Monday, February 9, 2009

Boom, down. More Books.

I have a friend who can't believe the books I read. "What war book are you reading now," she'll ask. "Lots of people dying in them?"

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.


Sunshine said...

Those who don't study history are bound to repeat it ... they say!

I like learning social history, political history,
women's history (!), but somebody else can scope out the strategies and blood of wars.

Of course all recorded history has bias.. but historical fiction drives me nuts because I keep wanting to know what is relatively real history ... and what is just made up by the writer.

So.. cheers for you.. reading! and reading what you like to read.

Kelly said...

It's kind of sad to think, but I believe if I had not been forced to read all those books in school, that I would enjoy them so much more. I hate the way our teachers beat a book to death... I'd rather just read it and be content with the meaning I find on my own.

akshaye said...

I found out about 2-3 years ago that I really enjoy reading history and historic biographies. You read quite extensively! I wish I had a better breadth with my reading. I tend to get interested in a topic and then read exhaustively on that alone.

Just_because_today said...

How about One hundred years of solitude? it mixes past and present, fiction and reality. A fantastic book Novel prize

Kate said...

Just finished Big Boy Rules about the mercenaries in Iraq. This book was written by a reporter. His perspective is a bit narrow since his time with these people was limited but it was a fascinating and sad read.

Dori said...

I haven't read any of those books, but I did watch Demi Moore in The Scarlet Letter. I have about 10 books I'm trying to read right now. I don't misplace books, but I'm always misplacing my glass at a party. ;-)

skoshi said...

I love non-fiction books. Read more than the average bear and sometimes wonder when it's too much. Thanks for the book reviews.

Rhea said...

I liked 'The Things They Carried' better than 'In the Lake of the Woods' but both are beautifully written. You know who you'd enjoy reading? Paul Bowles. Very clear and cold writing. Also brilliant. There's 'The Sheltering Sky' but also do read his short stories.

Rhea said...

Also read any books by Miami Herald reporter Carl Hiaasen - he writes very funny and well-written mysteries set in Florida. Protagonists are usually smarter-than-average regular Joes with a cynical side.

Rhea said...

OK, last comment on this I swear: If you haven't already, read John Toland's 'The Rising Sun.' Won the Pulitzer in 1971. Toland wrote about the WWII's Pacific theatre from the Japanese point of view. I tried reading Toland's biography of Hitler as a kid, but I couldn't get into it.