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August 11, 2017 3:27 pm

New York Times Deals With Rabbi’s Book by Making ‘Buttocks’ Joke

avatar by Ira Stoll


The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times covered a rabbi’s book about parenting by assigning it to a writer who made a joke about his rear end, admitted not having read the entire book and confessed, “I’m entirely the wrong audience for this book: I’m a childless, lapsed Protestant agnostic.”

The Times writer, Henry Alford, perhaps gets credit for candor; it’s the rare book critic who acknowledges either being a poor fit for an assignment or not fully reading the books he or she is supposed to write about. Alford manages to concede both points.

The Times writer, in a piece about “seven of the recent or upcoming books about boredom,” acknowledges having completed reading only three of the books — not the rabbi’s — in their entirety. The article is labeled “reader’s notebook” but maybe a more accurate label would be “non-reader’s notebook.”

Here is how the Times mocks the book, by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, which is titled, “Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting”:

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If one of the defining cultural tropes of the 1950s and ’60s was kitchen-sink realism, many writers today go more for yoga-mat realism. I refer to narratives anxious to detail how “authentic connection” can “feed us.” Such a book is Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s anecdote-strewn, sippy-cup-filled look at how parenting can be a spiritual practice, which comes out in paperback next month. Every time I see the book’s galvanic title, “Nurture the Wow,” I feel like I’ve opened my own Mylar balloon franchise, or like I’m lying on the floor of a community center where I’m being encouraged to breathe through my buttocks (308 pages, Flatiron Books, $24.99).

I’m entirely the wrong audience for this book: I’m a childless, lapsed Protestant agnostic who is made hugely uncomfortable by the use of the word “nourish” in a nonfood context. But for certain readers, this work may be an impactful journey of intentionality, burbling with glorious moments of rootedness and sharing. I make only one request of these readers: Would you mind nurturing your wow a little more quietly? Those of us who don’t vibrate at this pitch are starting to feel a little, uh, boring by comparison.

The Times totally and completely ignores so many worthwhile Jewish books that it may seem churlish or ungrateful for an author or press critic to complain about any attention at all, but even by “happy they mentioned the book and spelled my name correctly” standards, this is shabby treatment.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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