Thursday, January 3, 2008

So many books, so little time.

As I re-work my Profile for this new year, I note that I created five categories in my Favorite Books section. This is in addition to listing, at the end, the most recent books I read in fiction (Red Planet by Heinlein), biography or history (Grant As Military Commander by Marshall-Cornwall) and poly sci or general (Salt by Kurlansky). The permanent categories are drama (Othello, discussed in an earlier post), American classic (The Scarlet Letter), enduring classic (L'Etranger, discussed in my last post), history (Hell In a Very Small Place) and biography (Growing Up).

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is my favorite American classic, bar none. What a tale of morality so richly told! The hypocrites it describes (the world is filled with hypocrites), especially the Reverend Dimsdale, are timeless and endless. Hester Prynne is the very dignified "sinner" who puts them all to shame with the beauty of her character (her inner self). Her life is heroic.

Hell In a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall is the best war book ever written, bar none. It is about the siege of Dien Bien Phu, where the arrogant French got their asses handed to them in 1954 by the Viet Minh (forerunners to the Viet Cong and the NVA). This battle, which ended with the surrender of a large French garrison in a fortified valley west of Hanoi, ended French colonialism in Indochina. Extraordinary bravery was exhibited on both sides during the contest. This book was a must-read for all American officers during the long NVA siege of the Marine fortified base at Khe Sanh in 1968. The outcome wasn't the same for the Americans in their battle, but American preoccupation with the besieged Marines (where the use of tactical nuclear weapons was considered) provided the diversion North Vietnam needed to have such success with its Tet Offensive.

Growing Up, the Pulitzer Prize (1983) winning autobiography of the early life in Baltimore of New York Times columnist Russell Baker, is a gem. Read it.


Bex said...

You forgot the classic novel, "Going After Cacciato" by Tim O'Brian. Won the National Book Award. It is excellent.

jeanne said...

What about The Longest Day? Love that book.

oh soo many books is right. I'll put hell in a very small place on my list. I could do with a re-read of all the others. I'm sure L'etranger would make a lot more sense to me now than it did when i read it in 10th grade.

peter said...

GAC is a great book alright, but The Things They Carried by T'OB is even better in my estimation. Best of all by O'Brien is In The Lake of the Woods, a whodunnit with a war backdrop that is riveting and haunting. And good as The Longest Day is, I think A Bridge Too Far is Cornelius Ryan's best book. Oh how the British commandos defended their end of the last bridge into Germany in 1944 before they were finallyh overwhelmed. So many books, so little ...