Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

What’s on your reading list?

My current reading list; photo by Wendy Kalman

When I was young, I was a voracious reader. I remember getting my library card – I think it was in third grade – and my mother taking me to the library every week to take out four books. That year, I took second place in a Walt Whitman poetry contest and won a copy of his Leaves of Grass and a savings bond. While I read “O Captain! My Captain!” right away, it wasn’t until years later that I dug into “Song of Myself.” It left a permanent imprint on my soul, so much so, that I wrote my undergraduate thesis on it in college.

When I was in fifth grade, we had to read a book a week and turn in a book report or an acceptable substitute. We had freedom to choose what we wanted to read, and if books were particularly long, we could ask for more than one week. In fact, I remember getting three weeks for Steven King’s Carrie. Yes, I read it for a fifth-grade book report. No, I did not make a diorama for the prom scene.

I balanced reading for school with reading for pleasure, and sometimes the two would overlap. (Leon Uris’s Exodus in tenth grade comes to mind.) I continued to read afterwards; the summer after college I traveled to Israel for the first time and remember reading Amos Oz’s Black Box and Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem while I was there.

After I returned, I went to law school – and dropped out the night before finals my first semester. Part of the reason, I told myself, was that I didn’t have time to read the books I wanted to read – only those I had to read. And so, I went to work in publishing, and the first job I had, at a trade magazine for the bookselling industry, allowed us to take home any books publishers sent in. I remember not only reading on the commute into Manhattan and on my lunch hour (I can picture sitting in my cubicle laughing out loud while reading Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, and the editor bringing senior writers by to show them how much I was enjoying the book. But I remember nothing about the book itself. )

As the years went by, I continued read, but less. When I lived in Israel, work and parenthood seemed to take up more and more hours. And a few years after I returned to the states a decade later, social media became a conduit to reading all kinds of feature articles and other content, but books made only a rare occurrence in my life.

A few years ago, I decided to go to grad school and found myself immersed in textbooks and scholarly research. Not always what I would want to read, but it made me realize how much book reading was missing from my life.

My university’s economics’ department runs reading groups every semester. Applicants have to choose from a short list of books and if accepted, have to read it and attend four discussion sessions. We not only receive the book, but also get paid. I’ve participated for three semesters now – those books about behavioral economics are infinitiely interesting, I have to say. I’ve also read a few books over the past few years that tie into the family research I’ve been doing. The end result? I realize I can – and should – make more room for books in my life once again.

I want to, I do. And I’ve begun buying books I want to read. As the stack grows, I see how much time I spend on social media and how it isn’t always easy to tear myself away or to read in an uninterrupted fashion. My attention span is not what it used to be – hey, there’s a notification! – and I know I have to retrain myself.

Meanwhile, pictured below is my current pile, although it is actually missing one more book I want to read, called, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine by Jeffrey Veidlinger, which is waiting for me in an e-format.

Until I become self-disciplined, I can’t hazard a guess as to how long it will take me to get through it all. Hmmm, does anyone want to lock up my phone for me, please?

So…what is on your reading list?

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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