A while back a small collection of stories arrived in my mailbox: Joseph's Bones, by Ozzie Nogg. It sat atop my "to be blogged" pile for a while (here's where its small size comes in handy: the coffee-table book has been relegated to the base of the stack to keep the whole thing sturdy, but this little collection balances neatly on the top) and recently I finally picked it up to give it a skim. I wound up reading it the whole way through, not wanting to put it down.
The book contains twelve short stories, an introduction, and a glossary. The whole thing could fit in most ladies' purses, or in the side pocket of a briefcase. But there's more to this little book than its size might indicate.
These are sweet stories, familiar stories. If you're a second- or third-generation American, these tales may resonate especially well for you. In this book we meet Nogg's Bubbie, who repainted the cupboard every year after Purim until the cabinet doors wouldn't really close; her father, who taught her lessons about expectations by planting watermelons, and who modeled teshuvah by zipping across an interstate median to change directions; and Ozzie herself, and her intended Don, at the moment when their fathers decided to invite the entire Jewish community to their nuptials.
Maybe I like this little book because occasionally Nogg's father -- a rabbi from Lithuania, born at the tail-end of the nineteenth century -- reminds me of my grandfather, of blessed memory. My grandfather was born ten years after her dad; he came from Byelorus, not Lithuania; and though he could have pursued smicha, ordination, he chose medical school instead. But I hear his voice in her father's cadences and wry humor. Reading this book made me a little wistful sometimes. I think that's what Nogg intended.
Joseph's Bones isn't a groundbreaking book. It doesn't take the reader in new directions; the surprises it offers are small ones. Reading it is like taking the time to sit down with a relative you've never known very well; you might come away shaking your head, you might come away laughing, and for sure you'll come away knowing your time was well-spent.