The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights: A Novel Book Review

You can learn a lot about a particular neighborhood from its residents.

Kitty Zeldis‘s new novel (published last month), The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights: A Novel, takes place in 1924. Three different women reside in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights.

Catherine is happily married. The one thing that would make her life complete is a child. But for all of her hoping and praying, conceiving and birthing new life is impossible. In another life, Beatrice was a Jewish immigrant who left Russia when everyone and everything she knew was taken from her. Landing in New Orleans, she hoped to leave the past behind. Alice is an orphan who has become Beatrice’s assistant/hopeful surrogate daughter. While she has talent, she is also young and naive.

After Catherine walks into Beatrice’s shop looking for new attire, the women become friends. Feeling pushed aside, Alice runs away to Manhattan. Her decision will force all three of them to reveal secrets that they would prefer to remain hidden.

As she did in her first book, Zeldis explores issues of class, money, and religion. What I liked was that each of her three protagonists can stand on their own two feet. And yet, their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

The problem is that something is missing. I can’t put my finger on it, but it is not as good as her previous narrative.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

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RIP Barbara Walters

In the busyness of life, we tend to forget those who have paved the way to create a better world. It is only upon their passing that we take stock of their legacy.

The legendary newswoman Barbara Walters passed away on Friday. She was 93.

The granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, Walters started in television news in the early 1960s. At that time, those at the top of the television hierarchy (and everything else) were white men. In 1961, she became the “Today Girl” on the Today Show, handling stories that were “appropriate” for a female. Eventually, she rose up through the ranks to become a news anchor in her own right.

In the late 1990s, she created and co-starred on The View, an all-women-led talk daytime show that continues to be influential.

And like many icons, she was given the SNL treatment. Gilda Radner played her in the 1970s and Cheri Oteri played her in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

RIP Barbara. May your memory be a blessing Z”L.

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P.S. Walters interviewed you know who back in 1990. The statements coming out of his mouth are too familiar. If only other journalists had the same balls that she did. It start at 3:01.

Kindred Mini-Series Review

Family history, as lovely as it is, can be complicated. This complication gets worse when it comes to America’s past and the sin of slavery.

The new Hulu miniseries, Kindred, is based on the book by Octavia E. Butler. Dana James (Mallori James) is a twenty-something writer who has recently moved from New York City to Los Angeles. After getting settled, she starts a friend-with-benefits relationship with Kevin Franklin (Micah Stock).

Somehow, she keeps getting pulled back to the past and 19th-century plantation. After saving Rufus Weylin (David Alexander Kaplan), Dana’s involvement in the lives of her slave ancestors and their masters becomes more entangled. When Kevin starts traveling back with her, the level of danger rises.

Dana is determined to figure out the connections between the past and the present, but at what cost to her and Kevin?

I remember reading the novel years ago and being blown away by it. It was one of those narratives that after all of the years, is powerful and relevant. Combining science fiction with history and our problematic past is an impossible to ignore literary melting pot.

Obviously, the series has been updated to our time. Though the first episodes kept me hooked, the story lagged toward the end. By the time the final credit rolled, I was underwhelmed. I wanted more, but something more was missing.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Kindred is available for streaming on Hulu.

Best Books of 2022

  1. Carrie Soto Is Back: Taylor Jenkins Reid‘s latest novel about a nearly over-the-hill tennis star took my breath away.
  2. I’m Glad My Mom Died: Jennette McCurdy’s memoir of her childhood, her career, and her abusive mother made me grateful for my parents, warts, and all.
  3. Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence: The revelations in this book are damming.
  4. What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix: The book takes Wuthering Heights in a new direction, deepening the narrative and an understanding of Bronte’s era.
  5. The Matchmakers Gift: A Novel: Lynda Cohen Loigman‘s latest novel about a Jewish teenage matchmaker in the early 20th century and her skeptic granddaughter is pure gold.
  6. The Princess and the Scoundrel: The book tells the story of the wedding and honeymoon of Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo after the destruction of the Empire in Return of the Jedi.
  7. The Weight of Blood: This reboot of Carrie adds racism to the mix, making Stephen King‘s novel even more relevant than it already was.
  8. Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America: Their tactics may not have been exactly legal, but standing up against antisemitism is nothing to sneeze at.
  9. Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power: This biography of Nancy Pelosi is a reminder of the barriers she has broken and the legacy she will leave behind.
  10. His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle For Racial Justice: The murder of George Floyd forced the world to face its racist past.

Here’s to the books we read in 2022 and the ones we will read in 2023.

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George Santos Lied to Get Into Congress. Should He Be Allowed to Keep His Seat?

We all know that politicians tend to fib every now and then. It has unfortunately become an expected part of the job. But to lie about your entire biography is another story entirely.

In the last week or so, a number of media outlets revealed that Republican Congressmen elect George Santos lied about who he was as a person and a candidate. Let’s look at some of the untruths he claimed as fact.

  1. He said that he attended both NYU and Baruch College in New York City. Neither school has any record of him as a student.
  2. He was employed by two major Wall Street firms. Again, there are no records of him as an employee.
  3. His mother survived 9/11 and died a few years later. A little digging revealed that she died in 2016.
  4. His mother was the daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors from Ukraine. After extensive research, no documentation has been found to support these claims. This is both an insult to survivor and their families, and spits on the graves of the millions who were murdered. It also opens the door to Holocaust denial.
  5. Four members of his staff were murdered in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Santos has yet to disclose details about these supposed employees or the company they all worked for.
  6. During the campaign, he often spoke about being gay and receiving a warm reception from the party. The reality is that he was married to a woman until September 2019. Given the right’s outright discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, this statement is doubly dishonest.

In another world in which Americans were not so politically divided, I would argue that the voters should decide if they want him to represent them. Traditionally, that area (which is divided between Eastern Queens and part of Long Island) is heavily Democratic. Though I personally have no skin in this game, I think he should he should resign. I would not want someone speaking for me whose entire identity has been revealed to be a complete falsehood.

What makes me angry is that by pretending to be a double minority and a survivor by extension of 9/11, he is devaluing the experiences of everyone who legitimately goes by those identifiers. In the private sector, if it is discovered that your resume is not truthful, you are either fired or taken out of the running for the job. I don’t get how this rule does not apply to the political sector.

At this point, we cannot predict how the party and his constituents will react. Whatever that decision is, it will speak volumes about this nation, her beliefs, and her values.

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P.S. Santos now states that he “embellished” his biography. An embellishment is stating that your G.PA. was 4.0 instead of 3.8. A two-point difference on one G.P.A. is not going to potentially change the world. But an elected official who fabricated his entire resume does have the potential to change the world.

Death of a Salesman Play Review

Ageism is defined as discrimination based on one’s age. In today’s world, it is usually used against those who have been around for a few years.

The new revival of Arthur Miller‘s Death of a Salesman is playing at the Hudson Theatre in New York City. Stepping into the iconic roles of Willy and Linda Loman are Wendell Pierce and Sharon D Clarke. For decades, Willy has earned a living and supported his family as a salesman. But he is not a young man anymore and it is starting to show.

Linda has been his rock. Strong, outspoken, sensible, and passionate, she is a loving wife and supportive mother of their two sons Biff (Khris Davis) and Happy (McKinley Belcher III). The narrative moves between the past and the present, telling the story of Willy’s slow downfall. This is represented by the memory (or the ghost) of his late 0lder brother Ben (AndrĂ© De Shields).

Though it is obvious that Willy is no longer the man he once was, he still believes that there are possibilities for a better life.

Wow. Wow. Wow. Did I say wow?

I’ve seen several adaptations of this play. This one is the most powerful yet. The specific choice of casting black actors as the Loman family amplifies the ideal of the American dream and how hard it is to reach it.

Pierce is flawless. Clarke is powerful. Backing them up, De Shields, Davis, and Belcher pull their weight in miraculous ways. They had the audience in the palm of their hands. I would not be surprised if this show did very well come award season. It is absolutely one of the best Broadway shows I have seen in a very long time.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. Run, don’t walk to see this play. It will be an experience that will live with you forever.

Death of a Salesman is playing at the Hudson Theatre in New York City until 1/15/23. Check the website for showtimes and tickets.

I am For the NYC Bill That Bans Landlords From Criminal Background Checks (Within Reason)

Apartment hunting by itself is a beast of an experience. In New York City, it is ten times harder due to the high rental prices and limited supply.

Earlier this month a bill was introduced to the City Council. If signed into law, it would prevent landlords from completing criminal background checks on potential renters. Last week, the topic was discussed on WNYC‘s The Brian Lehrer Show. The guest during this segment was Councilwoman Inna Vernikov (starts at 18:00).

I think that in theory is a good idea. Building owners/management companies have every right to make sure that a potential tenant will not be a danger either to the property itself or to their neighbors. However, it cannot be black and white. Applying a sliding scale I think is the best way to go about it. Each case should be reviewed individually and not be decided with broad brush strokes.

Finding a home when renting is hard enough. It should not be made more difficult by a criminal record. If removing this obstacle requires legislation, then so be it. I would rather the city or municipality step in to prevent a problem before it becomes one.

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish Review

Fiddler on the Roof is one of those stories that is both universal and specific. The story of an everyman trying to balance family and tradition in a changing world speaks to all of us, regardless of background or location.

The new production of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is playing at the New World Stages in New York City. Directed by Joel Grey, Steven Skybell plays Teyve, the poor dairyman living in the Pale of Settlement in the early 20th century. He and his wife, Golde (Jennifer Babiak), they are raising five daughters under difficult circumstances.

Three of their five daughters are of age to marry. Tsaytl (Rachel Zatcoff), Hodl (Stephanie Lynn Mason), and Khave (Rosie Jo Neddy) marry for love instead of waiting for a husband to be presented to them. As each presents their potential spouse to their father, the thread of tradition begins to fray.

While Tevye is doing with familial issues, the outside is getting closer. Antisemitism is forcing reality all of the characters to face reality and the hard truth about their circumstances.

This production is fantastic. The fact that the characters speak in the mamaloshen (mother tongue) of Yiddish adds a level of gravity to the narrative. It is as if the audience is one step closer to the real people who called that time and place their own.

There is a moment (which I will not give away) that completely represents the message of Fiddler. It happens at the very end of the first act and as far as I know, has not been done in past productions. It is a breathtakingly horrible moment that I don’t think I will ever forget.

Seeing this adaptation in 2022 and knowing what is happening in Ukraine grounds it in a reality that I never expected. It is nothing short of a gut punch.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is playing at the New World Stages in New York City until January 1st, 2023. Check the website for tickets and showtimes.

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Cutting the NYPL Hours is the Wrong Decision

A library is more than a space to take out and return books. It is a community center, a meeting space, and an opportunity to spread our figurative wings.

If the recent article in Gothamist is true, then the New York Public Library may be cutting its hours and staff in the new year due to city budget cuts.

Obviously, I am not privy to the specific numbers coming from the city or the library itself. I also understand that in this situation, hard decisions have to be made.

That being said, I would argue for keeping the status quo as much as possible.

  1. As much as I am a bookworm, I cannot afford to buy every book that I have borrowed. Nor do I have unlimited space on my shelves.
  2. It is more than a place to borrow books. I’ve been to a number of classes and lectures over the years, mostly relating to my career and keeping my computer skills up.
  3. Not everyone has the money to purchase their own computer.
  4. It gives the kids a safe place to stay after school and get some extra tutoring if need be.
  5. Some locations may offer movie screenings and author talks. There is nothing better than connecting with an author on a one-to-one level.
  6. The bathrooms. When mother nature calls, there aren’t many places in which restrooms that are open to the public.
  7. There can be social and learning opportunities. The branch I go to offers language classes for non-English speakers and niche events for specific interests.
  8. One of the things I have personally taken advantage of is job coaching. Private coaches can charge hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for their work. The library offers a number of services in regard to finding new employment.

Only time will tell when and when the ax falls. But I hope that the Mayor and the City Council will consider the importance of this institution.

Throwback Thursday: Save the Last Dance 2 (2006)

College is a time of growth and change. With that growth and change comes a few challenges.

Save the Last Dance 2 (2006) is a direct-to-video sequel to Save the Last Dance (2001). Sara (Izabella Miko, taking over from Julia Stiles) has just arrived at Julliard in New York City, taking her one step closer to becoming a Prima ballerina. But the competition is stiff. For everyone that makes it in this world, there are many whose dreams never become reality.

When she meets Miles (Columbus Short), a composer who loves hip-hop, her world starts to open. But it soon becomes clear that Sara will have to choose between Miles and her vision of the future.

I have to give this film an A for effort. It tries to live up to its predecessor. But the magic that made Save the Last Dance special is missing from its sequel.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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