A Bookish Chanukah and Christmas

I love books. Casa Avrech is stuffed with bookshelves that are, of course, stuffed with books. As much as Seraphic Secret admires and makes use of eBooks via Kindle and the iPad, there is still something about paper, binding, and the fragrance of a freshly opened page that is intoxicating.

Books are the perfect holiday gift. Don’t forget to compose a meaningful inscription. Karen writes the most beautiful and witty notes in the front pages of gift books that, to this day, I cherish.

Here are a few notable volumes we recommend for this year’s gift-giving.

In the Shadow of Greatness is a revealing and often poignant compilation of essays written by members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2002. These are men and women who were walking to class when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit by Muslim terrorists. The men and women of the class of 2002 graduated into America’s longest running war and this volume gives voice to lost innocence as untested officers become leaders in distant lands.

In the Shadow of Greatness gives us multiple first-person narratives of junior officers in Iraq and Afghanistan, serving on the front lines, and at home. We glimpse valor, tragedy and humor. As a screenwriter, my feverish imagination was set ablaze on almost every page as I envisioned a mini-series based on this book, a portrait of another greatest generation.

Simply put, this book is humbling, for every entry is a journey through the soul of a warrior, the best our nation has to offer. A stunning book that should be read by every American.


Was Edith Head the greatest costume designer in Hollywood history? Probably not. Travis Banton, Walter Plunkett and Orry-Kelly were design geniuses, but too temperamental to survive the grinding Hollywood system. In contrast, Edith Head was a talented if grim survivor who knew studio politics and made it her business to cultivate and get along with every star with whom she crossed paths. Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer is a door-stop of a book weighing in at a hefty six lbs. Author Jay Jorgenson makes the case for Head’s greatness on every page with lavish, full-size photographs of Head, her designs, and the stars she costumed. A wonderful volume that reminds us that Hollywood once was a true dream factory.


The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty, tells the the fictional story of Cora Carlisle, a thirty-six year old Wichita housewife. In 1922, Cora accompanies the future silent film star, fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks, on her journey to New York to audition for the Denishawn Dance Company. Already haughty and beautiful, Brooks has no respect for convention or Cora, a traditional if complicated woman, with her own reasons for making this journey. Beautifully written, Moriarty concentrates on Cora, a seemingly drab and boring woman, especially when set against the glamorous and free-thinking Brooks. With great empathy and insight, Moriarty digs deep into Cora’s soul and delivers a vivid portrait of an ordinary woman who is, ultimately, far more extraordinary than the nasty, narcissistic Brooks.

Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a lovely and meaningful Shabbat and a happy Chanukah, which begins on Saturday night.

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  1. Bill Brandt
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Robert – I just saw a book at Costco I decided to get – may interest you
    If it weren’t for the author I probably would not have stopped but…Herman Woulk? Sould be good – and it involves screenwriting!

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  2. Johnny
    Posted December 7, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Our library system sells hardcover books for 50 cents so of course I pick up 2 or more every week and keep adding more books on my to-read list.

    Two books I’ve read in the last year that stand out.  With all the talk about gun control laws lately Columbine by Dave Cullen is a good read because it destroys a lot of the myths that arose from that story (no, they were not bullied and there was no trench coat mafia). And people can remember the names of the victims instead of the killers.

    Another is Touching History by Lynn Spencer about what was happening in the air on 9-11. It’s frustrating when the people at the FAA all think that a small plane must have hit the WTC and never imagine it might have been the jet that disappeared from their radar screens.  And it was a NG pilot that was the first to realize we were under attack long before the civilians at the FAA did. It sounds depressing to go over the events that day but she did a great job telling a story about what pilots in the air and people on the ground had to cope with that day. 

    I’ll check out In the Shadow of Greatness. There are so many great stories about what our soldiers did in the two wars yet there are so few Medal of Honor recipients from them. I refuse to believe there are fewer acts of valor worthy of the medal since 9-11. 

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted December 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink


      I also snap up bargain books from my local library. I have purchased old, hard-to-find, film books for one dollar that sell on Amazon for over $100.00.

      Do I feel guilty?

      Not enough to stop buying.

      Shadow of Greatness is a deeply moving book. Highly recommended.

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  3. Barry
    Posted December 7, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink


    Re Brooks. I’ve read Lulu In Hollywood and thought the book and its author self-serving in her narrative and wrong headed in her opinions, actions and analysis.  Her reasoning was off the wall and while she may have been sleepable with the price for knowing her seems through the roof. And living in a two room apartment on the dumpy side of Rocherster doesn’t seem so glorious.

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted December 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink


      The Brooks cult is bizarre. She was pretty, but so what. Mostly, she was a snarling, self-destructive woman who took pleasure in hurting other people. George Cukor, a man who knew something about actresses, referred to her as a “Nothing.” He was outraged by her sudden fame.

      I agree with you about her essays. They are delusional.

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      • Barry
        Posted December 9, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink


        Re Books and Marcel Proust, in particular William C. Carter’s biography and the period between 1870 and 1920. La Belle Epoche. When Claude was recovering from her initial aortic surgery a dozen years ago she read this, was enthused and appreciative, but unable to articulate those elements that so interested her. Now that she is gone I’ve taken up the slack. All that held her I am addressing in some manner. Now, I know why she couldn’t speak about this. Too close. Catholics and Jews of the educated class in Paris all figuring out life and failing. A personal history of more than just Marcel.  

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        • kishke
          Posted December 10, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

          An interesting comment, Barry. Perhaps I should not ask, but who is Claude?

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          • Barry
            Posted December 10, 2012 at 6:34 am | Permalink

            Claude was my lovely French wife. Ultimately heart failure following multiple surgeries were too much for her to fight. Her  obituary under Claude Marie…my  last name, is on line. Quite a few comments and a photograph.

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            • kishke
              Posted December 10, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

              She does seem a most lovely person. I see that she passed away only a short while ago. I hope you are bearing up well. My sincere condolences.

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              • Barry
                Posted December 10, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

                Each day or part  of day  brings continuing challenge. Thank you for your comment.

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        • Robert J. Avrech
          Posted December 10, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink


          My deepest condolences on the loss of your lovely wife. There are no words.

          As for Proust, Jews and Catholics, I’ve been reading Proust for several years and I’m always struck, as was Proust, by the depths of self-deception that animated and still animates French (and European) society.

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  4. Posted December 7, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    In the same spirit, I wish to commend a book that is one of the most inspiring and interesting books that I have read in many a year.  It also reads like a page turning suspense novel in terms of holding one’s interest.
    It is called “As Long As I Live; the Life Story of Aharon Margalit” by Moshe Gutman.
    My daughter (not a prolific reader) gave this to my wife, telling her she must read this book.  My wife gave it to me, telling me I must read this book.  We have since given it to a friend, telling her that she must read this book.  
    Even though it is the life story of a very Orthodox, Israeli Jew, I am giving this book to my non Jewish relatives for Christimas (who have little interest in either Israel or Judaism).
    It really is quite good.
    Happy Chanukah. 

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted December 7, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink


      Thanks so much for the recommendation. The book looks wonderful. I’ll check it out. Have a lovely Shabbat and a freileche Chanukah.

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