Browse versus Recommendation, the Showdown

I have long been a vocal advocate for the browse. I like to get up there in the stacks and look around and just see what I find. I always find something good. I never went up to the stacks and came back empty handed. I may have returned with a book on the social life of crows when I went up there to find something on film, but that’s the beauty of it.

Recently though, I got a great example of how a good recommendation can be equally satisfying. It started with 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah.

It’s a title that is hard to resist. I came across it in the stacks and raced through it in a few days. Joel Chasnoff’s story chronicles the ups and downs during his search for martial glory and meaning during his enlistment in the Israeli Defense Forces. What is it like serving in a foreign military and living as a new immigrant? With all the potential themes to address, nationalism and patriotism, identity and Judaism, it seems like the book is a can’t miss, especially when some of it takes place along a tense border with Lebanon.  After reading the book I felt I knew Israeli society a smidge better than when I started. And I enjoyed the ride, following Chasnoff along the ups and downs, and more downs, and down again, of his story. As a former soldier myself, some of his story really resonated, while other parts were somewhat wince inducing. But above all, Chasnoff’s honesty will earn a reader’s respect.

I was talking the book over with a librarian and he hit me with this recommendation, Company C: An American’s Life as a Citizen Soldier in Israel, by Haim Watzman. The book is a tour de force. I have never used the phrase tour de force, and I don’t plan on making it a habit, but there are few ways to succinctly describe this book’s intense ability to draw the reader into Haim Watzman’s world.  The narrative switches seamlessly through the engrossing details of the daily routine of reservist soldiers on deployments through Watzman’s own complex reflections on the policies and politics behind his adopted country’s actions in the occupied territories.  Watzman doesn’t agree with everything he has to see or do, but neither does he completely agree with his country’s critics. Wherever you stand on these complex issues, you will respect Watzman’s honesty and his poignant thoughtfulness. Personally, it brought home to me how thoroughly human these problems are. Whatever governments and groups may do or say, on the ground real people are dealing with it, on both sides. After reading Watzman’s book I feel much better introduced to the complexities of life in Israel. The book is a must read.

A book found on a browsing expedition leads to a conversation which leads to an incredible recommendation.  What’s going to be next? Will browsing get completely upstaged? I hope not. But I certainly do have a healthy appreciation for the recommendation.



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