JMM Insights: What We’re Reading

A little light reading on deck during a Friedenwald family trip to Amsterdam, Holland, and Switzerland, 1923. JMM 1984.23.594.

Whether on your night table or in your hammock or on the beach (six feet apart from other beachgoers); whether it’s e-reader, hardcover, or paperback; there has never been a better time to exercise your mind by reading. Our library at JMM may be closed but our ever-expanding selection of ideas for reading is open for the summer season.



This week, we’re sharing an extended “What We’re Reading” with our JMM family –if you have an appetite to expand your knowledge or merely a taste is for a story to escape into, we think you’ll find some great suggestions here from staff and volunteers.

We also wanted to share two resources that any reader needs to know about – the first is Bookshop is a way to purchase books online while supporting your local independent bookstores, which is perfect for stocking up on your pandemic reading! In Baltimore alone you can choose to support Greedy Reads, Red Emma’s Booksellers, Station North Books, or The Ivy Bookshop through your Bookshop purchases.

The second is a browser app called Library Extension. When installed on your browser, whenever you look up a book on Amazon, it will tell you if there is a copy available at your local library (both physical copies AND digital copies – including audiobooks)! This may be one of the best technological innovations of our times – we love supporting libraries and stretching our book-buying dollars.

Below you’ll find all kinds of reading suggestions – some of us had a lot to say, so make sure to click through the “read mores” to see the entire post! Be sure to let us know what your reading – how do you find new books, or choose which old favorites to pick up? And don’t forget – you can also purchase books from Esther’s Place, find some new reading material and support JMM at the same time (and members – make sure to apply the code “member” at checkout to get your 10% discount).

Talia Makowsky: I grew up escaping into fantasy novels.

Reading about extraordinary people in fantastical lands was always a safe place to retreat when the real world was a little too real for me. And so, it’s no surprise that I’ve returned to some of my favorites during this time, while I’m staying home as much as possible. Having these fantasy novels to immerse myself in have been like opening a door out of quarantine, even just for a little bit. I encourage you to check out a fantasy novel, or at least a fiction novel set in a place you haven’t visited before, to get the feeling of escape for a moment. Here are some of my favorites. READ MORE.

Tracey: Over the long weekend I ditched it all — high-brow lit, non-fiction explorations of the natural world, memoirs, and historical fiction.  I escaped into classic fantasy, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was the perfect respite from the world of Covid-19.

First of all, it reminded me of my first reading of these books at age 16.  And I relished in the opportunity to briefly inhabit a world where goblins and dragons, wizards, hobbits, giant flying eagles, elves, and dwarves, and yes, even mankind are learning how to live together in some kind of delicate balance.  It was reassuring to immerse myself in a place where good and evil have clear distinctions. My mind was able to wander through landscapes that ranged from enchanting to desolate and sometimes downright frightening.  If you have never read Tolkien but love fantasy, give it a try. It might interest you to know that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were contemporaries and were part of a literary group in London called the Inklings. If ever there was a good time for great fantasy read, it is now.

Chris: I’ve been re-reading the book Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust. While all books by Faust are excellent pieces, this is probably one of her best written and widely acclaimed books on Civil War history. Faust leads the reader into a world in chaos as aristocratic society across the South is upturned in 1861 and daftly shows how high-class Southern women navigated the crisis of war. Focusing on the home front rather than the military front means Faust is able to thoroughly parse through thousands upon thousands of letters, memoirs, and diary excerpts to create the image of a society in change. READ MORE.

Marisa: Ever since the release of the final episode of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television show earlier this month, it has been non-stop Star Wars content in my home.

Re-watching the movies (check), re-watching The Mandalorian (check), eagerly waiting for updates on the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi television show (check). There’s been a lot of watching involved, so I decided to turn to a different medium this week – graphic novels. READ MORE.

Marvin: I do most of my reading for work.  As you might suspect this means most of my reading is non-fiction.  Recently though there was an exception.  In preparing for my talk on our upcoming exhibit, Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit, I was inspired to read Wandering Stars, a collection of science fiction stories about Jews in space written by Jewish authors here on Earth.  The thirteen stories that editor Jack Dann selected for this volume include both stars of the scifi world such as Isaac Asimov and Robet Silverberg as well as authors better known for work in other genres (e.g. Isaac Bashevis Singer and Bernard Malamud).  My personal favorite was William Tenn’s “On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi” … a story that takes a novel look at questions of Jewish identity.

Joanna: A few people I know are having difficulty settling in to read anything these last few weeks (months, now), finding it hard to focus long enough to get into a book. I’m not having that trouble, thankfully, but I’m not diving into the high-tone literary novels I panic-borrowed before the brick-and-mortar library closed; nor am I taking this as an opportunity to work through the non-fiction books that have been waiting patiently in my TBR pile. While I’ve enjoyed a few e-book mysteries and such from the library, I’ve mostly been rereading old favorites from my shelves at home. Even if something bad happens in these stories – and sometimes it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten that something bad happens – I already know that the ending will come out right, and I don’t have to think too hard or invest too much of my scattered energy on a convoluted plot or tormented characters. READ MORE.

Trillion: I decided to revisit a couple of favorites during the last few weeks starting with Atonement by Ian McEwan.

I have been a fan of the author for years and this is likely my favorite of his novels. The book is essentially about one family and the way in which a child’s misunderstanding of what she is seeing can have a far-reaching impact. The book is mainly set in England during the 1930s and 1940s, though as you might guess it does also feature wartime France. If you aren’t a fan of reading, the book was also adapted into a film starring Kiera Knightly, James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan. In terms of movie adaptations, it is one of the better ones. One particularly memorable scene shows Dunkirk during World War II.

Laura: One of my favorite pastimes over the past several months has been reading. I recently finished Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. The book tells the story of Eleanor, an intelligent, yet odd woman, who is satisfied with her routines and with being alone. Over the course of the novel, she begins to realize that she isn’t happy with the solitary isolating life she feels she has deserved. I really enjoyed the mix of humorous, heartwarming, and heartbreaking moments and the overall theme of the importance of connection.

Tracie: I am currently making my way through DeRay McKesson’s On The Other Side of Freedom. It is a beautifully written account of one activist’s experiences agitating for police reform and anti-racist changes for both policy and culture. It doesn’t hurt that he is a fellow Baltimorean.

Last weekend I read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane in one sitting. It was a delicious escape into a spooky and ultimately redemptive universe. I’m also dipping my toes into Gregory Hays’ new translation of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. It is truly fascinating to read words so old. Though if I am fully honest with you, I have to admit that regardless of the time of day, when I read this text, it almost always ends with me sleeping.

Check out more of Tracie’s book reviews here, here, and here.

Ayana: I’m currently reading Curtis Jackson’s Hustle harder, Hustle Smarter.

Paige: During a visit to D.C. with my sister in the winter of 2017, we stopped by the Renwick Gallery to see the exhibit Murder is her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. The Nutshells, crafted miniature crime scenes created by Frances Glessner Lee in the 1940s/50s, are still used as teaching tools at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore. The exhibit put us in the shoes of an investigator (magnifying glasses and all) to see if we could decipher what took place in these doll-house sized crime scenes. The two of us still talk about this exhibit. So, what does this exhibit have to do with what I’ve been reading lately? READ MORE.

Sue: The new Dabl TV station has a very nice program called Escape to the Country, set in the United Kingdon. It features two people looking to move to the countryside.  They are shown three properties that maybe fit what they are looking for.  The third property is a mystery home that the reality people think might pique their interest. The show also features amazing scenery and local craftsman.

Rachel: Y’all – it’s time to come clean: I’m a reader.

I read a lot. From daily blogs (like Ask a Manager, Captain Awkward, Wardrobe Oxygen, and The Financial Diet) to various museum blogs (like Leadership Matters and Collen Dilenschneider) to many random articles posted by friends, family, and colleagues on social media. Frankly, I have a problem when it comes to reading – but especially when it comes to books. READ MORE.

Lorie: Like most of us I am getting tired of cooking and my normal recipes are boring me. I am lucky to have a wonderful cookbook collection because my aunt, Renee Comet, is a food photographer and gives me copies of her incredible books. I decided to try some recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks, The New Jewish Table by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray, owners of Equinox Restaurant in Washington, DC. What I love about this cookbook, besides the fact that all the recipes I have tried are wonderful, is how it is organized. The table of contents is by season and then divided into brunch, starters, lunch, dinners, sides and desserts and they also include Jewish holiday menus. I have tried a few new Spring recipes and will be heading in to summer but my family’s favorite is the roasted chicken with rosemary and lemon. I’m finding I have to change ingredients a bit just to fit what I have at home, but the cookbooks are inspiring me to try something different and learn something new.

Wendy: I found that during the past year or so, one of my favorite books that I have been going back to often is called “Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen” by Miri Rothkovitz.  Yes, it is a cookbook.  It is filled with traditional Jewish cooking recipes with modern twists. I have yet to find a recipe in it that hasn’t been a winner with my family.

Wendy, who serves as JMM’s volunteer coordinator, has also been collecting a great list of recommendations from our volunteer core. They’ve got some great suggestions for your reading, watching, and listening pleasure!


An Afternoon of Storyfinding and Storysharing

Sunday, May 31, 2020 at 3:30pm

Join us for a unique program where we will explore the stories in our collection and create stories about what is happening today through writing, drawing, and photography. This program is designed for participants aged five to ten.

Register for this Live Stream Event here!

Drag Queen Story Hour

with Bambi Galore
Sunday, June 7, 2020 at 3:30pm

Listen to stories, sing songs, and join in activities that celebrate acceptance and inclusivity. This program is open to all, and the activities are perfect for children ages 3-8.

Register for this Live Stream Event here!

Virtual Screening: After Munich

Monday, June 8 at 7:00pm through Wednesday, June 10 at 7:00pm

Intrigue, tragedy, reconciliation, love, and death – After Munich is more than the story of the 1972 Munich Olympics and the terrible events that unfolded. This documentary looks through the eyes of four women forever changed by that day – an athlete, a widow, a high-level Mossad agent, and a reluctant assassin.

Buy Virtual Tickets Now

Presented in partnership with the 32nd Annual William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival.


This week we’re highlighting two Wondernaut activities in honor of Shavuot – Write a Review and Design a Sci-Fi Book Cover. We can’t wait to hear about the awesome books you read and the ones you come up with in your head!


New In Shop: Choose Your Color!
Remember – Members of the Museum get their membership discount
by using promo code “member” at checkout.

Don’t see something you’re interested in at the online shop? Contact Shop Manager Chris Sniezek at and let us know.


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