What I find myself doing nowadays is heading over to a second-hand bookstore on Rechov Yaffo in Jerusalem, Dani’s. I hold onto the books that I like, and those that are in the reject pile I return, and receive thirty or forty percent of the original price I paid. Pretty sweet deal. It just means, though, that I have to head over to Jerusalem whenever I have the reading itch.

Anyway, if anyone has any inventive (and legal) ideas how I can get my hands on some good English-language books in Israel, don’t be backward in coming forward.

Whoever is hungry, come and eat

Pesach of 2001 was a very special year for me. What distinguished this Seder night from all previous Sedarim (pl. Seder) was that the Shlomo Carlebach Haggadah that I was using was edited by none other than yours truly. I have since edited two other Haggadot, but this particular year stays fresh in my memory.

Before I began working on this project, I had been a big Shlomo Carlebach fan, and had even met “the singing rabbi” personally a couple of times in my childhood. I must have been about ten years old when he first stayed at our house during one of his trips to our colorless city (that would be Manchester, England). My father’s close friend was responsible for organizing his performances in Manchester, and asked my father if he could stay overnight at our house – how could you possibly say no to Shlomo Carlebach? Well, anyway, that’s my claim to fame. Shlomo Carlebach stayed at our house when I was a kid.

It’s gotta be said that Shlomo Carlebach’s singing voice is pretty dire – as those of you who are familiar with his music will be able to testify – but his tunes (niggunim) are so uplifting that they leave you soaring in the clouds. It’s other-worldly. All the petty worries and fears that weigh you down on a daily basis are suddenly removed – at that moment, it’s just you and G-d. To this day, I really feel that Carlebach music is therapy for the soul.

So you can imagine my excitement when the Carlebach Haggadah manuscript landed on my desk. Before I began reading it, I knew it would be a success. The idea of relating Rabbi Carlebach’s teachings and stories to the Haggadah and Seder night was ingenious. His insights into the human condition and his profound lessons on the meaning of true freedom raised the Seder night to a whole new level.

A few weeks before the Haggadah went to print, I had to select an excerpt to appear on the back cover. Considering there were hundreds of stories and messages from which to choose, this was not an easy decision. Since food is perpetually on my mind, I eventually opted for Rabbi Carlebach’s interpretation of the words in the Haggadah which translate as “Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat.” The words do have a Michael Jackson feel to them, but nonetheless I felt that this excerpt encapsulated Rabbi Carlebach’s philosophy on life:

Friends, this is our generation. This is you and I, but most of all it’s our children. There’s such a hunger in the world for something beautiful, something holy – a hunger for one good word, one holy word, one message from God. People are hungry for something lofty, glorious. So this is my wish for all of us: Let the hungry people get together – everyone who’s hungry for holiness, friendship, for love – with the people who are hungry to give their children one word from God. Let’s get together! Let’s you and I fix the world!

Quite comical really….

This evening, as we sat down as a family to eat dinner, I tried to engage my three-year-old in conversation about Pesach. Purim was such an anti-climactic experience – Eliana was crying most of the day, she didn’t quite get the concept of reciprocating when it came to Mishloach Manot – I thought it would be smart to get her in the Pesach spirit ahead of time. I asked her what she had learned in Gan about Pesach – it better be extremely profound for 2000 shekel a month, I thought to myself – and she replied, tilting her head to one side, “I don’t know.”

Not one to be deterred, I pressed her further. “Did they talk to you, sweetie, about what happened to the Yehudim (Jews) in Mitzrayim (Egypt)?” Bingo. I had used the correct targeted keywords. Her eyes widened and her expression became animated.

“Yes, Mummy, Tzvika [the ganenet’s husband – don’t ask – it’s a really long story – if you really want to know why the ganenet’s husband was doing his wife’s job, send me an email and I will explain] told us that Haman HaRasha (Haman, the wicked one) was a really naughty man, and all the peoples were so scared!”

Josh responded, “No, honey, that’s a different chag (festival)! On Pesach, the Jewish people are scared of Pharaoh!” That basically summed up in a nutshell our experience as the Jewish people. We go from one baddy to another!

One-time offer

OK, so I have been writing this blog now for just under a month, and I am trying not to be too despondent over the fact that barely anyone leaves me comments. In spam terms, I am very popular. I received 30 comments the other day. But sadly that’s as far as it goes. Granted, patience has never been a particular virtue of mine, and as my husband always tells me, I seem to enjoy monologues, but still the silence is slightly unnerving.

I am therefore making the following offer to the first five fellow bloggers and readers: Comment on any of my posts and I will edit 100 words of your choice. No poetry or science fiction, though. Read more about my thoughts about poetry here.

Yes, this is a rather sad and desperate measure on my part, but hey, I am up to my neck in work as it is – what’s another 500 words?

Let the fun begin.

If I could turn back time…

I would never have bought the Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger. I had high hopes for this book, and actually bought two copies of it before I even began reading it.

I first purchased the book exactly two years ago.  I was in Ben Gurion Airport on my way to London, and overcome by the excitement of travel and the “anything-could-happen-at-any-moment ” buzz I always feel when I am in the airport, I fell in love with the title and decided to splash out and treat myself to this book.

Well, to cut a long story short, I can’t EVER read on planes due to nausea and the joys of supervising two young children (not necessarily in that order), and didn’t have a second to read while I was in London. I ended up leaving the  book at my sister’s friend’s house, and only realized its absence when my sister called me up and told me that I had left it behind.

Well, I never did get that copy back, and, determined that my luck would change, bought the book again in Ben Gurion a year later on my way to the States. (When you’re from England, and your spouse is from the States, vacations only ever happen in these two countries.)

I guess with such drama surrounding the purchase of the book itself, it stands to reason that the actual reading would be anti-climactic. I was not impressed. I had read some really positive reviews about the book – I had, after all, an entire year before purchasing copy # 2 to read up about it – and expected to be really wowed, but it’s gotta be said, it was an extremely dull reading experience. There were very few redeeming features. The premise of the book was interesting – the aspect of time travel combined with a love story appealed to my romantic sensibilities – but the book itself put me to sleep. The plot felt contrived, the characters were pretentious, and the dialog was unforgivably tedious. I did make it through to the finishing line, but that was due to my determination not to have wasted $30 on two copies rather than tribute to the book itself. Anything positive to say about the book? Yes, it was a great sleep-inducer.

Ten tips on how to turn a writer into a friend, not a foe

During the last seven years of my career, I have not only sharpened my skills as an editor, but I (believe that) I have become a more sensitive human being. 

I have worked with so many authors of different types and stripes that I have come to the realization that as much as it is my job to perfect and polish the text, it is equally my role to hold the writer’s hand, so to speak, and guide him or her through the editing process. 

Writing a book is no mean feat, and revealing your writing – which often, directly or indirectly, exposes your innermost thoughts – to an anonymous editor who is itching to roll up his or her sleeves and take out the unforgiving red pen can be an extremely intimidating prospect.

On that note, implement the following pieces of advice, and you, too, will have your web page filled with glowing testimonials will achieve a harmonious working relationship with your client.

Are you ready?

 1. Meet the writer first. Ideally, you should try to meet your client before you begin the writing process. Nowadays email is the standard means of communication, but it is crucial that you start off on a more personal note. Your client will be entrusting his or her “baby” into your hands, so it is advisable that you meet face-to-face in order to build a rapport. While emails are useful and efficient, they can often be misinterpreted, and it is hard to “read” warmth from impersonal messages. If it is an impossibility for you to meet the writer, pick up the phone.

2. Be friendly. When you write emails to your clients, always try to start off on a light and friendly note. Here is a sample of such an email:

Dear Henry,

I hope you are well.

 I read through the first two chapters, and I have the following comments. Please see the attached document. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask.

Best regards,

Sorelle

3. Explain the process. Do not enter a project with the expectation that the writer is familiar with the editing process. Often writers have never worked with editors before, and are not familiar with Word and track changes. Before you begin editing, send the writer an email explaining to him or her (in a bulleted list) the process of editing, and ALWAYS stress at the end of such an email that if anything is unclear, he or she should not hesitate to ask you any questions. 

When working with a writer, your aim should not only be to dazzle him or her with your brilliance, but also to put him or her at ease. Presuming knowledge from clients is a big no-no, and can often end in tears. If you have a preferred method of working, such as always making a point of renaming drafts, make sure that you tell your client from word go about your preference.

4. Be positive. OK, you have read through the manuscript, and it is going to take a great deal of work and many mugs of coffee to get you through this project. Do not project frustration into your emails. You should adopt the attitude that this project is going to improve your editing skills, and will result in you becoming a sharper editor. When you write an email to the writer with your general comments, try to start the email on a positive note. (There has to be SOMETHING positive you can write about the manuscript, and writers really appreciate any positive feedback you can give them.)  

Even if you believe that the manuscript is in an appalling state, starting off your email with a message similar to the one below is only going to alienate the writer and put him or her on the defensive:

Hi John,

I have just finished reading the first five chapters. I am sorry to say that they are incomprehensible and poorly written. Much work is needed to make these chapters publishable.

Sorelle

No good. Try the following tactic:

Hi John,

I have just finished reading the first five chapters, and am attaching my general comments to this email. From what I have read so far, I believe that the book has a great deal of potential. I have outlined in my comments those issues that I feel need particular attention. Please let me know if you have any questions.

I am very much looking forward to working with you on this project.

Sincerely,

Sorelle

5. Consolidate your comments. If you have multiple comments about the work, it is better for you to write them up in a Word document, and attach them to the email. It is tedious for your client to scroll through an email with fifty points. An added advantage of such a method is that you have your saved file for your records. Emails can get lost.

6. Be clear. If you are inserting comments into the Word file, make sure to phrase your question or comment clearly, and write in full sentences. Don’t fall into the trap of writing short comments that resemble text messages. It looks sloppy.

7. Be humble. The following point cannot be reiterated enough. Always make sure to stress to your client that your editing suggestions are exactly that, suggestions, and that ultimately any major editorial decisions are in the writer’s hands. It is counter-productive to present your argument as an indisputable fact. I find that when I have given the writer the option of rejecting my comments, most times he or she will be more amenable to my suggestions.

8. Be organized. If you are working with a writer who is disorganized and sends you vague emails with vague responses to your questions, it is very important that you formulate your emails in such a way that he or she will be forced to answer your specific points. Number each of your points in a bulleted list, and end the point with a direct question that clearly requires a direct answer.

If the lines of communication seem to be broken, make a point of ending your emails with the following request:

“Please acknowledge that you have received this email.”

9. Keep a list. Keep LOTS of lists. Always keep a running list of the issues that you discuss in your email correspondence with your client. Often interesting ideas will be suggested but sadly forgotten in the midst of more pressing issues, so it is extremely useful to have this list handy.

10. Be humble. Yes, I’m repeating myself. Being an editor requires humility. You are not competing against the writer, you are helping him or her. You are in effect finessing someone else’s work for which you will not receive any credit (aside from a few complimentary words in the Acknowledgments, if you are lucky). If you cannot derive satisfaction from the fact that you have helped steer the writer towards an excellent final product, then you are in the wrong profession.   

Pesach – Enforced Slavery?

The holiday of Pesach (Passover) is fast approaching, and this year, the concept of deliverance from slavery will take on a new personal meaning. I have to meet three deadlines in the week before Pesach, so when Seder night comes round, I will not have to work very hard to summon up emotions of relief as I experience my own delivery from bondage.   

I do feel pangs of guilt when I speak to my family abroad. While they have been slaving away, and cleaning their houses from top-to-bottom since January, I have spent more time on the computer than I have taking care of my husband, my girls, and my home. (Luckily for me, my husband is actually far more domesticated than I am and actually enjoys cooking, cleaning, etc. – I know, he was a rare find.)

I thank G-d for giving us the holidays, because we are not just celebrating historical events, but are reliving the highs and lows that accompany each festival on a personal level. Each person, on whatever level, has experienced in their lives their own Exodus, and it is in this way that we can infuse personal meaning into each chag (holiday).

The holidays enable me to stop and smell the roses. Lately I have found that time has been passing by too quickly for my liking; I am not sure why this is, but before I catch my breath, another weekend is upon us. The presence of the Jewish holidays on my calendar force me to stop and think about myself and my connection to G-d.

Over the last seven years of my career, I have edited a number of works about Pesach, two haggadot and various compilations of thoughts on Jewish holidays. One perspective on Pesach which I found to be particularly refreshing was provided by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner in his work, Moadim LeSimcha: Explorations into the Jewish Holidays. (No pressure, but if you order the book off my website from Amazon, I get some sort of [monetary, I think] reward.) I very much enjoyed editing this book, because it was a break away from the typical thoughts you hear about the chagim.

Here is a quote from his book that I identified with so much that I decided to place it on the back cover. I think the women out there who are gearing up for Pesach will particularly get a kick out of this:

It shouldn’t take more than a day to clean the whole house, including the kitchen. Anything more than that is a stringency. If we are not capable of dealing with the extra workload we decide to take on, we deplete our energy and take out our exhaustion on our families. Not only is there increased tension between husband and wife, but we show our children a very negative example by shouting at them things like: I told you not to go into this room anymore. Why did you go in?! Eat on the porch! Eat standing up! Don’t touch! The whole kitchen looks like it was overturned by vandals – the husband and children will tremble in fear, eating in some corner, while the woman of the house glares at them like a drill sergeant. Is this preparation for Pesach? Is this educating children? No, it is a reign of terror with the mother as Pharaoh presiding.

So, not only is excessive Pesach cleaning unnecessary, you run the risk of becoming a Pharaoh yourself! I like this man. A lot.