The ProsenPeople

Planning on Joining the Israeli Army?

Friday, November 19, 2010 | Permalink

Joel Chasnoff has been blogging for the JBC on his NETWORK tour all month.

After my reading at the Dallas JCC last night, I was approached by a teenager who told me that he, too, plans to join the Israeli Army.

“Are you out of your mind?” I said, only half joking.

He smiled. “Were you?” he asked.

It’s not the first time this kind of thing happened. My book, The 188th Crybaby Brigade, is a brutally honest description of life in the IDF. There aren’t many other books like it, so it seems to be the book of choice among teenagers (and even some in their early twenties) who are seriously considering joining up.

In fact, ever since my book came out last spring, I’ve gotten quite a slew of emails from young Jews, both men and women, who want advice. They ask about induction procedures, the battery of entrance tests, and what kind of paperwork they need to file. But their number one question is: “Do you think I should do it?”

It’s a heavy question. Burdensome. A question with many implications and one I’m not necessarily qualified to answer.

So I always tell him or her the same thing: that I don’t want to be responsible for someone dying on the battlefield (or in training, as the case may be); but, if they feel like they’ll regret it for the rest of their lives if they don’t serve, then they should do it.

“But be sure to check out my book first,” I warn them. “You might change your mind after you read it.”

Check by later this month for most posts from Joel on his NETWORK tour.

Questions that Signal Success

Thursday, November 11, 2010 | Permalink

Joel Chasnoff has been blogging all month for the Jewish Book Council on his NETWORK author tour.

Writing from Houston, TX, in the midst of the mega-est week of my Mega Tour. It began in San Diego on Sunday, where I ran into fellow author (and friend) Joel Hoffman. Then on to Walnut Creek, CA; Cherry Hill, NJ; a Houston day school this morning (Emory-Weiner School, which is a totally great name for a Jewish school), and tonight the Houston Book Fest.

I’ve noticed a recurring phenomenon: after a book event, someone will approach me and tell me that he or she is working on a book. The person asks for advice – and by his/her questions, I can tell whether he/she has what it takes to write a book.

Questions that signal success:

“How long did it take you to write it?”
“Did your editor work with you along the way?”
“What are your writing habits?”
“How many drafts did you go through?”
“Did you know when you were finished?”

These are all terrific questions. They are about the writing process, which every author struggles with. These questions show that the writer is immersed in his/her project and passionate.

And then there is the one question that tells me the person is probably writing for the wrong reasons and, therefore, won’t see it through. That question is:

“What are the residuals on book sales?”

Oh, boy. Residuals? Are you kidding me? The residuals on book sales are tiny. And they only come months – possibly years – down the road, if ever, because first you have to earn back your advance for writing the book and only then does the extra money come in. And even then it’s a pittance, maybe 15% of the profit on the book.

The most dedicated writers write their books without any thought for the money. Some even self-publish their books. Either way, writing the book is a two-year process at minimum, and probably more like 3-5. Anyone who’s writing the book for the residuals will probably be disappointed along the way and likely won’t hang in there.

Joel Chasnoff will be blogging here all month as he travels around the country on his Jewish Book NETWORK tour.

Joel Chasnoff reporting from…Louisville

Thursday, November 04, 2010 | Permalink

Joel Chasnoff has been blogging his NETWORK for the JBC herehere, and here. His most recent post can be found below.

My schedule for today, which perfectly represents a typical day on the Jewish Book Council author tour:

6:00 AM – Wake up call, courtesy the hotel front desk.

6:15 AM – Man identifying himself as my “limousine driver” calls my cell phone, informs me that he’s downstairs in the hotel lobby. I thank him, excited at the prospect of riding in a limousine, which I have not done since my grandfather’s funeral (June ’84).

6:24 AM – Meet limousine driver in the lobby.

6:25 AM – Discover that “limousine” is really an ’89 Dodge minivan, maroon. Disappointment.

6:45 AM – Arrive JAX.

6:50 AM – Remove shoes, belt, hat, sweatshirt, and watch out of paranoia that I will fail the metal detector and be frisked by TSA.

7:50 AM – Flight to Louisville, KY, via Cincinnati.

10:05 – 11:15 AM – Layover in CVG. Two cups of tea at Max and Erma’s. While I drink, I call Con Edison in New York, beg them to waive the late fee on my last bill, which I forgot to pay because I was on the road for Jewish Book Tour.

11:15 AM – Flight to LOU.

11:20 AM – Meet Kim, the JCC professional, who is holding my book over her head like a literary Statue of Liberty next to baggage claim.

11:40 AM – Kim waits in the car while I dash into Subway, order the Kosher Sub (tuna/cheese/tomato/cucumber/mayo) on six-inch wheat. Also Sun Chips.

12:00 noon – Arrive at hotel.

12:02 PM – Television on, ESPN. Will remain on until checkout tomorrow morning.

12:04 PM – Unpack. Iron pants, shirt for tonight’s event.

12:15 PM – Eat Subway while watching SportsCenter. Bliss.

1:00 PM – Consider doing some work: email, pay bills online, follow up on upcoming shows/book events.

1:01 PM – Decide to instead watch another episode of SportsCenter.

2:00 PM – Email, pay bills online, other work I should have started an hour ago.

4:00 PM – Work out. Never helps. I still weigh 128 lbs.

4:45 PM – Shower, shave.

4:55 PM – Dress while watching ESPN (“Rome is Burning” followed by “Around the Horn”).

5:15 PM – Meet JCC Book Council professional and usually a few local patrons for dinner at a local restaurant. By the questions they ask, I can tell whether or not they’ve read the book. “Did you have to make aliyah to join the Israeli Army?” means they read it. “Why did you join the army?” means they may have read it. “Have you ever been to Israel?” means they have no idea I wrote a book.

7:00 PM – Book event at the JCC. Smashing success. Hundreds, if not thousands, of books sold.

8:30 PM - Dessert reception with donors. Pose for pictures. Shake many hands. Old women I do not know kiss my on cheek. Reminds me of Thanksgiving with my grandmother.

9:30 PM – Back to hotel.

9:40 PM – ESPN: football, basketball.

10:15 PM – Pack suitcase.

10:59 PM – Confirm tomorrow morning’s wake-up call.

11:00 PM – SportsCenter. Lila tov.

Joel Chasnoff (The 188th Crybaby Brigade) has been blogging for the Jewish Book Council on his Jewish Book NETWORK tour. Be sure to check back for his next post for the JBC Blog

Crybabies in the Israeli Army

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 | Permalink

Joel Chasnoff (The 188th Crybaby Brigade) has been blogging for the Jewish Book Council on his Jewish Book NETWORK tour. Missed the first two? Check them out here and here.

I’ve done quite a few of these book events now – half a dozen through the Book Council, and another ten or so after my stand-up comedy shows – and sometimes it feels like they all blend together.

But then, every once in a while, I’ll have an event where something truly incredible happens, guaranteeing that I’ll never forget that particular night.

Last Thursday’s reading at the Posnack JCC in Davie, Florida was one of those unforgettable evenings.

It all started when a guy in the front row asked me about the title of my book. I explained that “The 188th Crybaby Brigade” was actually a nickname that my officer gave to our platoon during basic training. I told the crowd that in my unit we had a number of mama’s boys who faked injuries to get out of guard duty and literally broke down crying during hikes in hopes that they’d get a ride back to base in a jeep. “Having grown up on the myth of the invincible Israeli Army,” I explained, “I was quite shocked by the sheer wimpiness of some of my comrades.”

Right then and there, an old woman raised her hand and shouted, “Excuse me, you!”

I looked at her, startled. “Uh…yes?” I said.

The woman stood up. She was short, and thin, with dyed red hair that matched her polyester jumpsuit – a typical South Florida bubbie, and with the spunky energy of Dr. Ruth.

The bubbie shook her finger at me. “You are the crybaby!” she wailed.

I chuckled. Part of me wanted to dismiss her. But I was curious. And she was entertaining.

“And why am I the crybaby, Ma’am?” I asked.

The woman stepped forward. “There are no crybabies in the Israeli Army. Israeli soldiers are the bravest in the world. The only soldier who’s crying is you!”

Half of the crowd shouted at her to shut up. The other half – mostly the older folks – cheered her on.

“Whoa, whoa, wait a second,” I hushed the crowed. “Ma’am – with all due respect, I’m not saying that Israeli soldiers aren’t brave. I’m just saying that, in my platoon – my experience – there happened to be quite a few kids who, quite frankly, didn’t want to be in the army and tried every trick in the book to get out.”

The woman shook her head. “Not in the Israeli Army I know!” she bellowed. Her supporters cheered.

I was warned that, sooner or later, this kind of thing might happen on my book tour. Israel is an extremely emotional topic. I knew people would react to my book in ways I couldn’t necessarily predict.

Not that I ever had an agenda. In writing my book, I did not set out to praise Israel or to disparage Israel. Instead, my goal was simply to tell my story as honestly as I could. At times in my book, I express admiration for the IDF – for example, when our officer sits us down during basic training and leads us in a discussion of battlefield ethics.

Other times, like when I describe our lack of training before deploying to Lebanon, I’m critical. But I was always honest and, in my mind, fair.

The fact is, however, that there are many, many people out there – usually older ones, but some younger ones, too – who simply refuse to believe that the legendary Israeli Army is not perfect. This South Florida bubbie was one of them.

I explained to the woman that I was not the first author to write about Israel’s imperfections – in fact, in Self Portrait of a Hero, Yoni Netanyahu’s posthumous autobiography, Yoni himself describes the crybabies in his unit and how these guys hold back his platoon. Or, I suggested, the woman should check out the movies Waltz with Bashir and Beaufort – both of which are Israeli made, were nominated for Oscars, and present less-than-perfect images of the Israeli Army.

But the woman and her cohorts refused to back down. She simply couldn’t handle an Israel narrative that diverged from her own.

After the event was over, the red-headed bubbie approached me. I feared another shaking down. But instead she said, “Keep up the good work, young man.”

“Okay,” I said, surprised. “But what about–?”

“We need people like you,” she cut me off. “We need you and we need your books. Otherwise, we Jews will have nothing to argue about.”

Joel Chasnoff (The 188th Crybaby Brigade) has been blogging for the Jewish Book Council on his Jewish Book NETWORK tour. Be sure to check back for his next post for the JBC Blog.

Joel Chasnoff Visits…the Miami Jewish Book Festival

Friday, October 29, 2010 | Permalink

NETWORK author Joel Chasnoff (The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah) will be blogging for the JBC over the next month about his travels around the country for Jewish Book Month. Be sure to check out his website to see if he’ll be visiting a city near you…maybe you’ll even end up in one of his posts! And, if you haven’t read his posts for the JBC/MJL Author Blog, you can find them all here.

Terrific event last night at the Miami Jewish Book Festival.

About a hundred people showed up. The crowd was focused, asked great questions, and was totally engaged, except for that one guy in the front row, a 90-plus-year-old man who brought his own oxygen tank and nodded off halfway through my introduction.

It was an older audience – lots of sixties and seventies, and older – and their questions reflected their demographic. I’ve done a few of these book events now – DetroitColumbus, and, last Sunday, DC – and I’ve noticed a connection between the general age of the audience and the questions they ask.

Younger crowds, like the one in DC, ask questions about my military service itself: Was it difficult? Did I see action? Did I pull the trigger and/or get shot?

Middle-aged crowds, folks in their forties and fifties, are interested in the backstory: What was my upbringing like? And what compelled a nice Jewish boy like me to join the Israeli Army in the first place?

And older crowds, like the one last night, always want to know one thing:

“What did your parents say when you told them you were moving to Israel to join the army?”

Last night, I answered that question the way I always do – with a short reading from the second chapter of my book, the chapter called “Mr. Bay City High School”, in which I go to breakfast at an IHOP restaurant with my father and tell him that I plan to join the IDF.

The reading always gets a laugh. But I always wonder if the audience is laughing at my father’s shock or my own naivety that I, the skinny Jewish kid from Chicago, actually think I might be a hero in the legendary Israeli Army.

Joel Chasnoff is the author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade, a comedic memoir about his year as a combat soldier in the Israeli Army, published by Simon and Schuster. This fall, he’ll blog his book tour across America for the Jewish Book Council. Visit Joel and read excerpts from his book at www.joelchasnoff.com.


Book Tour 2010: Joel Chasnoff

Thursday, October 28, 2010 | Permalink

NETWORK author Joel Chasnoff (The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah) will be blogging for the JBC over the next month about his travels around the country for Jewish Book Month. Be sure to check out his website to see if he’ll be visiting a city near you…maybe you’ll even end up in one of his posts! And, if you haven’t read his posts for the JBC/MJL Author Blog, you can find them all here.

Just landed in Miami for tonight’s event at the Alper JCC, and already it’s been a harrowing day.

The chaos began at 7:30 this morning. I was in the cab on the way to La Guardia when my wife called to thank me for leaving her the Macbook. In our house, we have two computers – an 8-year-old Dell desktop that couldn’t detect a virus to save its life, and a glorious new Macbook Air that detects WiFi like a dream, weighs less than a glass of milk, and that I purchased specifically to take on business trips like this one.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The Macbook,” she continued. “It’s sitting right here on the kitchen table. You didn’t leave it on purpose?”

So instead of blogging from the confines of my luxury hotel room, I’m sitting in the hotel Business Center three feet away from a 50-ish woman in faux pearls and a pants suit, whistling “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land” while Xeroxing flow charts on the public copier.

It’s just as well. Because to really get a sense of what it’s like to go on book tour, you need to understand the ins and outs of life on the road: the early morning taxi rides, the missed flights and random security checks, the hotel rooms that could be in any city in America, and the scrounging through airport garbage cans for the receipts for your bagel and tea because you just remembered that you actually get reimbursed for food as long as it’s less than twelve dollars.

Not that I’m in any way complaining. In fact, what makes all of this bearable – no, enjoyable – is the chance to talk about my book to an audience who actually cares. We authors spend years crafting our books. (In my case, my contract with Simon and Schuster specified that I write the book in nine months; in the end, it took three years.) We fret over commas, spend hours debating whether or not to split one sentence into two, and watch in horror as editors cut entire chapters from our work…

Then, finally, the book comes out. And we wonder, paranoid, if anyone will even bother to read it.

Which is why every author, deep down and no matter how much he or she complains, is thrilled to go on book tour: it’s the only way to know for sure that somebody gives a damn about our precious baby.

More thoughts later after tonight’s reading in Miami…

Joel Chasnoff is the author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade, a comedic memoir about his year as a combat soldier in the Israeli Army, published by Simon and Schuster. This fall, he’ll blog his book tour across America for the Jewish Book Council. Visit Joel and read excerpts from his book at www.joelchasnoff.com

The Stage vs. the Page

Friday, February 12, 2010 | Permalink

In his last posts Joel Chasnoff, author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah: A Memoir, wrote about the battle over his book cover and about asking advice from Dave Eggers and Joshua Ferris. He has been guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

One of the biggest challenges I encountered in writing The 188th Crybaby Brigade was the switch from comedy written for the stage to comedy for the page.

I’m a stand-up comic by trade. Onstage, I have tools at my disposal: facial expressions, body language, the ability to speed up and slow down as I create a psychological dialogue with the audience. Best of all, if a particular string of jokes bomb, I can switch topics, or, better yet, pick on a funny looking guy in the guy in the front row.

In writing humorous prose, these tools are, obviously, out the window. Compounding the problem is that I lose my ever-important barometer: instant feedback. I love the instantaneous nature of stand-up comedy. I never have to wonder how the act is going. Instead, it’s simple: if they laugh, I’m great. If the audience is silent, I suck.

To acquaint myself with humor writing, I read books by the three Daves: SedarisEggers, and Barry.

As I read, I looked for patterns. Although their styles of humor differ, I noticed a common trait: they never signaled the joke. Instead, they simply state the absurd truth in as straightforward a manner as possible. This bluntness makes for a double punch: 50% of the humor comes from what the author is saying, and the other half comes from the fact that he’s saying it so bluntly.

For example: one of my favorite passages in Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the one in which Eggers describes his night out with friends in a Berkeley, California bar:

Brent and I, and everyone else, are standing on the bar’s second level, looking down upon the heads of the hundred or so below us, while drinking beer that has been brewed on the premises. We know that the beer has been brewed on the premises because, right there, behind the bar, are three huge copper vats, with tubes coming out of them. This is how beer is made.

Whenever I read this passage, I laugh out loud. What makes it so funny is that, instead of waving his arms and signaling the absurdity of the situation (that seeing beer travel through tubes implies that the beer is brewed on the premises), Eggers instead takes the opposite tack: he takes it seriously. His deadpan approach makes the joke doubly funny—much funnier than had he said, “It’s so crazy. They have beer in vats and tubes, as if we’re supposed to believe that this means it was brewed on the premises.”

In The 188th Crybaby Brigade, I attempt to utilize humor by describing absurd situations as candidly as possible. I start with the opening sentence of the book, in which I chronicle my first medical check-up at the military Induction Center in Tel Aviv:

The Russian is poking my balls.
It’s awkward.

Two chapters later, I describe my first day of basic training:

I am Israeli soldier number 5481287. I’m at the Armored School, in the south, halfway between Jordan and Egypt. I’m dressed like a soldier but I look like a clown. My uniform’s three sizes too big, and it’s stiff, so it looks like I’m wearing a suit of green construction paper; I’d thought I would look sexy in uniform, but I don’t. I’ve also got a new look—I’m buzz-cut and shaved—and a new name: instead of Joel, I’m now my Hebrew name, Yoel, and my last name, according to my dog tags, is Shetznitz.
“You misspelled my name,” I said to the guy working the dog tag machine.
“So don’t die,” he said, and shooed me out the door.

Humor can even be used to describe a situation as dark as death. Here, I talk about the platoon’s field trip to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum:

Inside Yad Vashem, it’s the usual Platoon Two, Company B shenanigans. While our tour guide describes Hitler’s rise to power, Gerber pinches Uri in the ass. “Koos-emok!” Uri whispers, then he stuns Gerber with a quick knee to the nuts that sends him tumbling into a display case of Zyklon B.
“Bitch!” whispers Gerber.
“Your mother,” Uri whispers back.
Doni and Tanenbaum step between them, try to break it up, but only get sucked into the melee. Then Ganz jumps in, then Nir, and suddenly six, seven of them are attacking one another with headlocks and noogies, Three Stooges style, next to a wall-size photo of Jewish corpses.
My first thought is to scold my platoon mates. Show some respect! I want to shout. For the sake of the six million dead!
But as I watch my comrades roughhouse, I suddenly have another thought:
This is awesome.

I go on to describe why my platoon mates’ roughhousing in a Holocaust museum is a good thing for the Jewish people—namely, because it means that after thousands of years of persecution, we’ve reached a point in Jewish history where the notion of our people being annihilated is so foreign that Jews can goof around in Yad Vashem.

Typically, a writer doesn’t get the stand-up comedian’s instant feedback. But since you’re reading this and have the ability to post, I’ll go ahead and ask:

Does it work?

Joel Chasnoff’s The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah: A Memoir is now available. Visit Chasnoff’s official website: http://joelchasnoff.com/.

Meeting My Giants

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 | Permalink

In his last post Joel Chasnoff, author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah: A Memoir, wrote about the battle over his book cover. He is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

Even before I signed the contract to write The 188th Crybaby Brigade, I turned to other authors for advice.

The first writer I met was Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End. Joshua had grown up in Niles, not far from where I grew up in Evanston. I’d played little league with his best childhood friend, Grant. It was at a birthday party for a mutual friend that Grant introduced us.

Despite the fact that he’d just sold a novel that would go on to become a New York Timesbestseller and shortlisted for the National Book Award, Joshua was completely down to earth and, better yet, generous with his time. He read the sample chapter of my book proposal and then, a week later, took me for coffee and gave an extensive critique. He then offered to introduce me to his literary agent, if I needed one. (I did not, as it turned out.) Over the next few years, I’d email him questions about everything from what to expect during the editing process to publicity strategy. He always answered back.

Then, in January 2006, I saw an ad in the Times about an upcoming event at the 92nd Street Y with, among others, Dave Eggers.

Every writer has that one other writer whom he or she emulates almost to the point of obsession. For me, that other writer is Eggers.

I first came across Eggers in the fall of 2003, when I happened to notice his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Shattering Genius, on the front table at a Barnes and Noble in Buffalo.

I picked up the book, examined the amateur-looking cover. I flipped through the first few pages and saw a list of metaphors (and their explanations) contained in the book and an Acknowledgments section that thanked, in turn, the employees of NASA and the U.S. Postal system.

From that moment, I was hooked. I sat in an easy chair and read half the book right there in the store. Then I paid for it, finished it that night, and started to reread it the next morning.

After his reading at the 92nd Street Y, I stood in the signing line for upwards of an hour. When my turn finally came, I handed him a book and a white envelope with a letter in it. “I wrote you a note,” I mumbled, nervous, like a kid meeting his favorite baseball player.

“Cool!” Eggers said.

For two weeks, I checked the mailbox with anticipation.

No note.

Then, somehow, I forgot about it. Until one day, I opened the mailbox and found a letter with a San Francisco postmark, addressed to me in my own handwriting. (I’d enclosed an SASE).

I tore open the envelope. Inside was the letter I’d written to Dave, with his handwritten comments scrawled next to each question.

Eggers offered incredible advice. On my need for an extension from the publisher: “Totally normal. Good to have deadlines, but don’t release it ‘til it’s ready. You can never un-publish.”

On how to know when the book was finished: “Have a group of 5-6 readers outside of your S&S editor. Get these readers committed to reading/helping you make the book as good as it can be. They should be friends/relations who like you, care about what you publish. They can screen for dangerous passages.”

Truth be told, the best part of Eggers’ letter was not any one piece of advice, but simply that he’d written back.

Joel Chasnoff’s The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah: A Memoir is now available. Visit Chasnoff’s official website: http://joelchasnoff.com/.

Joel Chasnoff: Judging a Book by its Cover

Monday, February 08, 2010 | Permalink

Joel Chasnoff, author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah: A Memoir , is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

If writing a book is like giving birth, then receiving the PDF of the jacket cover is like seeing the first ultrasound: finally, it hits you that this creature is for real.

When it came time to discuss the cover of my book, The 188th Crybaby Brigade, I made two requests. First, that the jacket art be directed by Chip Kidd, the “rock star” of book jacket design. I’ve always loved Kidd’s ability to produce a single, iconic image that perfectly captures the essence of a book—such as he does in these two covers for Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris:


My second request—it was more of a demand, actually—was that the cover not be overtly Jewish. The 188th Crybaby Brigade is a humorous and provocative memoir about my year as a combat soldier in the Israeli Army. Throughout the book, I discuss my strong Jewish upbringing and my resultant connection to Israel—a connection that, ultimately, led me to volunteer for a combat unit of the IDF.

But I’ve always felt that, despite the Jewish themes, Crybaby Brigade is a human story with mass appeal. It’s a story about a father and son. It’s about myth and the inevitable disappointment that occurs when we come face-to-face with our heroes. Most of all, it’s a book about identity: as I progress from hapless basic trainee to tank soldier in Lebanon, I ask myself just who I really am.

So when it came time to discuss the cover, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I certainly knew what I didn’t want: anything that might drive away the general audience because the cover was too blatantly Jewish. My editor agreed.

So I was shocked when the following PDF showed up in my inbox:


I stared at the image, speechless.

A minute later, my agent called. “Well?” he asked.

I shook my head. “It’s so…Jewish,” I said.

“It’s a tad Jewy,” he agreed.

Actually, it was tremendously Jewy—way too Jewy for my taste.

I was crushed. Here, I’d just spent three years crafting my masterpiece, and now it was about to be ruined by this screamingly Semitic cover.

My agent (and here I’ll give a shout out, because he was so incredibly wonderful throughout the book cover process—the entire book process, for that matter), the talented Dan Lazar, promised he’d relay my feelings to the publisher. “But don’t be surprised if they ignore you,” he said. “They decide the cover. Not you.”

Not wanting to leave matters to chance, I racked my brain for a way to finagle a new cover. I glared at the image on my screen. That star—so big and vulgar—like one of those yellow stars Jews were forced to wear in Germany. And the soldiers, hanging on the star, as if they were caught on barbed wire…

Then it hit me!

I Googled the terms “holocaust museum jerusalem statue barbed wire,” clipped out the below image, and sent it to Dan with the note, “Tell the publisher that their cover will remind Jews of this sculpture at Yad Va Shem”:



Ten minutes later, Dan emailed back. “They’re doing a new cover.”

In the end, Chip Kidd dropped the project. (Or the project dropped Chip Kidd; I never did hear the final version of the story.) Instead, my cover was designed by a young art school grad in Boston, Holly Gordon. I stumbled upon Holly by chance (a friend introduced us). After a few phone conversations, Holly and I came up with the iconic image that, in my opinion, perfectly captured the theme of my book—the absurdity of life in the Israeli Army:


Miraculously—and I want to stress that it was an absolute miracle—the publisher went for it. “This NEVER happens!” Dan emailed me. “I have never, in all my years of publishing, seen a house accept a cover design from an author!”

Maybe I was lucky. Or, more likely, the house got sick of my complaining and wanted to shut me up.

I immediately sent the cover to friends and asked for feedback. The one note we consistently received was that the image reminded them of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:


I took the criticism to heart. After a few tweaks, Holly and I came up with this:


And then, finally, the image that would become the cover to my baby, The 188th Crybaby Brigade:


It was a harrowing process, but worth the effort. I certainly didn’t want to give birth to an ugly baby. And anytime the process got especially rough, I reminded myself of the following quote by none other than the rock star himself, Chip Kidd:

“Whoever said you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover never worked in publishing.”

Joel Chasnoff’s The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah: A Memoir  will be on sale February 9th. Visit Chasnoff’s official website: http://joelchasnoff.com/.