Gift books for Chanukah

By Harriet P. Gross
Chanukah is coming — and if you are inclined to enter into the seasonal spirit of gift-giving, there’s no better choice for the People of the Book than books! So here’s a light, humorous trio to help make your holiday, and your friends’ and family’s, a happier one:
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Harvey Sheldon, that irrepressible compiler of large Judaic tomes, strikes again! He’s followed up his “Encyclopedia of the History of Jewish Comedy” with an equally massive paperback, “Encyclopedia of the History of Jewish Music,” tagged with a variation of his old favorite subtitle: “Wouldn’t It Sound Great If the Whole World Were Jewish!”
“My intention here is not to deal with the vast panorama of the history of Jewish music,” he says in an introduction that is the briefest part of this 800-plus-page volume, “but rather to highlight only a few of its salient aspects….” And then he goes on to define Zemirot and Nigun and Piyyut, to explain how Klezmer works, to catalog everything from religious motifs to Israeli folk songs (plus a few essential dances like the Hora and Kazatske). His coverage of Jewish musicians and bands runs the gamut from Jascha Heifetz to Herb Alpert; ditto in scope are sections on American and Israeli singers, composers, lyricists and record producers. And he refers readers to his own tuneful Web site,, because, he says, “Music is wonderful to listen to, but nothing’s more boring than hearing it being talked about!”
You will not, however, be bored by any of this book, which Sheldon dedicates to Frank Sinatra in thanks for his support of Israel and his devotion to the Jewish people; you can read that whole fascinating story here as well.
“Encyclopedia of the History of Jewish Music” by Harvey Sheldon, published by the Emmis Foundation, retails at $39.99.
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And here’s another authorial return: Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe’s “Yiddish for Dog and Cat Lovers (Yidish far libhobers fun hint un kets)” is a funny follow-up to her earlier book of Yiddish trivia, and you don’t have to be fluent in that language to get many laughs from it, since all translations are provided. It’s richly illustrated with both photos (a cat nestled happily in an open briefcase, captioned “Handelshaft iz kain brudershaft — Don’t mix business with pleasure”) and cartoons (a Dalmatian pointing — by nose — at a framed portrait of five other dogs of various breeds: “Tsi ken ikh eikh forshtelen di gantse mishpokhe? — May I introduce the whole family?”).
This book also contains some curiosities: “di farbetung — the invitation” to a “Bark-Mitsve,” for example, and stories like this from Zero Mostel: “Once, when somebody in our house stepped on our cat’s paw, my mother turned to the cat and said sternly, ‘Ikh hob dir gezogt nisht tzu geyn borves — I told you not to go around barefoot!’” So, genug iz genug! Enough is enough, already! Start reading (maybe to your pet?) and laughing!
“Yiddish for Dog and Cat Lovers” by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe sells for $13 through Malka Publications. Check the author’s Web site (vebzaytil):
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Kasper Hauser’s “Weddings of the Times” covers the unions of all faiths and none, so there’s something here for everyone. This little volume is stuffed full of parodies on the New York Times’ iconic nuptial announcements, so coveted (not all who call are chosen for inclusion) and complete (career vetting of the bridal couples’ parents — even grandparents — is a component as essential as information on the bride and groom themselves).
And it’s truly up-to-date, one entry even managing to “detail” an entire courtship in a series of text messages.
Try this take on Judaism, from a section featuring takeoffs on how “many couples are incorporating rich cultural traditions from around the world — and throughout history — into their own weddings”: “Barefoot Chazuk (Contemporary Jewish) — In this variation on the ‘breaking of the glass,’ the shoe is removed before stomping. The Jewish groom, who is a doctor, impresses the bride’s family by suturing his own foot.”
Full disclosure: Kasper Hauser is the name of a comedy group rather than an individual author, and along with poking fun at the Times’ traditionally stuffy wedding writeups, its book provides some additional features including “fully illustrated guides to wedding-night sex, honeymoon hot spots, and formalwear malfunctions.” In other words: Caution is indicated; this is very much a read for adults only!
Kasper Hauser’s “Weddings of the Times, A Parody” is published in paperback at $12.95 by Thomas Dunne Books.
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Happy reading! Happy Chanukah!

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