Friday, November 5, 2010

Funny Books For Jewish Book Month And Hanukkah

It's November!  In recent years, in addition to being known for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday shopping day, it's also Jewish Book Month!

That's probably a good excuse for shopping for books that would make good Chanukah gifts (Note: we will be alternating Chanukah and Hanukkah spellings in our pre-holiday posts to help, or maybe confuse, the search engines) for book lovers.  In our case, that means books of Jewish interest that have the capacity to elicit laughs, smiles, grins, and guffaws from our readers.

This year brings a crop of delightful books that we think you'd enjoy reading and giving as gifts for Hanukkah.  Here's a list of our selections of recently published books and a few favorites from last year's list.

Of the 15 books in this list, 12 are also available as e-books, formatted for reading on Amazon's Kindle or Barnes and Noble's Nook eReaders, which are expected to be big sellers this holiday season.

The Book of Murray by David M. Bader
For years scholars have puzzled over the contrasts between modern Judaism and the world of the ancient Israelites. Leviticus explains keeping kosher, but where is the scriptural basis for pocketing a dinner roll from a buffet "for later"?
Finally, in The Book of Murray, we have answers. Here is the source for such timeless teachings as "Love the stranger, but not on the first date" and "Trust not a cardiologist who chain-smokes."

This remarkable biblical text, recently unearthed from a golf course in South Florida, is the surprising, hilarious, and uplifting chronicle of the Old Testament’s most unlikely prophet—Murray, son of Irving of the Tribe of Levi (Relaxed Fit).

Though a poor student and a disappointment to his parents, Murray hears God’s call. Soon he is wandering the land, spreading his unique brand of wisdom, whether from a mountaintop or at a themed bar mitzvah.

He reminds followers of the Ten (or so) Commandments. He boldly predicts the future of the Israelites: "Thy people will produce philosophers and scientists and novelists and Nobel Prize winners. Yet still thou wilt be unable to find the hood release on thy car." He judges a dispute between two women fighting over a cherished black-and-white cookie—all leading to the spectacular finale.

Filled with divinely inspired yet practical advice ("Thou shalt not freelance"), The Book of Murray is an affectionate and mirthful romp for readers of all faiths. Study its truths, learn the prophet’s stories, and, in the immortal words of Murray (handed down by his dyslexic scribe), "Go froth and multiply."
Old Jews Telling Jokes by Eric Spiegelman and Sam Hoffman
Schtick happens. For five thousand years, God’s chosen people have cornered the market on knee-slappers, zingers, and knock-knock jokes. Now Old Jews Telling Jokes mines mothers, fathers, bubbies, and zaydes for comic gelt. What we get are jokes that are funnier than a pie in the punim: Abie and Becky jokes; hilarious rabbi, doctor, and mohel tales; and those bits just for Mom (Q: What’s the difference between a Jewish mother and a Rottweiler? A: Eventually a Rottweiler will let go!). Some are just naughty and some are downright bawdy—but either way you’ll laugh till you plotz.

Kvetch as Kvetch Can - Jewish Cartoons by Ken Krimstein
Hold on to your yarmulkes. Ken Krimstein has put together a matzo-ball-soup-through-your-nose funny collection of his unorthodox (sometimes Reform) Jewish-themed cartoons. This book will make you laugh, eat, and feel guilty all at once. It’s like your Jewish mother that way.

Speaking of which, would it kill you to call her?

Taking on all things “Tribe” from the High Holidays to J-date, Kvetch As Kvetch Can is the perfect guilty pleasure (just add it to the list!)

Mewsings:  My Life as a Jewish Cat by Greta Beigel
The beloved cat Ketzel pontificates, in rhyme, on what it takes to be a devout calico in a religious household in these modern Jewish times, especially during the High Holidays. Chasing spinning tops--or potato latkes--at Hanukkah, or taste-testing pieces of gefilte fish in preparation for Passover or even contemplating the concept of atonement what with Yom Kippur fast approaching, Ketzel remains ever-respectful of prevailing, ah, dogma. On the road, or reclining and idle at home, Ketzel in her musings accords her own Jewish Mamma a five-meow rating for goodness, mercy, and above all, fancy feasts.
Yiddish with Dick and Jane by Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman
Jane is in real estate.
Today is Saturday.

Jane has an open house.
She must schlep the Open House signs to the car.
See Jane schlep.
Schlep, Jane. Schlep.
Schlep, schlep, schlep.

In text that captures the unque rhythms of the original Dick and Jane readers, and in 35 all-new illustrations, a story unfolds in which Dick and Jane--hero and heroine of the classic books for children that generations of Americans have used when learning to read--manage to express shades of feeling and nuances of meaning that ordinary English just can't deliver. How? By speaking Yiddish, employing terms that convey an attitude--part plucky self-assertion, part ironic fatalism. When Dick schmoozes, when Jane kvetches, when their children fress noodles at a Chinese restaurant, the clash of cultures produces genuine hilarity.

The Frumkiss Family Business by Michael Wex
Thomas Mann meets Mordecai Richler in this outstanding novel of great intellect and humour that already reads like a classic.

The Frumkiss family doesn't look much different from any of the others in Toronto's Bathurst Manor. Grandpa survived the Holocaust; Grandma the Second came from Poland at the age of five. Dad's a foot doctor; Mom is dead, and her mother — Grandma Number One —died while giving birth to her in Kazakhstan. Her three kids — the oldest is forty-two — are as frustrated and directionless as most baby boomers with no real financial worries. One's in Toronto, there's one in the suburbs and the third lives in Israel. 

As far as the Frumkisses know, all that distinguishes them from anybody else is that Grandpa is a famous Yiddish writer who ended up working for the CBC. But Grandpa's death sets off a chain of events that force the Frumkisses to see how different their family is from all the others.

 Invasion of the Blatnicks by Neil S. Plakcy
Steve Berman loses his job just before a visit to his parents in Florida. En route, though, he’s offered a new one, with a developer building a shopping center at the edge of the Everglades. Comic complications ensue with the craziness of his cousins, the Blatnicks, and the equally zany construction crew.

This is a laugh-out-loud comic novel about Jewish family relationships and shopping mall construction.

Life, Love, Lox: Real-World Advice for the Modern Jewish Girl by Carin Davis
Like Manischewitz with a twist, this saucy book will show the young Chosen Ones how to mix their Jewish roots with their happenin- lifestyles. Bursting with playful anecdotes and amusing advice, Life, Love, Lox is the essential companion for any Jew looking to squeeze a little style out of the ol- Torah. Ten chapters in all-like -Challapalooza,- -How to Lose a Guy in Ten Plagues,- and -Lox, Stock, and Bagel--dish on how to put together Shabbat dinner for the real world, how to meet the (observant) parents, and how to embrace the high holy days with style.

Covering everything from Kosher Kissing and making matzah balls to Speed-Dating and the Dayenu Diet, Life, Love, Lox is the best thing to happen to modern Jews since the Glatt Kosher hot dog cart at Yankee Stadium. This is a humorous girlfriend's guide to living the hip life while keeping it Jewish.

The Big Jewish Book for Jews: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Really Jewish Jew by Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman
Modern Jews have forgotten cherished traditions and become, sadly, all- too assimilated. It's enough to make you meshugeneh. Today's Jews need to relearn the old ways so that cultural identity means something other than laughing knowingly at Curb Your Enthusiasm- and The Big Jewish Book for Jews is here to help.

This wise and wise-cracking fully-illustrated book offers invaluable instruction on everything from how to sacrifice a lamb unto the lord to the rules of Mahjong. Jews of all ages and backgrounds will welcome the opportunity to be the Jewiest Jew of all, and reconnect to ancestors going all the way back to Moses and a time when God was the only GPS a Jew needed. 

Jewish as a Second Language: How to Worry, How to Interrupt, How to Say the Opposite of What You Mean by Molly Katz
Forget Yiddish. Real Jewish is a secret language of nuance, argument, and somersaults of everyday speech; of wins, losses, and draws in competitions you had no idea you’d entered. It’s everything from mastering the OAQ (Obsessive Anal Question)—“They’ll de-ice the wings before takeoff right?”—to never, ever believing your mother-in-law when she says, “Don’t bother driving me, I’ll take a cab.” Now in a revised and expanded second edition that’s bigger, better, and with more guilt, this is the indispensable guide.  

Rabbi Harvey vs. the Wisdom Kid: A Graphic Novel of Dueling Jewish Folktales in the Wild West by Steve Sheinkin
In his colorful career on the Rocky Mountain frontier, Rabbi Harvey has matched wits with a variety of villains--most notably the sweet-faced "Bad Bubbe" Bloom, and the self-proclaimed genius "Big Milt" Wasserman. In this exciting new volume, these two formidable foes team up to try to rid the West of Rabbi Harvey once and for all. The key to their evil scheme: Bad Bubbe's darling son, Rabbi "Wisdom Kid" Rubin, newly arrived from back East. He's young. He's clever. He's eager to take Harvey's place. But is he fast enough on the draw--the wisdom draw, that is--to take the town from Rabbi Harvey?

The first two books in this popular series present collections of stand-alone stories. Now, for the first time, fans get a book-length Rabbi Harvey adventure. The hilarious, action-packed plot draws on classic Jewish folktales, Talmudic teachings and the timeless wisdom of the wise men of Chelm. As always, Rabbi Harvey protects his town and delivers justice, wielding only the weapons of wisdom, wit and a bit of trickery. He also gets a bit of help from Abigail, the town's quick-thinking school teacher--a woman, it appears, who just may have captured his heart. 

The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah--A Memoir by Joel Chasnoff
Joel Chasnoff is twenty-four years old, an American, and the graduate of an Ivy League university. But when his career as a stand-up comic fails to get off the ground, Chasnoff decides it's time for a serious change of pace. Leaving behind his amenity-laden Brooklyn apartment for a plane ticket to Israel, Joel trades in the comforts of being a stereotypical American Jewish male for an Uzi, dog tags (with his name misspelled), and serious mental and physical abuse at the hands of the Israeli Army.

The 188th Crybaby Brigade is a hilarious and poignant account of Chasnoff's year in the Israel Defense Forces -- a year that he volunteered for, and that he'll never get back. As a member of the 188th Armored Brigade, a unit trained on the Merkava tanks that make up the backbone of Israeli ground forces, Chasnoff finds himself caught in a twilight zone-like world of mandatory snack breaks, battalion sing-alongs, and eighteen-year-old Israeli mama's boys who feign injuries to get out of guard duty and claim diarrhea to avoid kitchen work. More time is spent arguing over how to roll a sleeve cuff than studying the mechanics of the Merkava tanks. The platoon sergeants are barely older than the soldiers and are younger than Chasnoff himself. By the time he's sent to Lebanon for a tour of duty against Hezbollah, Chasnoff knows everything about why snot dries out in the desert, yet has never been trained in firing the MAG. And all this while his relationship with his tough-as-nails Israeli girlfriend (herself a former drill sergeant) crumbles before his very eyes.

The lone American in a platoon of eighteen-year-old Israelis, Chasnoff takes readers into the barracks; over, under, and through political fences; and face-to-face with the absurd reality of life in the Israeli Army. It is a brash and gritty depiction of combat, rife with ego clashes, breakdowns in morale, training mishaps that almost cost lives, and the barely containable sexual urges of a group of teenagers. What's more, it's an on-the-ground account of life in one of the most em-battled armies on earth -- an occupying force in a hostile land, surrounded by enemy governments and terrorists, reviled by much of the world. With equal parts irreverence and vulnerability, irony and intimacy, Chasnoff narrates a new kind of coming-of-age story -- one that teaches us, moves us, and makes us laugh.

Murder at the Minyan by Shulamit E. Kustanowitz
A shot in the synagogue parking lot brings Rabbi London running. He sees a gun and a pool of blood. At least one person is probably dead. The rabbi knows he should have seen trouble brewing weeks before when discussions about death turned nasty. But he was busy then with life cycle events and November and December challenges. 

Now, despite the rabbi’s teachings, the murderer has put his plan into motion. Soon there will be enough people mourning his victims to ensure the minimum of ten men at the daily service, and he will be able to say his Kaddish.

Oy! and Oy Vey: More! by David Minkoff
David Minkoff has probably compiled more Jewish jokes than anyone on the internet or in the universe. Last year his second "ultimate complilation" of Jewish jokes, "Oy Vey: More" was published by Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press in hardcover.
The first book, Oy: The Ultimate Book of Jewish Jokes is now out in paperback. We keep a few copies on hand to give as get-well gifts to friends who have been hospitalized. They say that laughter is the best medicine, and we include a fake prescription blank recommending two jokes three times a day and three jokes just before bedtime. It works wonders!

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