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Posted on Sat, Oct 29, 2011 : 8:16 a.m.

Jewish Book Festival to feature 'Memory Palace' author Mira Bartok, 'Lord of Misrule' author Jaimy Gordon, and more

By Jenn McKee


Karen Freedland, in her first year as director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor’s Jewish Book Festival, quickly makes you understand why the 24th annual event—composed of author talks and readings, and a Curious George party for kids, all happening November 1-13—was placed in her charge: Her passion is contagious.

“It’s such a love,” said Freedland. “We all love our books. And when I was given this job, … I was just beaming, because there’s nothing that I love more than sitting with a book. It’s my friend at night, it’s my helper when I don’t know where to go with my own personal life. And I just thought, … ‘What a great job.’ I get to plan events, I get to read books, I get to meet these fantastic, articulate, educated, wonderful people who are so focused and so knowledgeable, I just feel like somebody has to pinch me, I’m having such a good time. Right now, though, it’s a frenzy that’s like putting together a major Broadway production.”

That’s because the multi-event festival—which celebrates books about Jewish culture, history, and stories, as well as books written by Jews—involves a lot of planning and attention to detail. And new this year, a “J-Cafe” will have coffee, tea, and pastries available for purchase.

But how did this year’s author lineup come together?

According to Freedland, festival organizers draw candidates from an annual conference, held by the Jewish Book Council, that facilitates dozens of brief, individual meetings with authors; organizers are always on the lookout for local authors that might be a good fit; and they get recommendations from the West Bloomfield JCC, which has now hosted a book festival for over 60 years.

Some of the biggest names on this year’s festival roster are Jaimy Gordon, a Western Michigan University professor whose novel, “Lord of Misrule,” won the National Book Award for fiction; Mira Bartok, author of the acclaimed memoir, “The Memory Palace,” which focuses on Bartok’s relationship with her schizophrenic mother; and Jeremy Ben Ami, author of “A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation,” who recently appeared on “The Colbert Report.”

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For the kids, Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat will be on hand at a party celebrating of H.A. Rey and Margret Rey’s iconic character (the Reys were Jewish). A pancake breakfast will be on offer ($5); guest readers will read Curious George stories, and books will be on sale; and attendees are invited to bring their Curious George toys to carry them in a parade through the JCC.


Jewish Book Festival

  • What: 24th annual celebration of books that focus on Jewish culture, history, and stories, or are written by Jewish authors. The festival will offer free readings and discussions; a Curious George party for kids; and lunch and learn events.
  • Where: Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, 2935 Birch Hollow Dr. (Two of the scheduled Global Day of Jewish Learning events, on November 13, happen at U-M’s Michigan League, at 911 N. University Ave.)
  • When: November 1-13.
  • How much: Many events are free; to purchase lunch at lunch and learn events, patrons pay $10 in advance, or $12 at the door (the author presentations are free). For a full schedule, and more details, visit, or call 734-971-0990.
“It will just be chaos and fun and happy, and just the place to be on Sunday (November 13),” said Freedland.

Other events include a local authors breakfast; a community reads author event (with Lee Kravitz, writer of “Unfinished Business: One Man’s Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things”); a cooking demonstration and tasting; a Kristallnacht Commemoration Day program for educators; and a film screening (“The Forgotten Refugees”), among other events.

“It’s all for the love of books, so it’s so much fun,” said Freedland. “And people love it because it is for books, and it’s something for the community.”

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.