Joel Chasnoff: Judging a Book by its Cover

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.jewish_authors_blog2.jpg

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 my 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.

Posted on February 8, 2010

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