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://​joelchas​noff​.com/.