For many voracious readers contending with social distancing, books have served as a lifeline during this pandemic, a refuge far, far away from these challenging and often bleak times.

And now with the holidays upon us, ‘tis the season to curl up with a good book! But what to read?

We’ve asked eight community members and Jmore staffers to dish about what books are keeping them up at night.

Deborah Cardin

Director of Development, Baltimore Museum of Industry

I’m reading “Caste: The Origins of our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson. I highly recommend it. There’s interesting insight into the history of racism in the United States told from a different perspective. For something a little lighter, I’ve been enjoying Ruth Ware’s thrillers. The last one I read is “The Turn of the Key,” which is a modern take on Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.”

Simone Ellin

Associate Editor, Jmore

I just finished “Cat’s Eye” by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. You might recognize Atwood’s name because she wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” and many other novels and short stories.

“Cat’s Eye” is not nearly as harrowing as “Handmaid’s Tale,” but it’s a beautiful book about an artist returning to her hometown where she’s forced to grapple with painful memories of her youth. Next, I’m planning to read another novel — “Outside is the Ocean” by Matthew Lansburgh. The book, which won the Iowa Award for Short Fiction, comes highly recommended, so I’m looking forward to diving in.

Alan Feiler

Editor-in-Chief, Jmore

Years ago, I had the honor of interviewing Harold S. Kushner, the prominent American rabbi and author best known for the 1981 best-seller and classic, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Kushner was stuck in an airport on a layover in between flights, but he couldn’t have been more courteous or gracious over the phone.

Right now, I’m reading his 2003 book, “The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm.” As a youngster in religious settings and at funerals, I was always amazed by how people of all faiths and backgrounds were so moved and comforted by this psalm and knew every single word of it at the drop of a hat. In his book, Kushner probes deep into the 23rd, tapping into its universal appeal and why even the most secular of us know it and continue to find solace within its lines. 

Brilliantly, Kushner, who is now 85, explores each verse of the psalm, analyzing the nuances and textures of the words and their essence. He also references other theologians and thinkers to glean more meaning from this simple yet inspired piece of writing. The result is we gain a better understanding of the 23rd that enhances our spiritual connection to it and illuminates our day-to-day lives.

Helene King

Public Relations Specialist, LifeBridge Health

I’ve just read “Aesop’s Fables.” I am trying to catch up on classics that, for some reason, I didn’t read in school and never took the time to read later. 

One of my favorite fables is “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.” I won’t spoil it because it will only take you a minute to read, but for me it is a reminder of how happiness is right in front of us.

Amy Lebo

Director of Marketing and Strategic Communication, Everyman Theatre

We are living in an extremely fragile and fractured moment in time. Each of us is doing our best to carve out our own lanes in an attempt to find solace and peace. Whenever I feel this way, I go to one of the books I refer to as my companion books — ones I’ve held close over the years and go to find balance when things get chaotic and feel out of control. 

My go-to companion book most recently is “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke wrote these 10 letters to a young German cadet on the subjects of love, suffering, the art of writing, sex, loneliness and the nature of giving advice. He never intended to have them published but rather to serve as a means of exposing truths and showing support to a fellow poet.  

Rilke’s letters are lyrical and profound, soothing and gentle, and have become hugely influential in my life, more so as I get older. Their deep honesty and authenticity is especially meaningful in sharp juxtaposition to the world we live in today. This tiny but powerful book has been an endless source of both comfort and inspiration to me, and I recommend it without hesitation to anyone seeking comfort and strength. 

Jonathan Oleisky

President, Kalix Marketing, and Managing Partner of Jmore

I’ve always found Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to be the most unusual of leaders. For my winter reading, I’m looking forward to “A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion” by Tom Segev. At over 500 pages, this will keep me busy for a while and I’m excited to learn more about Ben-Gurion’s ability to help found and grow the State of Israel. 

Robin Rose-Samuels

Senior Marketing Manager, Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore

I just started reading “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson and “The Antiracist: How to Start the Conversation about Race and Take Action” by Kondwani Fidel. Like so many other white people, I am taking a closer look at my own past actions and perceptions regarding race and caste. I want to gain a deeper understanding of what I can do, both personally and professionally, to move toward a kinder, more compassionate, equal and just society.

Reading the books are just part of the equation. We have a diversity, equity and inclusion team at the JCC, and the Darrell D. Friedman Institute has been offering some great speakers/work groups as well. I also read articles, listen to podcasts and news reports and interviews, trying to absorb it all.

Sara Shalva

Chief Arts Officer, Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore

I am reading “City on a Hill: American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement” by Sara Yael Hirschhorn, in preparation for Text and Context, a new book club at the JCC.