ONE FOR THE BOOKS CONNECTING WORLD WITH JEWISH LITERATURE

The hundreds of tomes Nextbook has organized into a dozen topical reading lists, such as Sense of Place, Becoming American and Biography and Memoir, cover most literary genres but share one attribute: They are all about some aspect of Jewish culture.

Nextbook – the name was taken from a Bellow quote, “We are always looking for the book it is necessary to read next” – wants to expose more people to Jewish literature as a window on Jewish and American culture. Ideally, Nextbook also aims to expose secular Jews to more aspects of their faith.

“Jewish culture and American culture intersect in so many ways,” Sandorf said. “Together, they gave us our identity.”

Armed with a budget of more than $3 million, Nextbook is mounting an ambitious program to put its recommended books in readers’ hands.

The company is creating partnerships with public library systems across the country, with Nextbook looking to supply books and reading lists to library customers.

Nextbook is hiring onsite consultants, called fellows, to coordinate the collections and to schedule readings, by authors whose works appear on the list, at bookstores, coffeehouses, museums and libraries.

The partnerships are already active in Seattle, Chicago and Washington – cities with large Jewish populations. Matthew Brogan, Nextbook program director, said two fellows already have been hired.

Sandorf said discussions are underway to start a similar program with the New York Public Library.

Nextbook evolved out of Sandorf’s desire as a self-described secular Jew to know more about her faith as she moved into her 40s and had a child of her own.

“I grew up in a secular household,” said Sandorf, 45. “We observed some Jewish rituals, but not all of them. Then, when my daughter was 3, she told me she wanted to be a Christian because she wanted Christmas presents.

“I don’t know how we can expect our children to be connected to something if they are not exposed to their history.”

Fortunately, she was working for Keren Keshet-The Rainbow Foundation, a philanthropic organization formed by the estate of Zalman Bernstein to “enhance connections among Jews while respecting differences in religious backgrounds and commitments to observance.”

Bernstein was the former head of the Sanford Bernstein investment bank.

Nextbook’s intent is to inspire secular Jews to learn more about the myriad lifestyles born of their faith, as well as expose the public at large to Jewish literature.

To that end, Nextbook also has commissioned prominent Jewish authors to do short works on figures taken from Jewish history. Playwright David Mamet is one author already signed for the series.

“The books we publish and the books on our lists are all intended to help answer the question, ‘What does it mean to be a Jew?'” said Jonathan Rosen, editor of Nextbook’s publishing series. “Our ambitions are large. We want to be where the public is.”

Rosen acknowledges that the reading list can be eclectic, but he said that should help it appeal to more people.

Nextbook’s Web site features book lists, a news digest and links to various sites for continued study and other resources.

Julie Sandorf has a suggestion for the next book you read.

Actually, she and her cohorts at Nextbook have a rather extensive list of suggestions, among them Bernard Malamud’s “The Fixer” and Art Spiegelman’s cartoon epic “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale.”

There are also Saul Bellow’s “Herzog,” Jane Leavy’s “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” and Alberto Gerchunoff’s “The Jewish Gauchos of the Pampas.”

The hundreds of tomes Nextbook has organized into a dozen topical reading lists, such as Sense of Place, Becoming American and Biography and Memoir, cover most literary genres but share one attribute: They are all about some aspect of Jewish culture.

Nextbook – the name was taken from a Bellow quote, “We are always looking for the book it is necessary to read next” – wants to expose more people to Jewish literature as a window on Jewish and American culture. Ideally, Nextbook also aims to expose secular Jews to more aspects of their faith.

“Jewish culture and American culture intersect in so many ways,” Sandorf said. “Together, they gave us our identity.”

Armed with a budget of more than $3 million, Nextbook is mounting an ambitious program to put its recommended books in readers’ hands.

The company is creating partnerships with public library systems across the country, with Nextbook looking to supply books and reading lists to library customers.

Nextbook is hiring onsite consultants, called fellows, to coordinate the collections and to schedule readings, by authors whose works appear on the list, at bookstores, coffeehouses, museums and libraries.

The partnerships are already active in Seattle, Chicago and Washington – cities with large Jewish populations. Matthew Brogan, Nextbook program director, said two fellows already have been hired.

Sandorf said discussions are underway to start a similar program with the New York Public Library.

Nextbook evolved out of Sandorf’s desire as a self-described secular Jew to know more about her faith as she moved into her 40s and had a child of her own.

“I grew up in a secular household,” said Sandorf, 45. “We observed some Jewish rituals, but not all of them. Then, when my daughter was 3, she told me she wanted to be a Christian because she wanted Christmas presents.

“I don’t know how we can expect our children to be connected to something if they are not exposed to their history.”

Fortunately, she was working for Keren Keshet-The Rainbow Foundation, a philanthropic organization formed by the estate of Zalman Bernstein to “enhance connections among Jews while respecting differences in religious backgrounds and commitments to observance.”

Bernstein was the former head of the Sanford Bernstein investment bank.

Nextbook’s intent is to inspire secular Jews to learn more about the myriad lifestyles born of their faith, as well as expose the public at large to Jewish literature.

To that end, Nextbook also has commissioned prominent Jewish authors to do short works on figures taken from Jewish history. Playwright David Mamet is one author already signed for the series.

“The books we publish and the books on our lists are all intended to help answer the question, ‘What does it mean to be a Jew?'” said Jonathan Rosen, editor of Nextbook’s publishing series. “Our ambitions are large. We want to be where the public is.”

Rosen acknowledges that the reading list can be eclectic, but he said that should help it appeal to more people.

Nextbook’s Web site features book lists, a news digest and links to various sites for continued study and other resources.

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