Earlier this week, on twitter I attempted to participate in one of the recent running hashtags: #booksthatchangedmyworld.  I've never claimed to be a hashtag or a twitter expert, and as a result I screwed up my hashtags (which @dankrokos, aka the hashtag police, happily pointed out to me).

But more to the point, I listed some of the books read to me when I was little (Lord of the Rings - and yes this was my dad's idea of a bedtime story), books I read in school (Cry, the Beloved Country and Pride & Prejudice - thank God for my sophomore English teacher Mrs. Hall.  I don't know who I'd be without her), books I read and taught to my students (The Great Gatsby, Freakonomics, The Burn Journals and The Glass Castle), books recommended to me by people I love and respect (Beat the Reaper, Ender's Game, How I Live Now and Jellicoe Road), books that I got as ARCs once I joined the publishing industry (Shiver and You) and reaffirmed why this job is perfect for me, and books that somehow found their way into my hands as if the universe knew I needed them (Lucky and The Unbearable Lightness of Being).

If I went into any kind of substantial detail about why or how these books changed my world, I would ramble on forever (and besides, that's a conversation better had over a soy chai latte while curled up on the bordello couch in the office). 

But it's fitting that the day I posted about #booksthatchangedmyWORLD was the same day I started reading another book - one vastly different from my usual day to day reading - that would do just that.

Change. My. World.


My best friend (we've been friends since we were fourteen and I used to get him in trouble with our Chemistry teacher, who knows how he's managed to put up with me this long) is in the Air Force.  He is the kind of person who woke up every day to a framed picture of an airplane across from his bed - and now that's the airplane he flies. He flies in and out of all kinds of locales, and he's flown into Iraq and Afghanistan more times than I can keep track of.

So when a copy of WAR by Sebastian Junger landed on my desk at the office, I was torn about the prospect of reading it.  I've heard war stories - good bad distressing emotional ridiculous frustrating - and I wasn't entirely sure what this book could really add to my perspective.  But I don't read as much non-fiction as I want to and it's published by the same imprint that did Columbine so I took it hope and planned to read a chapter before I went to bed.

I read almost 100 pages that night.  I read the other 200 the following night.  And for the past two days, it's been constantly in the back corners of my mind - a book I can't wait to pass around and then demand people talk about it with me.

In his breakout bestseller, The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger created “a wild ride that brilliantly captures the awesome power of the raging sea and the often futile attempts of humans to withstand it” (Los Angeles Times Book Review).

Now, Junger turns his brilliant and empathetic eye to the reality of combat—the fear, the honor, and the trust among men in an extreme situation whose survival depends on their absolute commitment to one another. His on-the-ground account follows a single platoon through a 15-month tour of duty in the most dangerous outpost in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Through the experiences of these young men at war, he shows what it means to fight, to serve, and to face down mortal danger on a daily basis.


I have this habit of dog-earring the bottom corner of pages that have amazing and quotable insights, words and phrases or language that I feel I need to write down in my own handwriting and tape onto my wall (it's no wonder I taught rhetoric).  I used to actually write in all my books, but when people asked to borrow them, I felt like giving them a book with all my underlining and annotations would cheapen their own reading experience.

My copy of WAR is dog-earred now - to the point that it's sometimes two or three or four pages in a row.  The brutal honesty and the raw emotion has a haunting quality that makes this book one that will stay with you.  And it's an important book - especially right now - for people to read.

And here's my parting quote - a moment of insight that hit me and I have to share because it reflects the brilliance that is this book.

"...soldiers gravitate toward whatever works best with the least risk.  At that point combat stops being a grand chess game between generals and becomes a no-holds-barred experiment in pure killing.  As a result, much of modern military tactics is geared toward maneuvering the enemy into a position where they can essentially be massacred from safety.  It sounds dishonorable only if you imagine that modern war is about honor; it's not.  It's about winning, which means killing the enemy on the most unequal terms possible.  Anything less simply results in the loss of more of your own men." (140)

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Janet Johnson said...

I always thought that "fair" or "honorable" warfare was a bit of an oxymoron. Love the quote.

Larissa said...

Yay! More reading recs!

Side note: My dad read us WILLOW when I was a kid. LOL.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

THE GREAT GATSBY and FREAKONOMICS? Wish I'd been in YOUR English class:)

Amie Borst said...

my husband served in the air force and left me with 2 small children during operation enduring freedom. looks like afghanistan is his next stop this january. although this looks like a fantastic read, i'll probably wait until he returns to dive into this one. :D

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

Great recommendations.