I don't think she thinks it's a good thing I read histories and political tracts. "When was the last time you read a fiction book," she asked. I had to think awhile. October, it was. The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry. A great movie and a very good book. I'm currently reading another McMurtry book, Terms of Endearment, but I keep misplacing it. My 1100 page Korean War history, having so much more heft, is so much easier to keep track of.
I always list a classic American novel in my profile book section. Two years ago it was my favorite American book of them all, The Scarlet Letter, a book filled with gorgeous writing. Last year it was Moby Dick. Call me Ishmael. This year's favorite is The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald could certainly write. I love his Tender is the Night, too.
I pay homage to great biography too. Two years ago it was Russell Baker's Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography, Growing Up. Last year it was U.S. Grant's Personal Memoirs, the best war memoir ever written. This year I'm listing Goodbye, Darkness, William Manchester's memoir of the Pacific War. A Marine who was grievously wounded on Okinawa (a Japanese shell burst nearby and shrapnel and bone fragments from the man blown apart next to him were driven into his body), thirty years later he traveled back across those gory Marine battlefields, the Canal, Tarawa, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa. The range of emotions that passes through this journalist as he describes his younger self experiencing his first lay, his first drunk, his first death, his first kill, is incredible and unforgettable. My father was a Marine at Peleliu and Okinawa.
Replacing J.M. Coetzee's book Waiting for the Barbarians as just great literature is Tim O'Brien's novel In The Lake of the Woods. I first became enamored with O'Brien's writing when I read The Things They Carried, his Vietnam opus. O'Brien was there and walked the walk. He explained the grunts' war effort thusly:
They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier's greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment. They crawled into tunnels and walked point . . . . It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards.
After reading this elegant book, I read In The Lake of the Woods. It is a terrific book, a puzzling, haunting mystery, a whodunit love story about relationships gone bad that has no resolution, only suggestions and suppositions, where events in the past blur into the present and may, or may not, point to the future. A brilliant work in my opinion.