Monday, October 31, 2022

My 9th Annual Book Report


My 9th Annual Book Report

NaNoWriMo is imminent once more. Methinks now is a perfectly auspicious time to take stock of how I’m doing thus far with my publishing endeavors and to ask my friends which of my in-progress or in-my-head projects I should tackle exclusively for the month of November. I do this annually. The non-self-publishing industry has finally noticed that I exist, and I will publish an average of a book per year until 2095. I don’t know what my numbers will be then, but these are my numbers to date, in order of copies sold, completion percentage, and development stage in my brain, respectively:

Published (11):

The Emoji Haggadah: 3,022 copies sold. The haggadah, entirely translated into emojis. My biggest success; my coup de grace; my magnum opus, thus far. There is more in me, but this is my pinnacle to date. Well regarded, covered in media everywhere, including the apex: The New York Times, plus attention from popular bloggers, such as Naomi Nachman. People have tweeted excerpts of it with joy, which has given me joy. The Covid-19 pandemic couldn’t even halt its far reach. Yes, it’s a helluva conversation starter with complete strangers, and put me in touch with certain writers I admire. My favorite writer, A.J. Jacobs, sent me a postcard, thanking me for enriching his seder. That sent me over the moon. Finally, it’s in dozens of libraries all over the world, and that makes me deliriously happy. At last count: 53 libraries, in 19 states, and 8 countries.

Donald J. Trump Will You Please Go Now!: 897 copies sold. I ran into a huge rights issue when trying to publish this book in timely fashion for Election Day. I couldn’t possibly secure permissions for each of the photographs I used. My legal team advised that the only way around this, considering the time-crunch, was to give it away for free. So I did that. Dozens of copies are still downloaded weekly from dozens of book sites, and the Facebook page is filled with extraordinarily active, lively, angry, prurient sorts. What a strange success this has been.

The Shakespeare Haggadah: 368 copies sold. My 4th Haggadah (tying the record with the esteemed Dave Cowen) and my most successful and promising so far. So promising, in fact, that the publisher (Wicked Son, aptly named) is producing a second version with various enhancements and improvements. This book netted me my first live video interviews, available online for your viewing pleasure. The cover is well-appreciated and a real attention-grabber, and the editing staff remains super enthusiastic about the project. I found the perfect house for this one.

The Festivus Haggadah: 323 copies sold. A mash-up of the haggadah and everything Seinfeld, but especially the Festivus holiday. My 2nd-best-selling Haggadah. The creative part of my brain is constantly arguing with itself about which is the more creative endeavor, this or Emoji. It doesn’t matter who’s right. I win. This got a lot of good attention too, with more to come, as it’s of prime national pop-cultural interest. I even got an Amazon review from the mighty Dave Cowen (I’ve now mentioned him twice. What’s up with that?). Now that sure was somethin’.

The Coronavirus Haggadah: 313 copies sold. I’m shocked to have sold that many, as I gave it away for free upon publication. Why? Well, I wrote it – the haggadah as seen through the lens of the 2020(/1/2/3) pandemic, and featuring heaps of bittersweetness and sarcasm - in a frenzy, but very close to Passover, so I had no chance to get a proof copy with such little time left. So, free it was to the world (and I have no way of tracking how many folks grabbed the free version (, but I nevertheless created paid book and e-versions, whose proceeds entirely went to CDC Cares, who really, really needed it at the time. I also put a trackable version here: Lotsa folks apparently had it at their seder tables, and may there be no use for it ever again, except for a nostalgic laugh, amen.

Extracts From Noah’s Diary: 126 copies sold. Mark Twain wrote Extracts from Adam’s Diary, then followed up later with Eve’s Diary, then did not follow up any further, save for some parodies of Methuselah’s entries. This is where I came in; a sequel 100 years overdue. So big, it’s biblical. I was successful in having it reviewed by a small handful of book sites. I worked hard on the jokes, and strenuously on the research. It’s actually a giant d’var torah, and I feel my baby deserves more attention than it’s gotten. It is my first book ever to grace the New York Public Library’s shelves. I made it to Valhalla.

Zaidy’s War: 123 copies sold. As of this writing, the book is just 3 weeks old. It is my magnum opus, my family legacy, and it took me 19 years from beginning to end of the project. It is the story of my grandfather, who experienced mind-blowing travails during WWII, and somehow managed to serve 4 armies due to wildly unique circumstances. My wife called him the Forrest Gump of WWII, and he indeed was. He was present for the largest land battle in human history, and the final battle of the war, and in many unreal places before and after. Hopefully, by my next book report, I’ll be able to report on many other accolades and coverage. I do hope this will surpass anything I’ve ever done to date. Amsterdam Publishers is the ideal house for this work. They are the largest publisher of Holocaust literature in Europe, and I could not be happier with the relationship.

54 Runners, 54 Stories: The Tale of the 2012 200k JRunners Relay Race: 79 copies sold. JRunners lives on, but its signature sanctioned race is on hiatus, and I miss it. This is the chronicle of the last such race. I’m very proud of the dogged efforts I put into this one, in pursuing the stories. I targeted an entire very-niche market, and sold it to nearly all of them. A sequel might perhaps one day be written, but it likely requires a full relay to be deserving of that, and a return to the glory days. It could happen. May we return speedily to those days, Amen.

The Year of Bad Behavior: Bearing Witness to the Uncouthiest of Humanity: 74 copies sold. The things that people moan and groan about concerning their fellow man, especially on Facebook, are all covered here. Every time I revisit the manuscript, it feels so current. Proud of this one too.

A Conversation on The Way: 70 copies sold. An imagined conversation between a believer and a skeptic on a morning walk to synagogue, based on my own experiences. Reviewed on several blogger sites, featured at the YU Seforim Sale, and nicely received. I especially enjoy the artwork by Dena Szpilzinger, the first hired professional of my writing career. I’m hoping to afford other services, like editing and publicity, though I am grateful to my volunteers, particularly Messrs. Michael Sharf, Jeff Goodstein, and Yaakov Sash.

Bush II, Book I: 67 copies sold. The King-James-esque telling of the 2nd Bush’s 1st term. The world has found this book, my first-born. It exists somewhere that’s getting attention. Kindle versions are constantly finding themselves into strangers’ hands. Every time 9/11 approaches, I get a spike in sales. No coincidence that my first book has the fewest sales, but there’s no shame in that at all. This got my feet wet, and I learned – and continue to learn – a lot about the business.

In progress (13):

Bush II, Book II: Manuscript 47% complete. I haven’t tackled this in a while, but it’s time to return. The attention the first book is getting warrants this. Also, I really didn’t think I wouldn’t get the sequel out before Obama’s tenure was complete. Trump, Book I would be a nutball project to tackle. Biden, Book I would be incoherent. Ah har har har.

The Year of Bad Behavior II: More Scalawags, Dirtbags, Bullyrags, and Lollygags: Manuscript 30% complete. I also must return to this as well. The format differs from its prequel – grievances are ordered by category, rather than written as diary entries – and I think I’ll have an interesting product when complete. NJTransit’s stupidities, on their own, warrant a complete spin-off.

A Conversation on the Conversation: Manuscript 20% complete. The first book is begging for a sequel, but it’s going to take lots of work. The quasi-fictional idea is that the original becomes a best-seller, and I’m invited to a talk show to discuss. This is the hard part. I and my interviewer pore over the original manuscript point for point, and I also will include rebuttals to my arguments that I received (in real life) from readers. It’s daunting, big big, but I’ll get it done somehow.

Hilchos Goyish Yomim Tovim for Yiden: Manuscript 13.5% complete. For the past few years, I’ve published “halachic” overviews of secular holidays on Particularly, targeting Jewish folk who really want to immerse themselves in American culture. I’ve also peppered Facebook with random “halachic” ideas for all sorts of secular situations. It’s silly, but the funniness is appreciated. Why not dedicate a whole book to the farce? I identified 37 generally known American major and sub-sub-major holidays. Since I’ve written “piskei halacha” on 5 of these days, including the venerated “snow day,” I’m already 13.5% done! And yes, the title’s a bit crass. I’ll work on that.

The Man Who Read 1,001 Books Before He Died: 11.6% complete. You know those popular 1,001 xxx to xxx Before You Die books? Specifically, the Books to Read one? I thought it would be a neat trick to actually read those 1,001 books and write about the experience. This was what I NaNoWriMoed eight years ago, and I’ve been fully immersed since. Whether you measure my status by the number of books I’m up to (116) or the pace at which I’ll read them (I’m scheduled to finish in November 2081. I should live so long!), the number is 11.6%. I’ve got a long way to go, but the progress will be steady. There is no question it’ll be the largest work I’ll ever put out. Not even eight years in, it stands at 68,000 words/242 pages.

Forty Runners Less One: Stories and Glories From the 2013 200k JRunners 200k Relay Race: Manuscript 11% complete. I collected the runner stories and also conducted interviews when needed. I also collected stories for the 2014 version of the race, and actually got 25% of the pack’s write-ups. Same for 2015, but with a drastically dwindled amount, and for 2016, with even smaller numbers, and for 2017, with almost nothing. Alas, there has been no relay since. It looks like the runners are more eager to contribute, as mentioned above, when the relay is a full one. I think I have to pull that off before I pull a book sequel off, in which all past year’s entries that I have on file will be included. I’ll target the same niche group as the original, and hopefully attract more runners to the great race.

And Mordechai Wrote: 3% complete. My paternal grandfather’s memoirs. The man for whom I am named recorded his thoughts about losing his wife and three children in WWII, surfacing from the ashes with his faith intact, marrying my grandmother, rebuilding a home with six children, then suffering for years from lung cancer until his death at age 47. He called the collection Vayichtav Mordechai, and it is entirely written in Hebrew. I started the translation six NaNoWriMos ago, but admittedly fell off the wagon when I found a new job, plus I jumped into other writing projects. I have to re-shift priorities and jump back on the wagon again. I’ll revisit after I complete my next haggadah, and hope to produce this before the end of next year, or, preferably before next Yom HaShoah.

The Man Who Read 1,001 Children’s Books Before He Died: 2.5% complete. Something tells me I might actually die before I read all 1,001 grown-up books that I need to before I die. Maybe no, maybe yes, so I need a sub-project I might actually finish. This might do the trick, and also kills two birds with one stone: My wife has been after me for years to produce a children’s book (she says my Trump book doesn’t count). The only way I can really understand the mechanics of one is to, well, read them, all. So that’s what I’m doing, and I’m chronicling the experience. I’m barely out of the gate at this point, with only 25 read so far, but this will gather a head of steam quickly, I gather.

The <classified> Haggadah. 2% complete. The only hint I can give you is that I must break my haggadah tie with Dave Cowen (3 times now!). The only clue I can give you is that I’m targeting another pop culture demographic. That’s it. That’s all your getting. I must have this out before next Passover, so I’m heavily leaning towards NaNoWriMo for this one.

My First 37 Marathons: The Running Story of a Midpack Runner: Putting all my marathon running reports together. Hoping I can find them all. I wonder if I’ll be successful. If I can actually find them, collating should be a snap. Everything’s already been written! This would include the as-yet-unwritten reports that I have all notes for, and would exclude the Makeshift Marathon I ran when Sandy canceled NYC in 2012, and also the thirteen ultras I’ve run. Or maybe they shouldn’t be excluded at all, as I’ve run 50 marathons-or-longer. I’ll think about it.

Children's Book #1 with Classified Title: I'm trying to write a parody of a famous children's book. My fresh angle is to switch the antagonist and protagonist’s points of view. First draft did not pass muster with my Editor-in-Chief. Not creative enough. Will submit new drafts shortly.

Children's Book #2 with Classified Title: I'm trying to write a parody of a less famous  - albeit more notorious - children's book. First draft did not pass muster with my Editor-in-Chief. Too tawdry. Will submit new drafts shortly.

The Knish’s Best 192 Articles of the First 192 it’s Published: I launched the first issue 19 years ago, and released issue #32, the last one more than a few years back. The time may have arrived – as with my Marathon project above – to house them all in a single compendium, as a way of celebrating the site’s 6th anniversary of its Bar Mitzvah. Everything’s written, I just need to write an intro and a timeline and do a pile of formatting. Shouldn’t be a big deal. Problem, though, would be how to share revenue with all the writers. What would be a fair system?

In my head (20):

How the Countries Got Their Shapes: I read a wonderful book entitled How the States Got Their Shapes, by Mark Stein. It’s exactly what you think it is. I did the best research I could, and could find not a single book that covers the concept on a global scale. Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall, comes close. I could be the man who could fill that gap. I would enjoy the research very much. I wonder if I’d have to ask the author of the inspiration for permission before proceeding.

The Israel/Gaza War: The 102nd Bloodiest Conflict in the World in 2014: Amid the swaths of the myriad piles of articles I read on the topic, one little factoid stood out to me out of all others: that little statistic that I think would be an alarming book title. Because Israel has so many challenges coming from all directions, it also – as a silver lining of sorts – creates opportunities for people concerned for her to battle on her behalf. Perhaps I could contribute in this way, by helping to focus attention away from Israel and towards at least 101 other places on earth that deserve more international concern and intervention. I would have to come face to face with a lot of evil, though, plus the research would be difficult, and the data murky. This might be a calling I might have to answer, though.

Territorial Disputes: A Primer on the 600 Other International Land Quarrels No One Knows or Cares About, But Should: Along the same lines as above: a very long story, very short: somehow a miracle happened that the president of a publishing company invited me to present to his committee - that publishes books in a “Things You Need To Know” motif - my thoughts around how only Israel – and perhaps Cyprus/Turkey and India/Pakistan – gets vilified over its land issues with its neighbors. My project was declined, but it’s being kept on the burner. If they won’t go with it, perhaps I’ll strike out on my own (something I’m familiar with). As above, this might be an opportunity to shine the spotlight on an area more deserving, and away from where it is currently. Which project would be worthier? Hmmm…

Children's Book #3 with Classified Title: Oh man, another antagonist/protagonist switching parody idea hit me, following a visit to a noted children’s author’s museum. This is how I intentionally seek inspiration. It works! I’ll be fleshing this one out too.

Children's Book #4 with Classified Title: I was inspired by a series of photographs that I took of my children. My Editor-in-Chief has some great ideas about spinning it into a bedtime story. I’m pondering the text, and will need an illustrator to convert the pictures we have into artwork for the book.

Parenting Book with Classified Title: There are many parenting books out there. Most of them are garbage. I have an idea for one with a healthy dose of humor and a large general twist. My everyday parenting keeps inspiring ideas for the project. I think I’m to begin putting pen-to-paper on this shortly.

The Inevitables: A Gladwellian idea I have about people who spend their entire lives in pursuit of a specific career, switch to something else on a dime, and become wildly successful despite a complete lack of practice or the 10,000 hours Gladwell himself talks about.

Universals: The Differences and Similarities Between Global Cultures: I’m fascinated by this. There are things that are the same 99% of everywhere (basic utensils, green is go, cash for service, elemental human needs), and things that are different 99% of everywhere (voting systems, traffic handling, cordiality, attire, interpretation of freedom, hand gestures, justice). I’d like to explore. I’ve been traveling more lately on behalf of my corporation, and my cultural experiences have expanded, as has my curiosity.

Speakers of the Torah: My first actual sefer-esque idea. While researching my Noah book, it struck me how little dialogue God has with his direct primordial creations. Noah never speaks to God. Adam speaks two utterances to his Creator. Eve speaks to Him more than her husband does. There is also limited dialogue between man and man. I read a discourse by the famous Nechama Leibowitz on the dialogues of the biblical Joseph. She made fascinating conclusions, and it left me intrigued. I think this idea is worth exploring in full, and I wonder where the research will take me. I focused on this for NaNoWriMo 2019 and fantastic statistical revelations really popped out as I went elbow-deep into the text. I might have something here. I have Torah in me. I should get it out. I won’t lose focus on the grandfather memoirs, promise.

Things that Drive Me Crazy About the Talmud: My second actual even more sefer-esque idea. My shadchan self-published a sefer recently, borne out of notes he kept while learning through TaNaCH over a 15-year period. They were truly original thoughts that he compressed into a single, impressive volume. I realized while reading that our thought-lines were quite similar, especially in regards to the myriad unanswered questions – and potentially original ones – that I had about the gemorah, in which I’m currently immersed in my third cycle of learning. I have begun to keep notes, and here too, I will look back after a time and see if I have anything worthy of being recorded in a single large volume. Apologies, I don’t have a more polite title at this time – and maybe I’ll just go with it.

If These Objects Could Talk. I was inspired by the candlesticks my wife inherited from her great-grandmother. The family took it with them when on the run, and in hiding, during WWII. I was also inspired by a similar story of the late Ba’al Hamaor, Rav Meir Amsel, whose family brought their SHaS with them through all their difficult war travels, resulting in a family tradition for every Bar Mitzvah boy to do his first learning out of this said SHaS. It strikes me that if these objects could talk about their experiences and journeys, it would make a fascinating, illuminating, enriching read. A book called The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edumnd de Waal covers very similar ground. I would publicly post a call for stories, and would probably get some very interesting responses. The more I ponder this one, the more worthy it seems.

Where Stuff Comes From. Did you know that 28.5% of the world’s beer comes from Mexico? Did you know that 30% of the world’s coconuts come from Indonesia? Madagascar grows 41% of the world’s vanilla. China produces 67% of the world’s cement. Spain makes 75% of the world’s olive oil. Isn’t all that fascinating? Wouldn’t it be interesting to know where exactly everything comes from? It’s interesting to me. I’d buy a book to read about it. Methinks I have to write it so I can read it.

Where U.S. Stuff Comes From. Did you know that 60% of the USA’s cranberries come from Wisconsin? Did you know that 60% of the USA’s sweet potatoes come from North Carolina? 99% of artichokes are grown in California. 100% (!!!) of sorghum, rice, soybeans, eggs, dairy, pork, chicken and turkey meat is made right at home. As a matter of fact, 87% of what Americans eat and drink is produced on home base. Wouldn’t this be fun to explore too? Wouldn’t it be fun for curious sorts from all countries to know where their stuff comes from? If the answer is yes, I’d be happy to have 100% of this information come from me.

A Brief History of Every One of the 3,000 Haggadot Ever Written. Three Passovers ago, I was commissioned by the editors of The Jewish Book Council to write A Brief History of the Haggadah ( The research led me to various and fascinating places. I covered 2% of the total by citing 60 haggadot in their relevance and contexts. Upon completion, I thought: wouldn’t it be wild to get my hands – or my eyes, through museum glass – on each and every one of them? Wouldn’t that be an awesome collection, and adventure? Vanessa L. Ochs recently published The Passover Haggadah: A Biography, which covers similar ground, but my idea might be more ambitious, and certainly more peripatetic. This would need massive travel funding, though. Just an idea for now.

Something New Under the Sun. Catchy title, no? You know how sometimes you’re learning Gemara, and you swear something scientific they’re discussing has the credit given to some European astronomer, like 500 years later? What’s up with that? The naming of the 7 planets in the Talmud is one example. Dabbling in Game Theory is another. There are many others. One part of the book would be giving proper credit where it’s due. Another would be to highlight that something scientific, with credit centuries later, was preceded with a Jewish discoverer, but the true origin might go back even further. I’d need a PhD in history or something to do this, but if I think of enough excellent examples, this might be worth fleshing out.

Biography idea. I admire certain people, and I’d like to tell their stories. But who exactly am I to do that, and why would anyone want to partake from my offering? Well, I’m arrogant enough to believe that I’ve come up with a novel, immersive way of telling a life story. Before I’d even begin, I’d first have to be actually making a living as a writer, because the concept would require enormous amounts of travel and time away from family. Let’s get to where this is even financially viable before I embark.

Obama, Book I: Must Finish Bush II, Book II first.

Obama, Book II: I never thought there’d be a sequel. I have a lot to learn.

Trump, Book I: OMG, do I have to? Previous presidents paced themselves with a scandal per year. This guy created one every time he spoke with his mouth or thumbs. I would never get done with writing such a thing.

Biden, Book I: See three paragraphs directly above.

When you let me know which project I should tackle – or stay focused on - for November, also please let me know what my grade is on my report.

Oh, and feel free to avail yourself to a book of mine or two (I just passed the 5,462 copies sold mark. Whoa.) at 50%-75% off the MSRP. I'll have several more items on my straining bookshelf for you very soon, but for now, truly, the lineup of 11 is quite colorful, and pleasing to the eye – at least to mine:

Man, I also gotta resurrect, write my next surname article (It’s been how many years?), catch up on my travelogues and marathon run write-ups…

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Zaidy's War Launches Today; The Most Important Book I've Ever Written

Friends, for the past several months, I've kept you apprised on the progress of my latest book; I've asked for your opinion; I made a contest to decide the book cover: I shared all relevant news; I incorporated all your feedback into the manuscript.

But the work on the book goes back far beyond mere months. The translation of the original interview with Zaidy alone took 2 years, and the work actually began - with that first interview on a Thursday night - 19 and a half years ago.

All that work brings us to today, the official launch date of my labor of love: Zaidy's War.

My grandfather's story involves serving four armies under wildly unique circumstances, being present for both the largest land invasion in human history and the final battle of WWII, avoiding cannibalism under pain of death, surviving to walk 1,600 miles to his home country of Romania, emigrating to Israel, surviving the pummeling of his new community of Haifa during the Six Day War, finally settling in peace in the U.S. where he served as a chef for 40 years, and finished Shas 14 times while he was doing all that. He passed away 8 years ago at the age of 95.

And here it is:

Have a look.
While you're having a look, "Look Inside."
While you're looking inside, avail yourself to any of the three versions currently available.
While you're availing yourself, please consider reviewing it. That's where the bread meets the butter.

The publisher, Liesbeth Heenk at Amsterdam Publishers, has been extraordinarily professional and supportive. Her aim is to tell all 6 million stories, and I'm proud to contribute this one to the expanding canon. She should be blessed.

Please read this beautiful LinkedIn article on the book, which is hopefully the first of many to come:

I thank you all for your advice, love, interest, readership, and reviewership. I hope the book gives you hope. I hope my grandfather's name will live forever.

Thank you kindly,
Martin Bodek