Staff Picks: From ‘Mrs. Maisel’ to ‘Of Mice and Men’

Whether you’re looking for something light and fun or the next great American novel, Moment’s staff picks have you covered.
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Whether you’re looking for something light and fun or the next great American novel, Moment’s staff picks have you covered.

 

We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post-war Britain by Daniel Sonabend

When Jewish ex-servicemen and women returned to civilian life in the UK after World War II ended, they might have been forgiven for assuming that their fight to end Nazi ideology and antisemitism was over. But to their chagrin and fury, these veterans soon discovered that British fascists were still on the streets. The Union Movement, a new party headed by Oswald Mosley—who had led the pre-war British Union of Fascists—was holding rallies in east London and stirring up hatred toward Jews.

In 1946, in the face of inertia from the authorities, 43 brave Jewish men and women took matters into their own hands. They formed the 43 Group—ready, willing and able to do battle with the resurgent far-right movement. My father was one of them, and became their first head of intelligence. Vidal Sassoon, who went on to become a hairdresser to the stars, was also an early member—one who my father recalled as a tough little street fighter! 

The original 43 founding members were soon joined by many others, including non-Jews (the author suggests approximately 2,000 volunteers served in the group). I grew up hearing a few of the stories Sonabend relates in his book—including how fascist meetings were infiltrated under my father’s direction. But the book contains many more than I ever knew of, including the group’s many pitched battles and riots to break up public events, their surveillance of Union Movement venues, the cover stories they employed and the various deceptions they used.  

This fast-paced story is a riveting account of how a range of men and women from across the political and religious divide were able to bury their differences and come together to thwart their common enemy. After reading this book, I was left with a sense of pride—the reemergence of fascism was stopped in the UK, and by 1950, the group was able to disband. Their job (for a while) was done. Dina Gold, Senior Editor  

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Set in the late 1950s, the comedic drama The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel explores the social dynamics of New York City during that era. As Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a young Jewish mother, once-dutiful housewife and master of the art of brisket, shares her perspective of the Upper West Side and beyond, the inequalities of the 1950s begin to creep into the foreground. Called to be a comedian after her husband leaves her, she develops elaborate sets that express her burgeoning qualms with the status quo. Being a perspective that deviates from the WASP norm already, she pushes viewers—especially those who identify as women—to question the disrespect all minorities experience far too frequently. 

As a New York resident and women’s college student, I am excited as Midge learns how to harness her feminine power on the very streets I walk every day. The writers created complex characters, such as Susie, a blue-collar manager of the Gaslight Coffeehouse, whose gruffness and pointed sarcasm often inspire the care of both Midge and audience members. Viewers join other characters, such as Midge’s father, Abraham “Abe” Weissman, a tenured mathematics professor at Columbia, on a rewarding journey as they develop as characters: As Midge unveils the inequalities of the 1950s, Abe evolves from a mere archetype—the strict Jewish father—as he learns to respect his wife’s ideas and to accept the changes his daughter is making in her life. 

The illusions of gender, economic, and racial equality that Midge may have believed in at the beginning of her story only hold up for so long. It seems as if it is her job to leave her audiences—both on screen and off—with a sense of urgency to right the world they live in. This show has inspired me to do the same in my own world. Bella Druckman, Intern 

John Steinbeck’s works

I am a little embarrassed to admit that I had never read, or at least completed reading, a book by John Steinbeck. I have a copy of The Grapes of Wrath in my library, but never got very far into it. But this past winter, my wife and I flew to Berkeley, California to meet our new grandson, and we stayed a couple of miles away in the apartment of the daughter of a good friend. In the evenings, we were back in that apartment, but there was no radio, no TV, no hi-fi. Just her small living room library. Which, as it happened, had Of Mice and Men, The Pearl and East of Eden nicely arranged together on one of the shelves. 

I started small, first Of Mice and Men – less than 100 pages; then The Pearl – also less than 100 pages. I realized that Steinbeck was a good storyteller, and decided to tackle East of Eden, something closer to 500 pages. By the time I reached the last page, which shockingly encapsulated his message with a biblical Hebrew word, I realized Steinbeck was not a good storyteller – he was a great storyteller. A master of the American psyche. 

When we got home in mid-spring, I searched for my copy of The Grapes of Wrath, but could only find my grandson’s father’s copy in his still-undisturbed attic room. It did not take me long to realize that, despite my original mistaken assessment, Steinbeck had written the proverbial “great American novel.” The story of the desperation of so many “small” Americans seeking a better life and the alliance of the powerful in the face of that desperation, though it described the America of nearly 100 years ago, still feels fresh today. Finally, I turned to Travels with Charley, Steinbeck’s late-in-life “road trip” through the land, listening to the heart-beat of America, to cap my summer reading. Among his many amusing and trenchant observations, I realized that much of Steinbeck’s writing, particularly East of Eden, was actually biography. George E. Johnson, Senior Editor

Gravity Falls

In Gravity Falls, 12-year-old twins Mabel and Dipper are packed off to spend the summer in a backwater town buried deep in the Oregon woods with their grumpy conman-with-a-heart-of-gold great-uncle, Grunkle Stan. Mabel is goofy and energetic, with the fearless charisma that can only be found in self-involved kids, and Dipper is a dorky and adventurous junior Sasquatch tracker with a burgeoning case of social anxiety. The kids are expecting a boring summer, but soon find themselves on an epic adventure, as they stumble across gnomes, ghosts, sapient mini-golf balls and creatures even weirder than that…and a grand mystery that seems to span far more than just the sleepy town of Gravity Falls.

I really couldn’t care less that this is a children’s cartoon; it’s one of the funniest and smartest shows I’ve watched in a long time, with just the right balance of whacky circumstances (see: sapient mini-golf balls) and genuine, lovable and relatable characters. There is not a second that Mabel and Dipper are not utterly believable as twins who have grown up alongside each other their entire lives. It’s sheer fun, and guaranteed to make you feel like a kid going on adventures—watching it feels like someone has animated my childhood fantasies. This is Gravity Falls’ creator, Alex Hirsch’s, first time helming a series, and it’s clear he’s 110 percent in love with what he is doing. He has a really fresh voice that lends so much passion and personality to every pixel on screen. (He’s also a tremendously funny man; much of Hirsch’s public speaking about creating the show could double as stand-up.)

For those looking for either a great show for the whole family or a relaxing and nostalgic watch for themselves, I can’t recommend this enough. Sophie Wiener, Fellow

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One thought on “Staff Picks: From ‘Mrs. Maisel’ to ‘Of Mice and Men’

  1. hag says:

    Ms Maisel…I doubt if Columbia had any Jewish teachers in the 50’s…(we were still expected to change our name) much less bell labs..I was told NOT not even to think of applying to either.
    It always struck as “ODD” that the US fell all over Braun, and kissed his A??. but still had a hard time admitting jews into college..

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