Tag Archives: humor

Florida Man

Is Tim Dorsey the literary incarnation of Florida Man?

Tim Dorsey’s latest addition to the Serge Storms saga, Naked Came the Florida Man, takes on the challenge of uncovering a Florida that few readers – or writers – know well. He offers a loony look at a momentous hurricane, a tour of unusual cemeteries, as well as some sobering moments at a mass grave in Palm Beach County where the remains of African Americans killed by an earlier hurricane are buried. He pays homage to the that great icon of Florida culture – Flipper the dolphin. He makes us feel the threat and horror of the sugar cane fields and of those buried beneath – victims, perhaps, of the boogeyman who haunted those fields. Was he just a figment of local children’s imagination, or is he with us even today, the fabled Florida Man just waiting to strike?

Tim Dorsey

 

If you like zany mysteries, you’d better latch onto this one and see how Serge investigates a particularly weird case. Seeming like a nutcase is part of Serge’s skill set, and he employs it with unexpected results.

Readers will appreciate the 1960s nostalgia that winds through the book, and they will be imaginatively following that gold ’69 Plymouth Satellite that caries Serge and his buddy Coleman forward and backward in time and space. Along the way he pays homage to Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston and her influence on Georgia writer Alice Walker.

The author, a Tampa resident, starts Serge’s magical mystery tour in Key West and gets his heroes and their imaginary followers up to Pahokee and beyond. He’ll keep you smiling and also scratching your head.

Join the fun. Look out for those sections labeled “Four Years Earlier” and don’t trip over the changes of direction.

The entire article, as it appears in the March – April 2020 Fort Myers Magazine, includes an extended Q & A section and some Dorsey biography.

You can get there by clicking on Florida Man

 

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Jewish recipes and food lore featured at 5th Annual Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival luncheon

Review by Philip K. Jason

The 100 Most Jewish Foods: A Highly Debatable List, by Alana Newhouse. Artisan Books. 256 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

The alphabet never tasted so good.

A huge and dazzling array of contributors brings to life what would seem to be an impossible task: a plausible gathering of what’s “most Jewish” in the palates of Jews across time, space and memory. The contributors are at once erudite and down to earth. Author Alana Newhouse gives them brief but impressive identification at the end of the book so that readers can connect their perspectives to their credentials.

Readers will chuckle at the book’s table of contents. It provides a delightful visual image as an identifier for each selection, in which these same images reappear. They exist to make us hungry. 

The format is basically a mini-essay followed by a recipe. So, we travel and gorge from adafina (a Sabbath stew) to Yemenite soup, with the expected and plenty of surprises along the way.

Just where it needs to be is the apple, given a personality by Dan Barber, who plays the part well, complaining about being blamed for Eve’s lack of discipline but then boasting about having flourished all over the world. The apple’s journey is a guilt trip. Apple cake becomes the choice for instruction.

The recipes share a professionally structured style that readers will find efficient without being overly formal. Measurements are given in the vernaculars, so the reader will always know such things as: a half cup of sugar is 65 grams. Chocolate Babka immediately caught my attention, but I plan to get my babka by giving a copy of the book, properly bookmarked, to a good friend who bakes.

Okay, so you’d expect a section on bagels, but don’t tell me you anticipated Bazooka gum. Bialys are another must, as are black-and-white cookies, blintzes and maybe bokser. And borscht is inevitable, with this section offering a brief essay on “The secrets of Soviet cuisine.”

The section on brisket is best read overnight.

“C” is for carciofi all giudia (artichoke Jewish-style). “C” is also for challah, charoset and cheesecake – AND chicken. Yes, there is a section on Chinese food that explains in detail “Why Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas.” The mysteries of cholent and chopped liver come next, laced with both wisdom and humor. Chopped liver? Of course. And there is a lot more to the (pardon the pun) c-section.

I have to speed up now: dates, deli, dill; eggplant, Entenmann’s, eyerleckh; flanken; gefilte fish, goose and the wished-for gribenes; halva, hamantaschen, haminados and Hebrew National hot dogs.

Alana Newhouse credit Michelle Ishay

 

Let me depart from the alphabet now and address some other charms of this “most Jewish” book.

Many of the contributors are notable writers, or at least darn good ones. Often, they take the opportunity to personalize their entries with memories of family gatherings, holidays and lifecycle events at which Jewish food is not the theme, but somehow the bonding agent. We can trace how a recipe was introduced, passed along to others, sometimes modified, but always linking the generations – just like Hebrew school, but usually with greater impact.

These personal stories that link the food with the occasion and the family are sometimes humorous, but always moving and inviting.

There is a surprising and welcome inclusiveness in the scope of the recipes. A favorite of Tunisian Jews, Pkaila, is one of the surprises. Adafina is from the Iberian world, and Haminados are among the Sephardic tastes readers are lured to sample. Jews from the Republic of Georgia indulged themselves with Labda, which also has a connection with Persian cuisine. Jews in India enjoy Malida at the Seder table. Treatments of matzo are manifold. One of these is the Sephardic Mina de Matzo. And you don’t want to miss trying Mufleta, Persian rice and Ptcha – foods with various origins across the Jewish world. Tsimmes, of course, is universally familiar.

Well, the person who put all this together, New Yorker Alana Newhouse, is the editor-in-chief of Tablet, a daily online magazine with a huge following. Founded in 2009, it features Jewish news, ideas and culture. A graduate of Barnard Collage and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Newhouse has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and Slate.

On Monday, December 2 at 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Naples, Alana Newhouse will be speaking at a Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival luncheon. The book will be available for sale and signing. Find details about the complete festival series of events, along with a ticket order form, author bios, book descriptions and sponsor information in section B of this issue or at http://www.jewishbookfestival.org. Need an answer fast? Send an email to fedstar18@gmail.com or call the Federation office at 239.263.4205.

This article appears in the November 2019 Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Greater Naples)

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Journalist pokes some fun at Florida’s official symbols

Roaring Reptiles, Bountiful Citrus, and Neon Pies, by Mark Lane. University Press of Florida. 152 pages. Hardcover $19.95.

What do you hope to get from your reading materials, information or laughs?  If you want both, and you are curious about Florida, this is the book for you. Writing as an amused and sometimes perplexed Florida partisan, Mr. Lane zeros in on the symbols that define the state and the legislative process of how they come into being. In nineteen hilarious and often wacky vignettes, the author presents a wealth of information.

With something often approaching a straight face, he keeps his tongue in his cheek. It’s a winning performance. 

Many of the chapters benefit from Mr. Lane’s decision to surround or imbed the story of how a symbol became the Official Florida this-or-that with bits and pieces of his own personal story. His long-developed sense of Florida culture and his knowledge of state and local politics affords many opportunities for him go embellish the bare bones facts about how the selection for officialdom occurred. The story-telling is always pleasant, even when the facts themselves often are not.

Here are some of Mr. Lane’s chapter subtitles that give a taste of what readers are in for:

“Welcome to the Sunshine – Not the Alligator – State,” “Welcome to the Land of the Manatee Mailboxes,” “Ponce de Leon Schlepped Here,” “The Mockingbird Will Not Be Mocked, Tree Huggers,” and “In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash).”

Mark Lane photo by Cindi Lane

The chapters are usually headed by the official language of incarnation. Some are straightforward, following the pattern of “Key lime pie is designated as the official Florida state pie – Florida Statute 15.052.” The elevation of the orange to reign as the state fruit is easy to anticipate, but the ways in which Mr. Lane embroiders and personalizes the story will surprise you. Elsewhere one learns about Myakka fine sand, credentialed as the official Florida state soil. (Is this the kind of exercise we want state legislators to spend time on?)

You get the idea.

Each one of Mark Lane’s chapters is a little gem, a kind of inspired dose of the ridiculous. The actual statute that elevates the sabal poem (aka the sabal palmetto palm and/or cabbage palm) as the state tree of Florida (even though it’s actually a tree-like plant) is just the kind of discovery for which Mr. Lane cannot resist witty remarks and satiric story-telling. He includes some laughs at the expense of the sabal palms post-hurricane trimmings. “It’s the poodle-cut of palms.”

. . . .

For the rest of the review in October 17, 2019 Bonita Springs Florida Weekly,  info about Mark Lane, and an interview click here:  Florida Weekly – Roaring Reptiles. Then continue to review’s second page. Also appears in Palm Beach and Venice editions, on October 23 in Fort Myers edition, and on October 24 in  Naples and Charlotte County editions. 

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Jewish Book Festival Launches Fifth Season

By Phil Jason, Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival Co-Chair

Beginning in November and concluding in March, the 2019-20 Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival will offer a dazzling series of author events, building upon the highly regarded and jam-packed 2018-19 season. The festival, a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples in cooperation with the Jewish Book Council, will once again provide an outstanding contribution to the cultural life of our community. The festival will offer 12 events at several venues, covering 19 books with 22 visiting authors. 

Many of the festival events will feature two authors matched by a common theme or genre. Other events will feature a dynamic solo presenter. One event will feature a book created jointly by three talented authors, all of whom will be on hand.

Be at the Hilton Naples on Tuesday, November 5 at 7:00 p.m. for the festival’s lead-off speaker, Elyssa Friedland, who will discuss her novel The Floating Feldmans. Annette Feldman, hoping to inspire family unity, has chosen to celebrate her 70th birthday on a cruise ship with her entire family. It’s a high-risk piece of wishful thinking that troubled relationships will be healed and that proximity will foster togetherness. Pathos and humor blend as rivalries re-emerge, secrets are revealed and surprises abound. This opening event will feature a 15-minute preview of the entire festival. The event features cruise-themed fun, with prizes for the best cruise photos; book and ticket giveaways; music; drinks and light bites; and other surprises.

On Monday, November 11 at 1:00 p.m., enjoy a fiction session at the Naples Conference Center. Best-selling thriller writer Andrew Gross will talk about his terrifying work of historical fiction, The Fifth Column. A huge Nazi rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden eerily suggests Hitler’s popularity in the winter of 1939. Charles Mossman, despondent from losing his job and family, strikes out at a Nazi group. Two years later, still struggling as the threat of war grows, Mossman finds himself in a world in which Nazi spies are everywhere and his daughter Emma’s life is in jeopardy. Former New York Congressman Steve Israel’s novel, Big Guns, takes us behind the scenes into the political mayhem of the gun debate. After the mayor of a small Long Island town passes an ordinance to ban guns, he is countered by an arms manufacturer’s scheme to promote a recall election. As with Gross’s book, the possible future is horrifying and what seems absurd may come to pass.

On Monday, December 2 at 11:30 a.m., a special food-related event comes to town. Alana Newhouse’s book, The 100 Most Jewish Foods: A Highly Debatable List, becomes the inspiration for lunching at the Hilton. The James Beard Foundation nominee for innovative storytelling is informative, passionate, quirky and rich with layers of tradition and history. Which Jewish foods are the most significant, culturally and historically, to the Jewish people? Find out from this book, brimming with recipes and thoughts from a gallery of important contributors. Newhouse is the founder and editor of Tablet, the daily online magazine of Jewish news, culture and issues.

History lessons continue with the hilarious A Field Guide to the Jewish People by Dave Barry, Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel. Return to the Hilton on Monday, December 9 at 7:00 p.m. as the authors let us in on such critical information as why yarmulkes are round and who was the first Jewish comedian. Finally, you can learn why random Jewish holidays keep springing up at unexpected times. Floridians are long familiar with Pulitzer Prize-winning Barry. Mansbach has several bestselling titles and an award-winning novel, The End of the Jews. Zweibel, who wowed us during the 2017-2018 festival, has won five Emmy awards for his work on The Late Show with David Letterman and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

On Thursday, December 19 at 7:00 p.m., come back to the Hilton for a non-fiction duet. Hear Adam Chandler expound on America’s romance with fast food as described in Drive-Thru Dreams. It’s been at least a century since the bond between American life and fast food took hold. The food has been addictive; the operations of the major players have been questionable. Chandler reveals the industry’s history through heartfelt anecdotes and fascinating trivia. From its White Castle beginnings to its international charisma, Chandler provides food for thought and thought for food. Stephen M. Silverman, who has written 13 books, takes readers on the ultimate nostalgia trip with his captivating history of The Amusement Park. He tells the story through tracing the lives of the characters who envisioned and built these parks. Have a reading vacation with him as you visit Sea World, Coney Island, Tivoli Gardens, Six Flags, Dollywood, Riverview and all the rest. Silverman’s work appears in such topnotch periodicals as Harper’s Bazaar, The London Times and Vogue. Enhancing their presentations, both authors will use photos and graphics projected on large screens in the Hilton ballroom.

Jenoff

On Wednesday, January 8 at 1:00 p.m., Temple Shalom will be the venue for a historical fiction session. In Pam Jenoff’s The Lost Girls of Paris, a seemingly abandoned suitcase is found by a woman who discovers that it holds photographs of 12 different women. Through a series of setting and point-of-view shifts, Jenoff reveals that the woman who misplaced the suitcase was the leader of a cadre of women who served as secret agents during World War II. They did their work in Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators. Several of these women are profiled in detail and their fates are revealed. Melanie Benjamin’s Mistress of the Ritz is a fictionalized representation of Blanche Auzello’s amazing life. This Jewish-American woman used forged papers to create a new life as an undercover Resistance worker. Her cover was playing hostess to the invading Germans at the legendary Ritz in Paris. Both authors have several bestselling books. 

Monday, January 13 brings the festival to the Naples Jewish Congregation for a memoir session beginning at 1:00 p.m. Marra B. Gad’s The Color of Love relates the experiences of a mixed-race woman who, after 15 years of estrangement from her racist great-aunt, helps bring her home when Alzheimer’s strikes. This inspirational story probes what people inherit from their families: identity, disease and, in the best case, love. Gad holds an advanced degree in modern Jewish history from Baltimore Hebrew University. Angel Himsel’s A River Could Be a Tree tells of being the seventh of 11 children growing up in southern Indiana in an apocalyptic, doomsday Christian faith. A trip to Israel to learn what’s behind the church’s strict tenets made her question Christianity and ultimately convert to Judaism. Himsel’s writing has appeared in The New York Times and Jewish Week. Her book is listed in 23 Best New Memoirs (bookauthority.org).

On Tuesday, January 28, return to the Hilton at 7:00 p.m. for an exciting non-fiction event showcasing two entertainment media specialists. Ken Sutak’s Cinema Judaica: The Epic Cycle 1950-1972 is the stunning sequel to Cinema Judaica: The War Years 1939-1949. It is illustrated with more than 400 four-color, high-definition images of Jewish heroines, heroes and history (biblical Holocaust and Israel foun­dation) taken from the breathtaking movie poster art of the post-war cycle of spectacular, epic films. Sutak has also produced museum exhibits and is a donor of the Cinema Judaica Collection at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Elizabeth Weitzman’s Renegade Women in Film & TV blends stunning illustrations, fascinating biographical profiles and exclusive interviews with icons like Barbra Streisand, Rita Moreno and Sigourney Weaver to celebrate the accomplishments of 50 extraordinary women. More names? Lucille Ball, Oprah Winfrey and Nora Ephron. Weitzman was named one of the top film critics in New York by The Hollywood Reporter.

This year, the Evy Lipp People of the Book Cultural Event will be part of the Jewish Book Festival. Be at Temple Shalom on Wednesday, February 5 at 7:30 p.m. to hear psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb talk about her book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient, examining the truths and fictions we tell ourselves and others as we teeter on the tightrope between love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change. The book is a disarmingly funny and illuminating account of our own mysterious lives and our power to transform them. The author is well known for her many television appearances and contributions to such periodicals as The New York Times and The Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” column.

Also at Temple Shalom, on Wednesday, February 26 at 1:00 p.m., is a multifaceted program that begins with Bob Mankoff’s Have I Got a Cartoon for You. The cartoon and humor editor for Esquire and former New Yorker cartoon editor has put together his favorite Jewish cartoons. He explains the importance of the cartoon in the vibrant history of Jewish humor and plumbs Jewish thought, wisdom and shtick for humorous insights. “It might be strange,” says Mankoff, “that the People of the Book became the People of the Joke.” Jewish culture is more broadly explored in The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia by Stephanie Butnick, Liel Leibovitz and Mark Oppenheimer (Butnick and Oppenheimer will present at the festival). The authors host Tablet magazine’s wildly popular Unorthodox podcast. Their book is an edifying, entertaining and thoroughly modern introduction to Judaism, an alphabetical encyclopedia of short entries featuring an exhibition of divergent voices.

On Wednesday, March 4 at 1:00 p.m., the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island will be the venue for two Holocaust-related non-fiction books. Jack Fairweather, former Baghdad and Persian Gulf bureau chief for the Daily Telegraph and former correspondent for The Washington Post, discusses his book The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz. A Polish resistance fighter infiltrates the camp to sabotage it from within. He attempts to warn the Allies about the Nazis’ plan for a “final solution” before it’s too late. Jack J. Hersch’s Death March Escape: The Remarkable Story of a Man who Twice Escaped the Nazi Holocaust tells the story of 18-year-old Dave Hersch’s year in Mauthausen Concentration Camp, his two escapes at the end of the war, and his son Jack’s journey back to Mauthausen decades later. After a year slaving in Mauthausen’s granite mine, Dave was put on a death march. Weighing 80 pounds and suffering from several diseases, he found the strength to escape, but was quickly returned to Mauthausen. Put on another death march, he escaped again.

On Wednesday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m., Temple Shalom hosts the final session of the Jewish Book Festival. Josh Frank’s Giraffes on Horseback Salad: Salvador Dali, the Marx Brothers, and the Strangest Movie Never Made is a re-creation of the lost-and-found script for the film in the form of a graphic novel. The book honors the would-be film by reflecting its gorgeous, full-color, cinematic, surreal glory. It is the story of two unlikely friends: a Jewish superstar film icon and a Spanish painter – and the movie that could have been. This is Mr. Frank’s fourth book and second illustrated novel. The event will include a multimedia presentation with film clips and photos, live music and songs.

For a complete schedule of events, ticket information, venue locations, contributing sponsors, author bios and book synopses, visit http://www.jewishbookfestival.org. For questions and general information, call 239.263.4205 or email fedstar18@gmail.com.

 

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Real and fake terrorists bring Israel-based TV cooking competition mayhem and edgy humor

The Two-Plate Solution: A Novel of Culinary Mayhem in the Middle East, by Jeff Oliver. Bancroft Press. 224 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

Do you like something zany? Something that risks going out of bounds? Something that mixes hilarity with an acute awareness of our addiction to so-called reality television and social media? It’s here at last in Jeff Oliver’s tongue-in-cheek fantasy. Come to the playground Israeli city of Eilat and witness the filming of Natural Dish-aster season five. How do ever-pressured producers and staff keep the ratings up? By mixing the ridiculous with the sublime.  

The cast of character is a mind-boggling mix of media-savvy chefs, production staffers at various levels of the power pyramid, Israelis connected to the production as security liaisons, Islamic terrorists, and actors pretending to be Islamic terrorists. Sure enough, the real thing takes over.

The Grand Sheba Excelsior, home of the production (and not yet open to the public), is the scene of several crimes against sobriety.

Sexual appetites are as much on display as foodies lusting for taste sensations. The competition for climbing the executive ladder of the production company is as cutthroat as any kitchen rivalry.

Perhaps only Jeff Oliver could dream up the possibility of a cooking challenge like “baking bread while running through the desert almost getting murdered by slave owners.”

As the aficionados of cooking competitions know only too well, the televised production often offsets the action with the voices of the contestants as they are interviewed before or after that action. Oliver has a lot of fun with this, interspersing his main action with slices of interviews that reveal his characters’ attitudes.

He also has a lot of fun with puns and improbabilities. One of the competitive teams, “Team Mis En Bouche,” prepares a “deconstructed Seder plate” that includes a Palestinian touch to suggest “a time of racial harmony, without walls, and Arabs were one with the Jews.” It doesn’t matter that one of the characters, Al-Asari, comments: “That interpretation of history is insane.” Or does it?

Jeff Oliver

The dialogue among these reasonably well-defined characters is catchy and fast-paced throughout, though sometimes a bit off-color. Oliver has an ear for language, both scripted and spontaneous, and it serves him and his readers well. Indeed, there are so many characters that is astonishing how sharply individualized they are. Catchy names and heavily underscored traits help the cause.

The character through whom Oliver gets the most mileage in revealing the enormous levels of stress and insecurity that haunts this industry is Genevieve Jennings, an executive whose position and future seem in jeopardy. Manic fear and ambition collide in her personality, but she finds a way of coming through. She gets the job done largely on her own terms. But why is she labeled with her last name in a female group including Sara, Ruti, Sharon, and Tanya?

While much of the author’s satiric direction is quickly understood, leaving the book’s structure to be basically a “can you top this” stream of frenzied ingenuity, there are enough refreshing surprises to keep readers turning pages.

One of these is the introduction of Ruchama – The Halva Queen of Eilat – who so impresses the production staff that she is invited to become a contest judge. Taking advantage of her respected skills and knowledge, the chefs compete for an unexpected prize by conjuring the most satisfactory and unusual halva recipe. And why not? Even the ones with savory features stand a chance.

Friendship, romance, and rivalry are the umbrellas under which the many and diverse relationships may be found. And, indeed, relationships undergo changes in this ultimately hopeful adventure.

Oliver knows that settling the Arab-Israeli conflict is no joke, but he chooses to pretend, and invite his readers to pretend, that it is. Or that the answer might be found through humorous exploration. The punning title begins the process. You’ll have to make your own journey to discover how it ends.

About the Author:

Jeff Oliver is Vice President of Current Production at Bravo and a former executive at the Food Network, where he developed the hit series Cutthroat Kitchen and worked on other such epic culinary hits as Worst Cooks in America and The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia. He is the author of the acclaimed debut novel Failure to Thrive. Jeff lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with his wife, Liz Blazer, and son.

Meet Jeff on Thursday, November 29 at 11:30 p.m. at the Hilton Naples, where be speaking at a special luncheon session of the Greater Naples Jewish Book Festival. For more info, check out www.jewishbookfestival.org

The review appears in the November 2018 Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Greater Naples). It is also found in several local editions of Florida Weekly.

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“Patient Care: Death and Life in the Emergency Room,” by Paul Seward, MD

  • Catapult.  240 pp.  Hardcover $25.00.

This insider account of the ER provides high drama, fascinating detail, and unexpected humor.

Paul Seward’s half-century in the emergency room has yielded a bounty of stories illustrating the joys and frustrations of his trade. The 21 friendly, well-carved vignettes he shares in Patient Care penetrate the mysteries of emergency medicine while underscoring the compassion, skill, and dedication of the modest practitioner/author.

One of the recurrent concerns expressed by Seward is his inability, when sharing his reminiscences here, to remember everything relevant to a particular patient’s case and to his own behavior during the crisis. He fills in these blanks by explaining what his customary action would likely have been.

Why does he take the time to worry about these memory lapses? Perhaps it is one way of admitting the human fallibility to which physicians, like all people, are prone. And while he often puts his colleagues on a pedestal, he keeps himself on the ground.

Paul Seward.. credit Carl Burkard

Seward reveals that he has always taken great personal interest in the people and situations he has encountered. While emergency medicine is characterized by its dependence on tried-and-true routines, it’s important to recognize when a situation is going off the rails — and to be able to improvise or ask for help.

It’s a highly pressurized workplace in which minutes, even seconds, can mean the difference between life and death. Seward emphasizes this reality over and over. And he makes the stakes feel real for readers.

One of his patients in the ER was a middle-aged man sitting stiffly in a wheelchair, a pair of shears sticking out of his back. The man looked like “some kind of grisly windup toy with a key in the back of his neck shaped like the handle of a pair of shears.”

The man was a professional gardener attacked by a co-worker; the shears’ blades had entered “exactly in the midpoint of his neck, halfway from his shoulders to the back of his neck.” They stopped just short of the spinal cord.

The description of the neurosurgeon removing the weapon, with exquisite care, is charged with suspense, but the real miracle was the amazingly lucky placement of the shears. The man just needed to have the wound flushed and closed. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: Patient Care

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The making of a mensch

My Adventures with God, by Stephen Tobolowsky, Simon & Schuster, 320 pages Hardcover. $25.00

By Philp K. Jason

Premier character actor Stephen Tobolowsky offers a wide-arching memoir in the form of a series of remarkable vignettes. He positions himself as a man of faith who remains a questioner. He describes himself as a man whose outlook involves an internal competition between experience and more formal modes of learning. Light doses of Torah and Talmud interact with memories of crises, illuminations, losses and unalloyed satisfactions. Tobolowsky’s insights are often humorous, but never cruel. He takes us on a remarkable voyage – a sophisticated everyman, a committed yet somewhat restless Jew, and a profound and fluid storyteller.

Tobolowsky

The overall story could be accurately labeled “The Making of a Mensch.”

In telling his stories, Tobolowsky draws amazingly efficient portraits of those who meant the most to him: his parents and children, his first and second wives (and his childhood love for his second-grade heartthrob), rabbis and others from whom he gained understandings and solace, and close friends. As a man trained to inhabit a character, he has an instinct for the telling detail. As a man trained to deliver his part of a scripted conversation, he has an ear for recreating the vivid and meaningful conversations of times gone by.

The vignettes are grouped into several sections whose titles reinforce Tobolowsky’s development as a committed member of the Jewish community across time. You will recognize the echoes: “Beginnings,” “Exodus: A Love Story,” “The Call,” “Wilderness” and “The Words That Become Things.” Within these sections, which hold between five and eight stories (in some cases linked stories), Tobolowsky displays his marvelous ability to draw meaningful comparisons between the distant past, today, and stops along the way. Though the plan is primarily chronological, it is not always so. Sometimes, episodes are linked by association rather than by chronology. Sometimes, it is necessary to proceed backwards.

The author shares with us his interests and his explorations of books both sacred and secular, often the result of blurring such distinctions. He attests to the importance of dreams in his life, which he tells us “whisper rather than roar.” He is a man open to epiphanies. He is a man open to the mysteries of science and the possible parallels, if not necessarily links, between scientific thought and religious experience.

This is not a career biography. Readers won’t discover much about Tobolowsky’s work in GleeMississippi BurningGroundhog DayMemento and other roles. Details about auditions and rehearsals, career successes and failures, and showbiz gossip, rarely surface (perhaps waiting for another book). An exception is the treatment of his first wife’s giant success as a playwright. Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The story of Stephen and Beth’s relationship becomes a cautionary tale.

The focus, rather, is more on Tobolowsky’s life as a synagogue regular. How it began, how it developed, what kind of structure it gave his days and weeks, how it adjusted his vision of human nature on the one hand and Jewish wisdom on the other.

One can imagine that this book could have been more Job-like, more about the author’s quarrels with God. To use the word “adventures” in the title suggests an attitude of openness, of seeking and accepting challenges. It has a humorous tone. Throughout, it is this humor that floats the friendly scholarship, serious intent and occasional desperation of an exemplary seeker. It releases the joy.

This book is good for the Jews. It’s good for all lovers of wonderful stories.

 

Note: Tobolowsky appears December 6, 2017 at Jewishbookfestival.org.

 

This review, slightly reduced, was first published on the Jewish Book Council website and is reprinted with permission in the November 2017 editions of  Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota / Manatee). Find the original at jewishbookcouncil.org/book/my-adventures-with-god

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“Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland,” by Dave Barry

G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 240 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

a hilarious and insightful tour of the Sunshine State

Dave Barry has long been one of the funniest writers in the United States and one of the shrewdest analysts of the ridiculous in our manners and mores. During and after his two decades as an award-winning columnist for the Miami Herald, Barry has offered snappy prose that just makes one laugh out loud. This new book finds him cracking wise as he poses as a Florida tour guide who makes no apologies, but rather revels in the nonsense found in his beloved state. Laughter is the best defense. beststatecover

Dave Barry’s introduction insists that other states, so often looking down on Florida, have nothing to brag about. While California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York are in a tie with Florida for incompetence and corruption, Florida’s much lower level of taxation provides incompetence and corruption at a bargain rate.

A brief history of Florida follows, as only Barry could conceive it. He argues that Florida emerged during a period called Global Rising and that the first humans crossed land bridges from Asia to and through North America in search of Spring Break. He notes that the Florida Land Boom was curbed by a 1926 hurricane that turned Miami back into a sleepy little village, but one with far more kindling.

And so it goes: “Under Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law it is legal to kill anybody for any reason as long as you are standing on your ground.” A recent court ruling: “sitting is also OK.”

Then the tour begins.

Barry provides a fine “on the road” frame around his fresh version of the Skunk Ape story. He compares the Skunk-Ape Research Headquarters to “a tiki bar frequented by motorcycle gangs.” The master of this domain, Dave Shealy, is always looking to add new attractions to his campground and roadside attraction. Barry applauds him as a survivor of changing times, himself “an endangered species.” No skunk apes were spotted during Barry’s visit.

Dave Barry

Dave Barry

A supercharged chapter links visits to Weeki Wachee, with its lovely dancing mermaids, and Spongeorama, with its . . . sponges. Weeki Wachee, born at the beginning of the Florida tourist attraction boom, rocketed when the American Broadcasting Company bought the spring in 1959. Since its heyday, it has continued to struggle along, though Barry admits that it’s “low-key bordering on sleepy” that endures as if “the fifties never ended there.” It’s a kind of time machine to a more pleasant America.

Spongeorama is a highly informative place that needs a facelift. Barry has fun following advice in the educational film on choosing the best sponge for his needs. He settles on the wool sponge – “the Cadillac of sponges.”

Barry lodges at Hotel Cassadaga, his refuge while exploring “The Psychic Capital of the World.” The town of Cassadaga is another Florida landmark set back in time. When a spiritual medium fits Barry into her not-so-crowded schedule, he just can’t resist. When she “sees” canisters and asks if canisters were important in his life, Barry feels he should cooperate, but he ends up letting the medium down.

Nor does the number 76 mean anything special to him, as Judy suggests it might. The Q & A between Judy and her new client is hilarious, though probably not to her. Barry insinuates that there might be some faking going on in this historic, possibly haunted town.

But the place that he considers the height of fake is actually quite new. This is the burgeoning metropolis for seniors called The Villages. Boomtown for boomers and their elders, it is rumored to have a swinging lifestyle hidden under a veneer of act-your-age propriety. . . .

To read the entire review, click here: Best. State. Ever.: | Washington Independendent Review of Books

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Compendium of Florida facts and follies links the loony, lousy and laughable

Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, by Craig Pittman. St. Martin’s Press. 336 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Already a New York Times best-seller, this book belongs in every Florida home. No, it’s not a hurricane survival guide, rather it’s a rambling encyclopedia of Florida freakiness. It reminds us of what we have been surviving while warning others to enter at their own risk. Craig Pittman is the literary entrepreneur of what’s odd – and yet often trendsetting – about our populous state with the seemingly endless coastline. It’s local color with a laugh and a blush.  ohflorida

Mr. Pittman presents his learning, lore, and laughs in eighteen friendly chapters, perhaps to make us think we are strolling along on a Florida golf course. Having established a central focus for each chapter, he generally stays in bounds even while addressing Florida hazards. Every now and then, Craig Pittman does need to take an extra stroke penalty.

There’s something called “school of beauties” criticism, not very well respected, in which the critic simply oohs and aahs and quotes passages. I’m tempted to go there, but then I wouldn’t know how or when to stop. Readers will find their own favorite passages in this delightful romp. So, here are some of the themes and categories:

Florida is, and has been forever, a land of hucksters. Think swampland, think Cape Coral, think rum-running, think of a rainy, often overcast state that named itself the Sunshine State.

Craig Pittman - Photo byCherie Diez

Craig Pittman – Photo by Cherie Diez

Florida is a land of “surface flash” that leads people to overlook truly interesting architecture. Why stand gaga in front of Cinderella’s Castle when you can find ten Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on the Lakeland campus of Florida Southern College?

Florida is the land of mermaids and manatees, alligators and armadillos. That’s enough freakiness for one state. But we have more. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the October 5, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 6 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Pittman

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Phil’s Spring Review Schedule

Phil Jason loves books

Phil Jason loves books

Below you will find my intended schedule for the “Florida Writers” column in Florida Weekly. Two slots open in June — maybe you book will get one of them! The final decision, of course, rests with the editors of the various editions. Reviews also coming this spring in Washington Independent Review of Books, Jewish Book Council website, and Southern Literary Review. Check back often.

Stuart Woods

Stuart Woods

April 6/7 – Stuart Woods, “Family Jewels”

April 13/14 – Phil Beuth, “Limping on Water”
April 20/21 – Ian A. O’Connor, “The Wrong Road Home”

April 27/28 – Lisa Black, “That Darkness” 

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

May 4/5 – Marty Jourard, “Music Everywhere”
May 11/12 – M. A. Richards, “Choice of Enemies”
May 18/19 – Lucy Burdette, “Killer Takeout”
May 25/26 – D.J. Niko, “The Judgment”
June 1/2 – Lisa Unger, “Ink and Bone”

June 8/9 – Michael Wiley – “Black Hammock” 

Michael Wiley

Michael Wiley

June 15/16 – Howard P. Giordano – “The Second Target”
June 22/23 – TBD
June 29/30 – TBD

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