One Bay One Book ready to roll with adventurous novel

A kidnapping, an uncovered trove of ancient documents, and technology that has the power to change the way our memory works forever?

All that and more is in store for those who participate in this year’s “One Bay One Book” program, the Bay Area-wide book club that debuted last year. The Jewish Community Library in San Francisco, a program of Jewish LearningWorks, has chosen Dara Horn’s adventurous novel “A Guide for the Perplexed” to be the topic of discussion from September 2013 through May 2014.

Dara Horn

Official programming — meaning group book talks, lectures and other interactive discussions about the book, both in person at some 50 day schools, synagogues, community centers and libraries throughout the Bay Area, as well as online — will begin in September, when the JCC of San Francisco hosts a launch party featuring the author herself. But the Jewish Community Library is already making preparations for a big turnout: Some 1,000 readers took part in last year’s program.

Library staff chose the book, which will be published in September, for its “rich Jewish content” and because it “lends itself to meaningful discussion,” said library director Howard Freedman.

The novel follows a young software prodigy named Josie Ashkenazi, who has invented a program that records everything a person does. When she travels to Egypt as a tech consultant, she’s kidnapped and her program falls into the wrong hands — setting off a whirlwind adventure that weaves stories about early Judaism, from an ancient Cairo synagogue excavated a century earlier, with questions about how modern technology is shaping our memory today. The difficulty of familial relationships — in this case one between two sisters — is another major theme.

“We found all of these themes very compelling, and really relevant,” said Freedman, noting echoes of the current debate around the U.S. government using technology for surveillance. “And it takes place in Egypt, which is obviously in the news right now as the unrest there has gone to new extremes.” A piece of One Bay One Book programming in the works will feature a speaker who recently wrote about her experiences living as a Jew in Egypt.

Horn, who lives in New Jersey, is the winner of two National Jewish Book Awards; she studied comparative literature, Hebrew and Yiddish at Harvard.

Last year’s One Bay One Book selection, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” generated overwhelmingly positive feedback, said Freedman.

Freedman added that though partner organizations from Cotati to Los Gatos will be hosting book discussions and other events, those who want to read the book on their own or with a friend or two are more than welcome to take part in the book club. A discussion forum will be set up on the program website, and the library will have sets of the book available for free on a first come, first served basis, as part of its “Book Club in a Box” program.

“We just want to get people reading and, hopefully, talking,” Freedman said.


The One Bay One Book launch will take place Sept. 23 at the JCC of San Francisco; tickets will be available at the end of July through the JCC’s box office.