Don’t pass on this one

by | May 1, 2015 | Book Reviews

Passing in Review
30 Years of Literary Criticism and Articles
from Jewish News of Southeastern Virginia
Hal Sacks
Edited by Terri Denison
Parke Press, 2015
248 pages, ISBN 978-0-9883969-6-8

Hal Sacks knows a lot—about a lot of things. This local treasure of a community member is whipsmart, well traveled, multi-talented and as experienced in a boardroom as he is in a kitchen.

When you meet Sacks in person, however, you don’t get the impression of a high-falutin’ know-it-all. You get a dose of folksy charm, a splash of wit, a sprinkle of news or something he thinks you may find interesting—and, if you’re lucky, a story. Or two, or three.

Fortunately for readers of Sacks’ new book, and for those who have read his articles, essays and reviews—of all kinds— over the past 30 years in the Jewish News, Sacks the writer is virtually the same as Sacks the man.

In Passing in Review: 30 Years of Literary Criticism and Articles from Jewish News of Southeastern Virginia, editor Terri Denison has pulled together an array of Sacks gems culled from the Jewish News archives, Renewal magazine, and more current News issues.

Sacks is the Book Review editor for the 22-issue-a-year Jewish community newspaper. In addition to book reviews, he has written on a range of topics, from his trips overseas to restaurant reviews, from baseball to bok choy.

More than 125 diverse discourses are separated into nine categories that run a gamut of genres, such as Biographies, For Cooks, History Matters and This and That. Dates of publication in the Jewish News are provided at the end of each entry, where updates—when relevant—are also added.

Without sounding academic or professorial, Sacks describes people or places he’s visited, inserts quotes and synopses of books, and has the ability to matter-of-factly slip in facts to make a reader think, “I didn’t know that. Hmm, sounds interesting. Think I may want to read this book-go visit this place-find out more.”

You may have to have a dictionary nearby for some of the vocabulary—anegyric, impecunious, eponymous—Sacks does have a master’s degree in American Literature from Columbia University, or you can just move on to the next paragraph where you’re likely to find words like hanky panky, scrumptious, or mind-numbing. Written mostly for a Jewish audience, many of the pieces include Hebrew or Yiddish words.

You don’t have to know about Israeli politics, or history, or cooking, or bestsellers or the Tidewater Jewish community’s foundations to relish the writing in this book.

Some of the reviews in this book of reviews include mentions of other reviews—(a touch of wordplay that this reviewer thinks would make Sacks chuckle with delight). Almost all of the pieces contain some personal insight or aside, which boost Sacks’ credibility and add to the readability of his writing.

This is Sacks’ second book. His first, Hal’s Navy (2013, Parke Press) was an equally well-written, humorous and memorable recounting of Sacks’ 22-year Naval career that spanned the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.

In one of his book reviews, Sacks writes: Our reviewer has had this first novel by Eliezer Sobel on the desk for a couple of months and when the author emailed Jewish News recently with a gentle nudge, like, “Nu? When are you going to read it already?” we duly noted that it had taken him 20 years to write it, so what was the rush?

Our suggestion? Rush out and buy this digestible and informative collection. Don’t pass on Passing in Review.

—Laine Mednick Rutherford is marketing and communications manager for United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.