Top 10 of 2021 – Jay Trachtenberg’s best books of 2021: In a lost year, retrospectives and reprints in a new context have been heartwarming reads – Arts

In light of the naked anti-Semitism recently displayed in our beautiful city, it is perhaps fitting that the books that marked me the most this year had decidedly Jewish themes. Most entertaining was Joshua Cohen’s hilarious novel, “Based on Real Events”, The Netanyahu: Account of a minor and ultimately even negligible episode in the history of a very famous family (New York Review Books, 248 pages, $ 14.95 [paper]). Historian Ruben Blum is the only symbolic Jew on the entire campus of a small college in upstate New York, circa 1960, who was enlisted to serve on the nomination review committee for Israeli scholar Benzion Netanyahu. Coached in reluctantly welcoming the candidate’s visit to campus, Blum is taken aback when Netanyahu shows up with his entire family, including Benjamin, 10, expecting to stay at their host’s home. What ensues is a comedic and empowering clash of cultures involving modest and comfortably assimilated American Jews and their much more brash and historically fatalistic counterparts. What not to laugh about?

Tangentially addressing some of the same themes in terms of framing and realizing the American Dream, musician / producer / TV host / scholar Ben Sidran casts a wide net and dives deep into the history of American popular music. in his focused and captivating work. tome, There was a fire: Jews, music and the American dream (Nardis, 246 pages, $ 36 [hard], $ 24.99 [paper]). Originally published in 2012, but now in a recently revised and updated issue, Sidran insightfully examines the role of Jews, from Irving Berlin and George Gershwin to Bob Dylan and the Beastie Boys, in all aspects of the world. music. It focuses on the creation of American popular culture by exploring the zeitgeist of our different social eras and technological advances. Additionally, Sidran highlights the continuing relationship between African Americans and Jews, both seen as outsiders, working together in a predominantly WASP world.

Another reissue to savor is the virtually unknown novel by William Gardner Smith from 1963, The stone face (New York Review Books, 240 pages, $ 16.95 [paper]). It’s a compelling semi-autobiographical story of an expatriate African-American writer enjoying the comforts of living in Paris with his expatriate comrades and his Holocaust survivor girlfriend until he realizes the damaging treatment of the local Algerian population by the French authorities is akin to Jim Crow. attitudes that black Americans receive at home. The French refused to publish this book 60 years ago during their war with Algeria, but the issues addressed unfortunately still resonate in a worrying manner to this day.

A little closer to home, the infinitely fascinating Warped & Faded: Strange Wednesday and the Birth of the American Genre Film Archives (Mondo, 416 p., $ 35 [paper]) by Alamo Drafthouse / Austin Film Society programmer Lars Nilsen and friends tell the unlikely story of how local movie nerds turned their obsession with low-budget exploitation films into a movie series weekly free, then in a respected archive. Filled with photos, advertising posters and artist reviews, this in-house project will be of interest to all moviegoers.


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