It’s Chanukah. Again. And for many people that means it’s time to go shopping. Why not let this year’s Festival of Lights provide an excuse to give a literary gift to one of your fellow People of the Book? After all, books make wonderful gifts, especially this year, with Jewish Book Month leading right up to the kindling of the first Chanukah candle.
Since Chanukah offers eight festive evenings, here are eight ideas for book-related gift offerings for bibliophilic family and friends.
1. A Gift Membership to the National Yiddish Book Center
Located in Amherst, Mass., the National Yiddish Book Center is a self-described “vibrant, nonprofit organization working to rescue Yiddish and other modern Jewish books and celebrate the culture they contain.” A $36 gift membership (the basic package) includes a subscription to the center’s English-language magazine, Pakn Treger; discounts on center bookstore purchases; invitations to special programs and events, and a gift card. For additional information, please visit www.yiddishbookcenter.org or call 413-256-4900.
2. An Anthology of Jewish-American Literature
When you can’t decide on one book, why not offer a sampling of many? One possibility is the “Norton Anthology of Jewish American Literature” (2000), an excellent comprehensive reference book edited by Jules Chametzky, John Felstiner, Hilene Flanzbaum and Kathryn Hellerstein. Those partial to short stories may appreciate “American Jewish Fiction: A Century of Stories” (Bison Books, 2003), edited by Gerald Shapiro. For some very recent work, check out “Best Jewish Writing 2003” (Jossey-Bass), edited by Arthur Kurzweil, or “Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge” (Perennial, 2003), edited by Paul Zakrzewski, which features writing by some emerging talents.
3. A Donation to a Literacy-Related Charity
For those whose homes already overflow with books, a donation to a literacy-related charity will spread literary love to the person on whose behalf you make it. Reach Out and Read (www.reachoutandread.org), a secular nonprofit organization, combines literacy with pediatric care for children living in poverty, training healthcare practitioners to counsel parents on the importance of reading to their children and providing new books at pediatric checkups. The Jewish Guild for the Blind (www.jgb.org) is a nonsectarian organization whose programs include a radio reading service, a library of bestsellers on tape
and a training program that “educates and trains those who care for, work with, or interact with persons who are visually impaired.”
4. A Subscription to a Magazine or Journal
Depending on the interests and background of the reader in question, you might consider a variety of Jewish publications, from Lilith, which bills itself as an “independent Jewish women’s magazine,” to New Voices, a national magazine for Jewish college students. Or perhaps you’ll want to choose among the United Synagogue Review (Conservative), Reform Judaism or the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action Magazine. A publication focused on or based in Israel, such as AMIT (Americans for Israel and Torah), The Jerusalem Report or Ha’aretz, may be another good choice. For more ideas, check out some of the links on the Forward’s Web site (www.forward.com).
5. A Classic Book (or More Recent Favorite) on Tape or CD
A book on tape or CD will enhance the lives of those in your circle who regularly find themselves behind the wheel. Since 2004 will mark the centenary of the birth of Isaac Bashevis Singer, why not choose “Gimpel the Fool,” read by Theodore Bikel? A true baseball fan might appreciate Jane Leavy’s recently released “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy,” read by Charley Steiner. Or how about Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent,” read by Carol Bilger?
6. An IOU for a “Reading Date”
This IOU entitles the recipient — whenever he or she chooses — to ask for the pleasure of your company at a literary reading. Include a post-reading dessert or drink on the certificate if you’re feeling especially generous!
7. An Original Poem, Essay or Story
The most appreciated gifts are often those created just for the recipient. And offered frequently enough, they might evolve into entire “books.” Of course, variations are possible for those a little shy about their writing talents. A photo essay or simply labeled album can work just as well. (What a great gift for grandparents!) Or how about a personalized recipe collection for a 20-something in his or her first apartment?
8. Back to Basics: A Book
In the end, there’s nothing wrong with returning to the original idea. Some of this year’s intriguing titles include Israeli novelist Orly Castel-Bloom’s “Human Parts,” which explores the effects of the intifada on the lives of Israeli civilians; Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s latest text, “The Lord Is My Shepherd: The Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm,” and, appropriately for the season, Barbara Rush’s “The Lights of Hanukkah: A Book of Menorahs.” But if you’re looking for more suggestions, peruse the reviews and notices about award-winning books posted at www.jbooks.com, “the online Jewish book community” or at www.nextbook.org.
Happy reading, and Happy Chanukah!
Erika Dreifus teaches in the Harvard Extension School Writing Program. She is the author of the short story “Homecomings,” which won first prize in the 2003 David Dornstein Memorial creative writing contest and will appear in the Winter 2003-04 Jewish Education News, and “Free Expression: 101 Fee-Free Contests, Competitions, and Other Opportunities for Resourceful Writers,” which Booklocker.com is publishing this month.