Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “war”

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review Supplement (#s 27-43)

In all of my reading and writing it would be easy to say that I’m thinking too much about books that are meant to be little dollops of entertainment. That may well be true, books may just be meant as minor diversions for over-stimulated minds. But through the past year I realized how the various reading role models I have had in my life taught me how to read, how to love reading and how to use reading to think.

So, after I finished my half-cannonball back in August I kept right on reading and thinking. Balancing all that work with the job I’m paid to do was a little difficult and I only just finished reviews for all of the books read in that span. Rather than reprinting some or all of those reviews here, I wanted to give any readers of this site access to my other site where they can read the complete reviews of various books that might interest you. (If you or someone you know–particularly an administrator–believe this is in someway a misuse of the Cannonball Read site, I sincerely apologize and will remove it ASAP.) Take a look, click around and see what you think of everything else I managed to read this year.

All reviews (plus other older reviews and fancy blog style shenanigans at The Scruffy Rube

Post 1 Book Club Books:

#27–The Unbearable Bookclub for Unsinkable Girls, by Julie Shumacher (2 stars)

#28–Frozen by Mary Casanova (3 stars)

#29–Matched by Allie Condie (2 stars)

#29.5–The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind  by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon) (2 stars)

#30–A Strange Place to Call Home by Marilyn Singer (illustrations by Ed Young) (4 stars)

Post 2: Mock Caldecott Award Candidates

#30.25–Oh No, by Candace Flemming (illustrations by Eric Rohman) (4 stars)

#30.5–Words Set me Free, by Lisa Cline-Ransome (illustrations by James E. Ransome) (4 stars)

#30.75–House Held up By Trees, by Ted Koosner (illustrations by Jon Klassen) (2 stars)

#31–Extra Yarn, by Mac Bennett (illustrations by Jon Klassen) (5 stars)

Post 3: Mock Newberry Award Candidates

#32–Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis (3 stars)

#33–Glory Be, by Augusta Scattergood (1 star)

#34–The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate (4 stars)

#35–Wonder, by RJ Palacio (5 stars)

Post 4: Mock Printz Award Candidates

#36–Never Fall Down, by Patricia McCormick (4 stars)

#37–Code Name: Verity, by Elizabeth Fein (1 star)

#38–Year of the Beasts, by Cecil Castelluci (art by Nate Powell) (5 stars)

#39–Every Day, by David Levithan (4 stars)

Post 5: Books with lessons of the year

#40–Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (5 stars)

#41–Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor (5 stars)

#42–A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster (5 stars)

#43–Cinder, by Marissa Meyer (5 stars)

Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #35, War by Sebastian Junger

“War is a lot of things and it’s useless to pretend that exciting isn’t one of them.” -Sebastian Junger

I don’t know how to write about this book.

It took me long enough to even a read it – over a month. That’s unusual for me; I am a freakishly fast reader. But while reading this one, I had to stop every few pages just to stare into space. When I read, I tend to dog-ear pages that have a phrase or a paragraph that stuck out to me, that affected me in some way. This is what War looked like after I was finished it:

Sebastian Junger’s War was written in tandem with a documentary he along with Tim Hetherington filmed called Restrepo. It’s about a platoon of men in the Korengal Valley, one of the  most dangerous postings in the US military. It is named for the remote outpost at which the platoon spent most of the time; the outpost itself is named for Doc Restrepo, the platoon medic who was killed early in the deployment. According to the website for the film, the goal of it was nothing more or less than to make viewers feel as if they had just been through a 90 minute deployment. At this, both the film and the book succeed.

After finishing the book, I watched the documentary. None of it was a surprise to me; I had memorized every lethal gunshot and IED blast and death, read them over and over again. As a result, I saw most of the violence coming before it played out onscreen – a particularly odd phenomenon when you consider that these are things that happened. Those IED’s were real, those gunshots killed some and didn’t kill others, but won them medals. Waiting for them was strange, but probably no stranger than it felt to be there waiting for them, not knowing for sure if they were coming.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about war – at least modern war, the kind that’s waged with planted bombs and camouflaged snipers – it’s that the waiting is the worst part. It’s not the firefight, it’s the waiting for the first shot. It’s not the explosion, it’s the waiting for your tire to roll over the wrong patch of ground. Even worst is when that first shot doesn’t come, when the patch of ground doesn’t blow up, and the moment of waiting stretches out for an eternity. Wait long enough, and you’ll spend your entire lifetime waiting for that shot, that explosion – long after you’ve been deployed, after you’ve come back, after you’ve had kids and watched them grow up and fight their own battles.

I don’t know how to write about that. I don’t  know how to convey that distinctly awful fact of war, the high stakes boredom, the monotonous dread. I don’t know how to write about the adrenaline of combat, and what happens when it’s over. I don’t know how to write about aftermaths.

Luckily for all of us, Sebastian Junger does. It takes a lot of balls to embed in the Korengal Valley; it takes even more to write about what happens there honestly, with no agenda. Junger’s gift for observation is well-documented, but it’s perhaps used to its best conclusion here, when its applied to watching men at war. The emotional terrain he covers is unfamiliar to most of us, not only because we haven’t lived it but because we’re not interested in knowing about it. When one’s country is at war with an all-volunteer military force, it’s much easier to ignore it, or refer to those who are in it as one homogeneous group – “the troops” – then to actually consider the massive emotional debt we’ve asked these men and women to rack up – a debt that, if we are honest with ourselves, we have little to no intention of helping them pay off. Even when writing about war, many of us ignore this. We write about the cost of war. We write about strategy, and whether it’s working. We write about the process of those in command. We write about PTSD and suicide statistics, at best. But we don’t often write about the direct experience of those on the ground.

This is not an option for Junger: he mostly foregoes strategy and statistics, in favor of direct observance of the emotion of war. He covers them all: the addictive appeal of combat, the intense bonds made within a platoon, the insane boredom of a quiet few months on the heels of so many loud ones, the wracking, relentless survivor’s guilt when you lose one of your own.

I don’t know how to write about this any better than the men who lived it knew how to talk about it.

At the end of Restrepo, there’s a scene in which the camera cuts from one man’s face to the next. It’s devoid of any music; just men staring, after being asked to talk about an experience that they will never be able to forget or replicate.

“That’s the problem when they come home…not necessarily that they come back traumatized – which some do – but that they miss it.”

Recommended For: Everyone.

When to Read: Now. 

Listen With: Nothing.

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #49 The Fall of Neskaya by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross

The Fall of Neskaya is Book One of the Clingfire Trilogy that Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote with the help of Deborah J. Ross before her death in 1999.  It is set during an era of conflict and strife when the world of Darkover has been fractured into the Hundred Kingdoms. Many of them are struggling to hold their own against warring neighbours.  Amid this backdrop of pain and conflict, Bradley and Ross weave the tale of two star-crossed lovers who must endure incredible trials and tribulations on their own before they can be together.  It also explores the incredible power and destructive potential of Clingfire and other Laran manufactured weapons, the horrors of which eventually lead to the formation of the famous Darkover Compact… where all battles must be solved one sword to another at close range.

The ban on distance weapons that made Darkover novels so unique, especially in the later part of the planet’s chronology, becomes far easier to understand as the novel progresses. The deft touches of these two talented writers explore what happens when psionic produced “weapons of mass destruction” are used by a power-seeking tyrant and the forces that hope to oppose him.  With so much loss of life and land… can any side truly say that their actions were the more just?  After reading this first novel of the trilogy, it is easy to see why the Compact was established and the Darkover culture grew up to firmly believe that anyone seeking to kill another must risk an equal share in being hurt or killed themselves.

Perhaps it was watching the nightly news and scenes of the incredible destruction and deaths occurring in Syria, while the world seems to stand by and watch, that made reading this novel more powerful to me than I expected.  The characters are as rich and believable as one expects from Bradley, yet perhaps a bit softer in places as Ross helped her mentor bring these last few tales about her incredible world to life.  I discovered this paperback novel in the shed while cleaning a few years ago.  I must have picked it up to read and then lost it, so it went onto my bookcase and got buried behind the other Bs.  After reading Hastur Lord, the final novel that Ross created with Bradley that was recently released, I discovered this one placed in sequence with my other Darkover novels.  I tried to look for the other 2 in the trilogy at a bookstore in Fredericton this weekend, only to discover that the local Chapters store did not stock a SINGLE book by this prolific and enduring author!  Yikes!  I will check our local library and terrific used bookstore here in town before I get too much farther into the chronology of Darkover and forget key details.

Paperback format, 557 pages, published in 2001 by DAW Books.

Siege’s #CBR4 #26: War by Sebastian Junger

In which Siege tries to understand war, and also thanks the USA’s service members for Memorial Day.

Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #18, The Ticking is the Bomb by Nick Flynn

This will not be a normal book review, because The Ticking is the Bomb is not a normal book. It’s strange and untended, more of an oddly strung-together selection of thoughts, loosely bound by common themes like state-sponsored torture, suicide (whether immediate or by tiny increments), and impending fatherhood. I picked it up for one reason, and that is that the title. The Ticking is the Bomb is the only phrase I’ve ever read to give voice to what was, for me, an ineffable concept that I desperately needed to, for lack of a better word, eff. The phrase comes from a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk to explain why it is a mistake to say that the rain is falling. “What is rain, if it is not falling? What is wind, if it is not blowing? The falling is the rain, the blowing is the wind.” Unspoken, but just as important for this modern age: the ticking is the bomb.

Not, interestingly, the explosion.

The way we wage war now has changed enormously, and not just for the common reasons experts cite; naturally, advanced technology has made it more complex, but what has also changed is the way we interact with it. The immediacy with which we receive information from our many battlegrounds is available to us. We know more now about war than we ever did, and strangely, it’s made us less interested.

The tipping point seems to have been the first Gulf War. Vietnam brought with it an unprecedented (and unwanted, for many people) level of access to the horrors of combat. We saw firsthand, for the first time, what war really was. It was children running down the street burning. It was the My Lai massacre. And we didn’t like it, so we protested. In 1990, this was not the case; despite even more access to information, we were only dimly interested in what was happening far away in Iraq and Kuwait. Perhaps this was because the Gulf War was kind of boring, as these things go: no draft, low body count, with none of the unity of purpose of World War II, or the mass outrage of Vietnam. It was a blip on our cultural radar. Then September 11th happened, and for a brief moment, all of America was united in its thirst for righteous vengeance, which fizzled almost immediately with the introduction of an actual war, in Afghanistan. Then, of course, Bush and his cronies convinced us into another baseless conflict, and the next ten years of history pretty much writes itself. We have now been at war for a decade, pretty much without noticing. The news keeps filtering out from both combat zones, but you have to sift through a bunch of other stuff to find it. Every once in a while, though, something explodes across our national consciousness, and perhaps the best example of this in the past decade was Abu Ghraib.

This is a somewhat embarrassing admission, but I had never seen the Abu Ghraib photos in their entirety before reading this book. When they came out, I was profoundly jaded about violence. I had just graduated high school in Israel, after having been forced to evacuate because of the Iraq war. My classmates and I dealt with it mostly by being nonchalant about the fact. A year later, and I was in no hurry to abdicate that nonchalance. I wasn’t interested in looking at pictures of horrible shit. I was done with horrible shit. I didn’t even realize I’d never seen them until I read this book, at which point I finally looked them up.

It was the masturbation one that did it – I’d seen half of it before, the half of it with Lynndie England smirking with a cigarette hanging out of her shit-eating mouth. But this was the first time I’d seen it where the other side wasn’t blurred out, the side with the prisoners with bags over their head being forced to masturbate. My boyfriend found me twenty minutes later, curled up on the couch, sobbing.

Nick Flynn had a similar reaction to mine, only without the 8 year delay. So he wrote about it. He was asked to interview some of the men who had been held captive in Abu Ghraib, the results of which make up the more harrowing scenes of the book. Not harrowing in the tension-filled sense of the word, but in the sense that you realize that these men in the pictures are human beings that still exist, that can go on Wikipedia just like I did and look up pictures of themselves being abused. One man originally thought he was the prisoner from the infamous “man on the box” photo. It turned out he wasn’t, which the media, being the bottom-dwellers they are, had a field day with. To me, though, that hypothetical was the most frightening part – that it would be possible to look down a row of men being heinously abused, and wonder which of them you are.

There’s more than just Abu Ghraib here, though. Vietnam shows up as well, in the form of Flynn’s ex-stepfather Travis, a Vietnam vet whom he eventually accompanies back to the site of the My Lai massacre. Travis meets a woman who lived through the massacre as a child by hiding under her mother’s dead body. He kneels down and kisses her hand, begs for forgiveness on behalf of him and his countrymen. It might sound a little fantastical, but a lot of people died that day, and there were a lot of people killing them. It’s not inconceivable that one of them survived to shake the hand of one of the men involved. There are pictures of the My Lai massacre too, and I found myself wondering if the woman in the book ever looked at them to find her mother, to try and pick out which in the field of dead civilians she was hiding beneath.

Lest you think the book is just about various scenes in our country’s history of torture, though, it’s not. Flynn talks a lot about his parents as well – his father, an alcoholic who struggles with homelessness throughout much of his life (his arrival at the homeless shelter where Nick Flynn worked at age 22 is the subject of his first book, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and the film upon which it is based, Being Flynn); his mother, who committed suicide at the age of 22; and his two competing love interests (though it feels reductive to call them that)  a lost soul named Anna, and Inez, which is a pseudonym for his longtime partner actress Lili Taylor, and the woman he eventually ends up with. Mostly, Flynn just seems to be trying very hard to come to terms with the sheer volume of darkness in the world at large and his world in particular, and to somehow reconcile that with the impending birth of his first child, Maeve Lulu. Maeve is the unspoken thread of most of the book, and it’s clear how much she ultimately changes Flynn’s perspective. She arrives, and he promptly gives up coming to a conclusion about these things: about war, about his family, and especially about torture.

I don’t have a kid, though, so I’m still struggling. The best I can come up with is this: war has always been awful. It has always involved torture, whether sanctioned or non-sanctioned. It has always destroyed, killing some and crippling, physically and emotionally, those who aren’t killed. That much has always been true, but it hasn’t always been tangible. The Vietnam War made it so, as did Abu Ghraib, and if you’re paying attention, so did today. At least three men were killed in action in Afghanistan today. One of them was thankfully not my cousin, but his three platoon mates are not so lucky. And my cousin will have to carry what happened with him, along with all the other weight that comes with being a soldier, fighting a war that everybody else wants to forget about.

When faced with a more complicated view of combat, absent the good guy-bad guy narrative of World War II, America has decided not to turn its back on war, but to turn its back on those who fight it. If we protest, we protest weakly, but mostly we just ignore. Every once in a while, there’s an explosion, something along the lines of Abu Ghraib, or My Lai, something that gets our attention. But most of the time there’s not, so we think about other things, content in our assumption that because there is no explosion, there is no bomb. Just ignore the ticking in the background. But the ticking, see – that’s the bomb.

rusha24’s #CBR review #7: Dust to Dust by Benjamin Busch

I found this book to be profoundly moving and a remarkably unique memoir, quite different from anything else in the genre I’ve read before. It is not one chronological or linear narrative, spanning Busch’s life thus far in a straightforward arc. Instead, being the “elemental” person that he introduces himself as in the prologue , Busch fashions each chapter around a different element: wood, bone, stone, blood, metal, water, dust, and more. Each chapter then takes the shape of an ellipse of sorts—starting usually with some piece of his childhood, then moving forward and through various scenes: a battle-ravaged village in Iraq, then to a street in Baltimore while shooting a scene as an actor for The Wire, then to his farmland in Michigan, and then curling back around to a bookending scene in the forest of his boyhood.

While this structure may take some getting used to, it doesn’t come off as muddled or confusing. It defies the reader’s attempt to fit each piece of Busch’s life together in a seamless plot, instead allowing one to breathe along with the pulses of the story. The book is very deliberately paced, meant to work as a meditation on childhood, on family, on loss, but mostly especially—on memory. As such, it seemed appropriate to me that it flows in such an unusual way, circling back and then leaping forward, clinging to the same scenes and emotions, in much the way our own memory works. The language itself is stunning, a fluid and lyrical prose, verging on poetic in places, and it’s almost unfathomable how this is Busch’s first published book. I think pretty much anyone who picks this book up will be glad they did, as long as they give themselves the time to fully immerse themselves in it, to be cast back to their childhood.  To remember.

Sophia’s #CBR4 Review #4 War by Sebastian Junger

“In a very crude sense the job of young men is to undertake the work that their fathers are too old for, and the current generation of American fathers has decided that a certain six-mile-long valley in Kunar Province needs to be brought under military control. Nearly fifty American soldiers have died carrying out those orders.”

Read the review here.

FDBluth’s #CBR4 Review #2: How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle by Gideon Rose

Wars are a quite paradoxical concept. It is a litany of violence and base ruthlessness, unbecoming of civilized societies, yet we try so hard to dress it up as one. We impose rules on our combatants and the enemy’s, drawing the line between a certain method of brutality against another, weighting this life and that, not only in the practical sense, but in the moral sense. We fight today, not because of instinctual needs and wants, but for lofty goals, vague and intangible goals, like democracy and peace and stability. We fight because we strive to be better men, only to drag ourselves through the mud.

Gideon Rose’s book, How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle does not seek to answer the question of why wars are started and fought, but more on the exact reasoning and implications of the process that leads America to end the wars and conflicts it has involved itself in for the last century, from World War I to the current quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a fascinating concept, a look back at how American policy has changed and stayed throughout history, trying to assemble the puzzle that is America’s foreign policy, and figure out what needs to be done for the future. It’s too bad the author happens to come off as a boring, overly-sophisticated twit.

It cannot be denied that Rose is more than qualified to write about the subject, with his experience as a member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, various teaching position of foreign policy at Princeton and Columbia, and his current tenure as the editor of Foreign Affair. However, he comes off from his writing as a pompous man with a hard-on for ten-dollar words and contempt for the uninformed. He expects his readers to fully know the history behind it all, choosing only to analyze the implications and the glimpses of perceived reasons behind certain actions, choosing only to clarify an astounding amount of facts via endnotes referring to official documents and a sizable explanation of the subject. It is not uncommon to see about eighty footnotes throughout a certain chapter, which begs the question of why Rose couldn’t have simply taken the time in the book to inform its readers. It all comes off as exclusionary, a certain amusement-park restriction of “you-must-know-this-much-to-enter”, which seems counterproductive to a book meant to educate.

Rose’s neutral tone doesn’t help matters, either. It is admirable how consistently Rose keeps his book objective, focusing only on the plain facts and the reasoning behind it all, while still unfailing to mention the various opinionated theories regarding the subject and discussing their pros and cons. It does make for a broad view, one that seems appropriate for a book of this scope, even though certain facts (that Rose considers important to the point) does get repeated quite frequently to the point of redundancy. The problem is that this robs the book of any personality, failing to hold interest of any readers for far too long. It becomes a chore to read, a lecture that never ends, because it continues on as long as you choose to read. I understand Rose’s intention, of keeping an objective tone, which he succeeds, but because his narrative lacks personality and due to the aforementioned feeling of exclusionary standards, Rose comes off as a dry, robotic, “elitist” twit, like if Robocop started wearing tight jeans and listened to the Velvet Underground sung by Peruvian folk musicians.

(I have no idea what hipsters listen to, apparently.)

Once one gets past all that, however, it does make for a fascinating read, if purely due to the subject matter. From the naïve hope of the Wilson administration to the shady, populist-minded Nixon administration to the undisciplined Bush administration, it sheds light on what so many history textbooks and contemporary media doesn’t delve too deeply into. While the book does seem out-of-date (it was published in 2010, meaning it doesn’t talk about the death of bin Laden and the withdrawal in Iraq), it still puts many things, especially our current military and foreign policy into focused clarity. It is a worthwhile read, if one can get past the mediocre writing.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #1: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

I originally didn’t have much hope for The Tiger’s Wife.  I was flying back home after Christmas and I knew Anansi Boys, my 100th book of 2011, wouldn’t last through my three hour lay over in Philly.  Unfortunately, the bookstore at the Ohio airport is sponsored by Glenn Beck.  In between books written by him or other crazy bigots, there were a few books about animals that I just knew would end in tears, a “gently used” copy of Breaking Dawn that looked like someone had tried to throw it into a jet engine (and rightly so), and The Tiger’s Wife.  So I choose the evil I didn’t know over the evil that makes me foam at the mouth and go into a She Hulk rage.

The book centers on a young doctor named Natalia, who is on a Doctor’s without Borders-like quest.  Natalia’s country, somewhere in the Balkans, has been in repeatedly conflict with…themselves? the country next door? the Muslims?  It’s not very clear; suffice to say, lots of people don’t like other people, possibly over religion.   While on her trip, Natalia receives news that her grandfather is dead.  Natalia was close to her grandfather; he helped raise her and was also a doctor himself.  He had only confided in her his secret battle with cancer.  However, she is surprised to learn that he had been on his way to help her with her doctoring thing when he passed away in a small town no one has ever heard of.  The rest of the story deals with Natalia recounting her grandfather’s stories interspersed with her coping with his death.

Obreht may have started out writing a book about war, but it became more of a book about death, but not in a heavy-handed, maudlin way.  The war just becomes the setting for the stage in a play about people dealing with death.  The grandfather’s stories also give the book a nice “Big Fish” vibe as well.

Also, there’s totally a tiger in it.  (I get annoyed when a title says one thing, but then it turns out the title was some sort of bad metaphor).

Pages:  337

Method of Attainment & Price:  Columbus airport bookstore for free, because my parents were filled with the spirit of Christmas

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