After his junior year at Columbia, Tony Kushner brought home all 12 volumes of Anthony Powell‘s A Dance to the Music of Time. “My parents didn’t see me for the first three weeks of my vacation,” he told Nextbook. “You weren’t going to be tested on it. It was just purely for pleasure.”

We asked eleven authors who’ve appeared at Nextbook public programs to recommend a Jewish book to a college student this summer, whether sprawled on the beach, curled up in a café after work, or, like Kushner, locked in the bedroom. Their choices are worth a listen, no matter how long it’s been since you left the classroom.

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Tony Kushner recommends A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz
In this memoir of his Jerusalem childhood, Oz remembers waking up on the night the United Nations recognized the state of Israel, his father lifting him onto his shoulders to join the crowd outside listening to Ben-Gurion on the radio. Usually “immune to father-son stuff” Kushner found himself sobbing.
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Myla Goldberg recommends The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz
Goldberg discovered Schulz as a college student and wound up teaching these surreal stories of his native Drogobych years later. More stunning than the father who turns into a cockroach are Schulz’s “gorgeous, ornate sentences.”
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David Rakoff recommends Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth
Roth wrote his breakthrough Newark romance at 26. Rakoff discovered it as a teenager, while plundering his parents’ shelves for “the dirty bits.”
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Rebecca Goldstein recommends Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews by Melvin Konner
Konner’s chronicle of Jewish history since the Bronze Age covers Sephardic culture, the Holocaust, and the creation of Israel, but it was his titular notion of how Jews respond “to the world at large” that got Goldstein thinking.
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Gary Shteyngart recommends Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler
Shteyngart came across Richler’s final novel while browsing the shelves of the Strand, and he’s reread it every year since. The comic tale of Barney Panofsky, a Montreal television mogul with the drinking habits of Hemingway and a taste for smoked meat, starts with a murder mystery but tackles “so many things: it’s about nationalism, religion, political climate”—not to mention love.
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Savyon Liebrecht recommends Later the Same Day by Grace Paley
Liebrecht was impressed by the realness of the people who populate Paley’s third collection. She was first introduced to the book as a guest of Iowa’s International Writing Program, where she asked someone to name “the best short story writer in the States.”
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Michael Chabon recommends The Immediate Experience by Robert Warshow
Among the first literary thinkers to “take popular culture seriously,” Warshow covered Westerns, gangster movies, and comic books for Commentary and The Nation before dying at 37, one day after The New Yorker asked him to become its film critic.
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Judy Budnitz recommends Lazar Malkin Enters Heaven by Steve Stern
Raised in Atlanta, Budnitz found inspiration in the magic realism of another Southern writer. The stories in Stern’s collection—about a father-in-law who refuses to die and a plot to pilfer a gramophone—are mostly set in the Pinch, in Memphis—”like Faulknerland, but for Jews.”
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Daniel Mendelsohn recommends The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter
Like lots of 13-year-olds, Mendelsohn learned his Haftorah “completely by rote.” Now working on a family memoir, he reread the blood-soaked passage from Ezekiel in Alter’s translation, only to discover an eerie resonance.
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Ilan Stavans recommends Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti
Written in 1935 and first published in America as The Tower of Babel, Canetti’s only novel follows an eccentric scholar who strives to build an enormous library. Stavans first read it in Spanish as a teenager, and found, looking back, a “prophetic vision” of the upheaval the Bulgarian-born writer was about to witness.
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Dara Horn recommends Tevye the Dairyman by Sholem Aleichem
One of four sisters, Horn was shocked to discover Sholem Aleichem’s stories of Tevye and his seven daughters—the basis for Fiddler on the Roof—were not the “hokey, ‘Tradition, Tradition'” tales she expected.
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