This time I am writing from the Charlotte Amelie airport in St. Thomas waiting to board our flight to Miami and hence back to LA. As usual on my book trips, I met some lovely people, some of whom were previously merely faces on Facebook. Not like usual, my husband came with me and we stayed on to vacation. Our hosts took great care of us; wining and dining us in addition to putting us up at a local resort.
So for those considering a vacation in the Virgin Islands, here are the pros and cons. Pros include lovely weather, at least when the trade winds are blowing. Then the high is 84 and the low 75. A big pro is the abundance of gorgeous beaches, with water so warm you just walk in and swim [or snorkel]. For those who like water sports, there are unending choices, and for those who like to drink alcohol, rum is cheaper than soda or juice. And with its lack of taxes, duty-free St. Thomas is the place to shop until you drop.
Neither drinkers nor shoppers, we spent our daylight hours snorkeling at sites that boasted a splendid variety of both fish and corals in amazingly clear water. I haven’t seen anything similar since we snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef in 2002. We even managed to swim with some green sea turtles.
But now for the cons. When the trade winds slackened, it became so humid that the sliding glass doors to the patio of our air-conditioned room fogged over. Walking outdoors was exhausting, reminding my husband of his army days in Louisiana. And with no sidewalks except in the downtown shopping area, there is no place to walk except along the narrow streets. Unfortunately driving is a challenge; rental cars are expensive, parking is hard to find, most streets are not lit at night, and to it more difficult, you drive on the left side of the road. But the alternatives are no better. Public transportation is for the locals who know where they’re going and don’t mind how long it takes. My biggest con is the taxi system. Unlike elsewhere, here you pay by person, not by distance. Every place we wanted to go cost $10 a person, i.e. $40 roundtrip for two, plus tip, making excursions and dining out significantly more expensive.
Another con is the enormous number of tourists who arrive on cruise ships, sometimes doubling St. Thomas’ population of 50,000. We had to plan our itinerary depending on which days had the most, or least, ships in port. Perhaps the deciding factor about the Virgin Islands is where you live. We had to take two flights to get here from LA, the first 5+ hours to Miami, and the second almost 3 hours. Plus there is the 2 hour layover between flights, and the 4 hour time difference. In summary, we left LA at 8 am and arrived in St. Thomas at 10:30 pm. Those from the East Coast or Midwest, their flying time will be shorter. For us, flying to Hawaii would take half the time and the airfare would be less for essentially the same benefits. Oh, and one more thing, both VI and Hawaii have lots of mosquitoes, but at least in Hawaii one doesn’t have to worry about Vika.
I am writing this from my American Airlines flight to Miami, from where I’ll transfer to the plane that will deliver me to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. When I started writing Rashi’s Daughters almost twenty years ago, I never imagined anyone would read it except me or that it would ever get published. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I would complete the thing. But that first novel turned into a trilogy, successful enough that my publisher Penguin wanted me to write another historical series with a different Jewish heroine and JPS had me edit my original book into one for YA readers.
But as surprising as my midlife career change from chemist to historical novelist was discovering that I was a good speaker, that Jewish women’s groups were excited to hear about the fascinating things I’d learned while researching my novels. And so I embarked on a third career, one which has taken me to the majority of states in the US, plus Canada and Israel. My husband rarely comes with me, only if there’s a way to combine my book tour with a vacation. Of course he accompanied me to Israel, but we also visited Lake Tahoe, toured Olympia Nat’l Park, drove the Blue Ridge Parkway, and partied in New Orleans at Mardi Gras after I did programs in nearby Jewish communities.
With experience, and good recommendations, came invitations to do scholar weekends, some, like Limmud NY, quite prestigious. Which is how it is that this month I, with my husband in tow, is on my way to do a weekend at the historic Synagogue of St. Thomas. And a week after we return I’m off to London for 6 days at the granddaddy of Jewish learning events, Limmud UK.
Thanksgiving weekend is over and peace has descended on our house again after four days of family inundation from five grandchildren ranging in age from 6 months to almost 10 years old and their four parents. It is truly great having them all visiting at the same time, especially seeing the little ones interact with their cousins, but it is also exhausting. Especially when the festivities include a birthday brunch for three generations of extended family.
A pleasant surprise for me was learning, via Talkwalker Alerts, that the Los Angeles Jewish Journal had chosen "Fifty Shades of Talmud" as one of four books recommended for holiday gift giving. Even more impressive considering that the three other books were by Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Samuel M. Katz. To read more about what I, and the three male authors, wrote, click on the link.
Talkwalker Alerts had another nice surprise for me, with an article in the V.I. [Virgin Island] Source about my upcoming scholar weekend. They wrote: The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas welcomes the entire St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John community to a special weekend with world famous author Maggie Anton. Maggie Anton is the author of the award-winning “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy, and she will be discussing her most recent work, “Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say about You-Know-What.” All are welcome to the Friday evening service and book signing with Anton set for 6:30 p.m., Dec. 2, in the historic synagogue, and are also invited to the study session planned for 10 a.m., Dec. 3, in the Lilienfeld House up the street. For more information about this visiting scholar and the activities of the weekend, contact the synagogue at email@example.com or 774-4312.
Yes, in three days my husband and I will board a flight to St. Thomas where I’ll be the scholar next weekend. And after that, we’ll stay another few days for a well-earned vacation on this island paradise–just the two of us–to celebrate our 46 years of marriage.
As many authors, but few readers, know, Amazon has become stricter about reviews lately. For me, lately means the time between my big book tour after Enchantress came out [Fall 2014 – Spring 2015] and Fifty Shades of Talmud’s pub date in March 2016. I was told that Amazon links certain promotions to various numbers of good reviews, but have never come across the exact rules. Which was no surprise since Amazon is a world unto itself. Still, since it couldn’t hurt, I encouraged friends and fans who buy copies to post nice reviews there.
To my dismay, I started hearing from fans that their reviews had been rejected or merely never shown up. A bit of sleuthing revealed that, to maintain the integrity of their review process, Amazon has rules for who could post reviews. No family members or friends of authors were allowed, although how Amazon ascertained this info was not revealed. The reviewer had to have an Amazon account [well, duh] and paid reviews were not only forbidden, but Amazon could ban folks who tried to post them. I learned that there is an entire cottage industry selling fake reviews, both 5-stars to promote authors’ own books and 1-stars to slam competitors.
I still try to remember at my speaking gigs to ask readers to post Amazon reviews that aren’t too much like ones already on there. But I strongly suspect that the reviews being rejected are more likely to praise my book than condemn it. To learn more about Amazon’s most recent review rules, read this article. And if you’ve spent more than $50 on Amazon [and who hasn’t?] and liked "Fifty Shades of Talmud", please write a nice review of it for them.
For more about Amazon's new rules, click on the link.
For everyone who didn't get a chance to see/hear me in action on my East Coast book tour that ended today, a consolation is that Amazon has FIFTY SHADES OF TALMUD: WHAT THE FIRST RABBIS HAD TO SAY ABOUT YOU-KNOW-WHAT on sale for $3.99.
I’ve been so busy on book tour that I’ve had little time to keep up with the news – which I’m thankful. Thus, I didn’t learn about singer, songwriter Leonard Cohen’s death until Friday night at Shabbat services in a Reform synagogue in Rye when the cantor memorialized him by singing his Hallelujah. I mainly knew of Leonard Cohen, grandson of an Orthodox rabbi and Talmudic scholr, because our cantor regularly does Cohen’s Who by Fire on Yom Kippur. Released in 1974, five weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the song, composed in response to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, drew its title and theme directly from the High Holy Day liturgy.
Saturday morning found me at another Reform synagogue, this time in Brooklyn, where again there was a Leonard Cohen song. This morning I’m in Great Neck, where my host and I are listening to The Essential Leonard Cohen while we work on our computers. As the music plays, I am surprised to discover that I am familiar with most of the songs, although I never knew they were all his compositions. Unable to get them out of my head, I decided to devote this blog post to him.
Thus I searched the Internet and was awed to read that at a press event in mid-October, shortly after Yom Kippur, Cohen talked about using "Hineni" in the lyrics of his new album's title song. Lyrics include “Magnified and sanctified be Thy holy name,” a quote directly from the Kaddish, and “Hineni, hineni, I’m ready my Lord,” Mr. Cohen quotes in Hebrew and English from the story of the Binding of Isaac, one of Rosh Hashanah’s Torah readings. I can’t help but believe that Leonard Cohen was somehow anticipating his death, which came three weeks later.
Today starts the final week of my East Coast book tour. I seem to have brought California weather with me, because nearly every day has been mild and sunny. Fifty Shades of Talmud is selling well, and because I now take credit cards via my iPhone, people are buying my novels too. I haven’t spent the night in a hotel yet, preferring home hospitality. If I have friends nearby, I stay with them, but mostly I stay with strangers. I’ve met some wonderful and interesting people on my travels this way. And because my venues want to put me up in a place they won’t be ashamed of, I’ve stayed in some amazing homes.
Typically I stay with empty nesters in a bedroom one of their children previously occupied. Occasionally I stay with machers who provide an entire guest suite. Thus I’ve become an expert on guest rooms, and so I’m devoting this blog post to the qualities of an ideal guest room. Of course I rarely find all these amenities at one home, but here they are, more or less in order of importance:
1] comfortable bed with choice of pillows firmness
2] quiet location, although I bring earplugs just in case
3] chair or second bed to sit on
4] my own bathroom, either in suite or nearby
5] sufficient lighting so I find things in my suitcase at night
6] bedside table, especially with clock and reading lamp
7] sufficient convenient outlets to charge my phone or computer
8] mirror and desk area would be nice
9] ground floor room so there is no shlepping luggage up stairs
9] last but not least, working wifi
I have never been one for video games, especially the kind you see people playing on their phones, unaware of the world around them. But since I replaced my ancient iPhone 3 with an iPhone 6 so I could take credit card payments while on book tour, I confess that I now play Pokemon Go nearly every day. I started mainly because my daughter and grandsons were enjoying it so much. They showed me the basics, which involve collecting various Pokemon [short for pocket monster] that appear as the player walks around outside. There are several hundred unique Pokemon, each found in its own habitat. Certain kinds inhabit parks, others desert/sandy areas, parking lots, shopping malls, forests, or big cities. Water Pokemon spawn near the beach or a lake, Ghost Pokemon near cemeteries, and Cold Pokemon when it’s snowing. Some are common in certain parts of the world and rare elsewhere, making it difficult to collect them all.
The more Pokemon I capture, the more points I get. But Pokemon Go is called that because players have to go out to do this, and we get additional points for how far we walk. The game uses GPS and Google Maps to show me where I’m walking and keeps track of how far I’ve gone. Amazingly, I’ve walked almost 200 km in pursuit of these creatures. One of the things I look forward to in my travels is the new Pokemon I’ll encounter.
Now that I’ve been on the East Coast 10 days, I have indeed seen, and captured, some Pokemon I’ve never found back in LA. On Halloween on the National Mall in DC, I saw every type of Ghost Pokemon. Here where I’m staying in Port Liberte, a peninsula surrounded by the Hudson River, there are quite a few Water Pokemon we don’t have near the beach in LA. And I’ve been doing more walking than I would do normally, which is a very good thing considering all the excellent meals and high-carb snacks I’ve ingested.
I’m at the beginning of my book tour and, despite not having hired a publicist, I’ve gotten a little publicity. The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia [http://www.jewishexponent.com/event/maggie-anton-fifty-shades-of-talmud] had an article about my speaking in Elkins Park on Nov 2, and the New Jersey Jewish Standard had a nice interview with me prior to my speaking in Jersey City Nov 4-5, Somerset on Nov 6, and Fairlawn on Nov 7. Here is quote about how Jewish women are allowed, even encouraged, to use birth control, despite the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.”
There is so much material in the Talmud because “it is so vast,” she said. “It discusses everything. The rabbis had no idea that what they were saying was going to become Jewish canon. And considering that the first commandment in the Bible is to be fruitful and multiply — that means that you are commanded to have sex.
“It’s interesting that even though the Torah is quite clearly talking to both Adam and Eve, the rabbis used Talmudic finagling to make it apply to men only,” Ms. Anton continued. “Only men are commanded to procreate.
“I do not see that at all as misogyny,” she added. “It allowed women to use birth control.” Pregnancy and childbirth always could be enormously dangerous; that’s true even now, and certainly was more true before the development of modern medicine. Some women always and most women at some time in their lives could not carry babies to term without risking their own lives. “How could God have given us a commandment that would have made so many women die?” the rabbis wondered. “So God excused women from the commandment, which allowed them to use contraceptives. And the rabbis expanded that even more, by making it almost obligatory for a woman whose pregnancy would be dangerous to use contraception. Those women must use it, they said, and other women may use it.”
Contraception? They didn’t have birth control pills. What did they know? “They had sterility potions, there was a kind that was kind of permanent and another that was temporary. They had something that you’d insert after you smeared it with spermicide. We actually have the recipe for some of the spermicides, but they don’t give the exact amounts. Medical scholars have looked at them and said yeah, they would have worked, but there’s not much difference between a dose that would have been ineffective and a dose that would have killed you. So it would have had to have been someone very experienced, as a midwife or an herbalist, to have known exactly how much each woman could take.
As Ms. Anton knew, the rabbis in the Talmud say a great deal about a huge number of subjects. Sex is among them. “At first, it was so surprising to me, how progressive the rabbis were,” she said. “We are talking about guys who lived more than 1,500 years ago.” (The Mishna, the Talmud’s inner section, was compiled about 200 CE, and the Gemara, which surrounds, explicates, and dances its ideas into wild intellectual and fanciful flourishes, was compiled around 500 CE.)
“So I thought that I really could write Fifty Shades of Talmud,” she concluded.
To read the entire interview, go to this Jewish Standard link
A Travel Guide to the Jewish Caribbean and South America by Ben G. Frank
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'll be doing a scholar weekend at the synagogue in St. Thomas in December, so I wanted to read up on the island's history and attractions. I only read the chapter on the Virgin Islands, but found it well-written and informative, especially the. This is a good book to take out from the library and photocopy only the pages a traveler needs.
View all my reviews
I hadn’t gotten around last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times business section when my husband pointed out the front page article about a new California law, aimed at stopping the trade in faked signatures purporting to be from entertainment personalities, that apparently sets up “draconian bureaucratic burdens” on bookstores that sell author-autographed books. The new law simply revised a 1992 law applying to autographed sports memorabilia, essentially by striking the word “sports.” The result was a bill that applied to any autographed item sold in or from California by “a dealer to a consumer for five dollars ($5) or more.”
Considering that none of my books sell for less than $5, my husband thought this new law might apply to my speaking events. Which would mandate that “every item carry a signed certificate of authenticity bearing the name and address of the seller, the name of a witness to the signing, and more. Each certificate has to be kept by the dealer for seven years.” Yikes! A simple one-minute book sale could now take ten times as long, never mind my having to keep records on hundreds, maybe thousands, of sales for seven years. And never mind that “certificates of authenticity” are essentially worthless since nothing would stop a determined forger from faking them, too.
The new law doesn’t go into effect until January, so hopefully there will be time to get it fixed so that booksellers are exempt. If not, I guess I’ll see what other authors are doing.
Several new things have kept me busy over the last two weeks, which I expect to blog about in more detail, but right now I’ll just whet your curiosity. In no particular order they are: 1] I’ve joined a gym. 2] I’m finalizing all the details for my three-week, 24 event, mid-Atlantic East Coast book tour that starts Oct 28, 3] I’m preparing two scholar programs that will also involve some vacationing: Dec 1-8 for Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, and Dec 19-29 for Limmud UK in England, and 4] I’m trying to put together a Spring 2017 book tour that focuses on the DC/VA/MD and Philadelphia area.
Regarding subject #1. Starting in the early 1980’s, I used to be a body builder and worked out in the gym with weights regularly until I hurt my neck and shoulder in a car crash in 1998. I've missed being in shape, but I was afraid to re-injure myself. But now we live less than 10-minute walk from LA Fitness, so I tried it over free Labor Day weekend and then got a free 3-day pass. I liked the machines and didn't feel hurt afterwards, but wanted to wait for a membership sale. Then after we paid to fix our daughter's car, she stepped up and added us to her membership.
So I've been working out with weights twice a week for over a month, and recently tried out a yoga class to improve my flexibility and balance [which I definitely need to improve at my age]. While I understand the importance of keeping this up for my health, the time I spend doing it is not trivial.