Jewish Book Month Lasts All YearDecember 5, 2012 By Lynn Rosen
Carolyn Starman Hessel is the Director of the Jewish Book Council, which she joined in 1994. In 1999, she founded the Jewish Book Network, a popular program that currently tours more than 200 authors to hundreds of Jewish book programs around the country.
How did Jewish Book Month become so popular?
Well, first of all, I want to clarify: Jews read all through the year, not just in Jewish Book Month. It’s become such a big thing we forget Jews read all along. We’re the people of the book and we live up to our name. Books of Jewish interest are booming—the industry is booming. Also, Jewish Book Month is not November. It’s the 30 days before Hanukkah.
What is a Jewish book?
Our definition is very broad. A Jewish book has Jewish content or it can be written by a Jewish person but with no words of Jewish content. It’s my belief a Jewish writer writes with a Jewish pen and sees with Jewish eyes, so all their Jewish values come through. So we encompass a lot of books that might not seem Jewish but they are.
“Goldberg Variations” by Susan Isaacs. Her books have almost no Jewish content but she so obviously is a Jewish writer. You can tell by the tone, the flavor, the taste of her books. Or “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit” [by Lucette Matalon Lagnado]. It’s about a Jewish family but it’s not overtly Jewish.
Why do so many authors and publishers want to work with you?
They are interested in working with the Jewish Book Council because we do so much to promote Jewish books. That’s our mission. We really are helping the publishers getting their books out. West of the Hudson River most of these books would have been unheard of, so we’re helping the publishers.
We are very, very democratic about who is Jewish or what is a book of Jewish interest. We will accept anybody who’s worked so hard on a book. Who are we to say no, you can’t be part of our program? We’re happy to have them participate.