Jewish Voice of Rhode Island and Mass.

What makes a book popular?

Posted Friday, December 9, 2016 9:18 am


After the death of Leonard Cohen, sales of a rather recent biography of him spiked. However, I don’t recommend dying in order to make one’s book popular – especially since it doesn’t always work.

Another strategy to increase a book’s popularity is to have it reviewed, and the Jewish Book Council (JBC) publishes many reviews on its website, It is there that you can find reviews of “A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption and the Life of Leonard Cohen,” by Liel Leibovitz. JBC is an excellent source not only to identify books with Jewish content, but to find reviews and even reading guides.

Still, I think the best strategy to promote a book is word of mouth, especially if someone is known as a maven on books. Locally, Robin Homonoff, founder of the group Reading with Robin, is probably the best known book maven. The Jewish Alliance of Greater R.I. appreciates that she is participating in the Reading Initiative series and helping to get the word out.

Homonoff’s reading series has featured many Jewish authors during the past year. And by the way, Homonoff, who has a fondness for humor, recommends a book that was discussed in our last column: “Let There Be Laughter: A Treasury of Great Jewish Humor and What It All Means,” by Michael Krasny.

Another strategy to popularize a book is to have it mentioned in a publication. In honor of Jewish Book Month (the month preceeding Hanukkah), the JCC Circle Magazine asked some members of the international JCC Association staff what was on their nightstands.

Marla Cohen, the e-publication’s editor, wrote, “I just finished ‘The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel,’ by Louis Grumet, a fascinating look at separation of church and state following the setup of a special school district in the Satmar village of Kiryas Joel. The Supreme Court ruled the district unconstitutional in a suit the author brought, and yet it still exists today. A fast, informative read.”

Yuliya Mazur, the JCC’s new resource communications manager, recommends “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible,” by A.J. Jacobs. “The book may resonate with a contemporary audience who doesn’t know that much about the Bible, but may want to take a peek inside it for the first time,” Mazur said.

Closer to home, Rep. David Cicilline recommends “World of Our Fathers,” by Irving Howe.The book, Cicilline writes, “tells the vital story of how the relatives of millions of American Jews escaped oppression and found freedom and prosperity in the New World. All American Jews should understand where they come from, and this book beautifully captures an important piece of that story.”

Speaking to groups about your book is another strategy to popularize it. Last year, before renovations began at Providence’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, a number of authors made presentations. Among them were journalists, including Mike Kelly (“The Bus on Jaffa Road”) and Dion Nissenbaum (“A Street Divided: Stories From Jerusalem’s Alley of God”). Both deal with aspects of life, death and friendship in Israel.

As part of the Reading Initiative, members of the greater Rhode Island Jewish community are encouraged to read a non-fiction Jewish book of their choice over the course of three months.

What to read? For recommendations of books, and to register, check out our website at, or feel free to call your rabbi or neighbors. Please sign up at this website, as well, so we know how many are participating, and to receive notices related to the reading program. We would like to establish some book conversations for those who are interested. A community that learns together grows together!

The Reading Initiative is sponsored by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, Kollel: Center for Jewish Studies, PJ library, and Project Shoresh.

LARRY KATZ is director of Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Alliance.


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