Category Archives: Non-fiction

Two Witnesses at Gettysburg: Whitelaw Reid’s Account

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War journalism is not something I’ve read/written about before but I am killing two literary birds with one stone by analyzing an account of the Battle of Gettysburg.  With an essay based mid-term tomorrow in my journalism class, I hope that writing down my thoughts will prove to be sufficient preparation.  Moving on…

Two Witnesses at Gettysburg is, as the title states, composed of two accounts of this battle.  Specifically, I read Whitelaw Reid’s perspective .  Whitelaw Reid was an American politician and newspaper editor from Ohio.  He was working for the Cincinnati Gazette when he was assigned to accompany the Union army and write a report on the Battle of Gettysburg.

To fully appreciate Reid’s story, it is important to have the context of war reporting during his time.  Journalism in America during the civil war was in its infancy.  Reporters were figuring out what it meant to effectively report on wars.  Being influenced by English writers, journalism at the time tended to be ponderous and flowery in style.  Additionally, news took a lot longer to reach the general public since many people could not afford to send telegrams.  Thus, people were not concerned about the quality of reporting at the time; they were more concerned about hearing any sort of news from the front lines. Reid enters the stage during this time as one of many journalists that were sent out to report on the events of battles as they unfolded.  Though there were many journalists present during this war, Reid’s account is the most revered.

Reid himself was a republican, and a Union supporter.  Unlike modern journalism which has a neutral tone and focuses on facts relevant to the story, Reid did not hesitate to insert his strong opinions throughout his account and let his bias show.  It is first clear that he is a Union supporter by aligning himself with the Union army uses the pronouns “us” and “we.”  His bias towards the Union was further strengthened through his primary use of sources: Union generals and officers, as well as other reporters that were associated with the Union.  Though he is biased towards the Union, he does not spare them from criticism as well.  At one point, he criticizes drunk Union soldiers and stragglers as he is on his way to Gettysburg.

Despite his clear sympathy towards the Union, Reid was still able to capture the full picture of the battle.  He laid out what he saw as he saw it, sparing no details.  Sometimes, his obsession with detail can veer towards verbosity.  The scene at the end of the battle where he picks a flower spotted with the blood of the fallen soldiers is one example of where his style slides from journalism to poetry.  While this style was common of war reporters at the time, Reid differs from the norm in that he avoids glamorizing the battle.  A common criticism of journalism during his time is that war was glorified.  Reid however includes the suffering and pain the soldiers were going through.  At the end of his account, he goes on to describe how disappointed he is in the Union army for General Meade not pursuing Lee, even though they did win the battle.

It is clear through Reid’s account that he was an avid reader.  His literary style influenced him to not only capture every detail of the actual war, but include small details, such as the blood spotted flower, that stick with the reader.  Overall, it is clear why his account is still read and used as an example of journalism during the civil war.  While Reid is biased and verbose at times, his report is rich in detail and gives an insight into key aspects of civil war journalism.  I would never have picked this book up to read on my own, but those who enjoy war reporting or are interested in how journalism in the US has evolved over time will find interest in Reid’s account.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

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“Cotton Tenants” By James Agee

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James Agee, a poet that graduated from Harvard University, was never to witness his account “Cotton Tenants” finally published three years ago. As a reporter for Fortune magazine in 1936 (in the midst of the Great Depression), he was recruited to stay with sharecroppers for eight weeks and record how they worked and lived. Accompanied by the photographer Walker Evans, their assignment lead to Agee’s book “Let Us Know Praise Famous Men.” Before the book was published however, Agee submitted the “Cotton Tenants” essay to Fortune magazine. His document was a richly detailed account of the daily lives of three sharecropping families accompanied by Walker’s photographs. The article was originally rejected and not published until 2013.

Having lived with and been in close contact with these three families, Agee’s account is surprisingly distant in style. He writes as if he is a fly on the wall. His tone is neutral and the content is rich descriptions of the families. The text is divided into chapters that focus on different aspects of their lives: business, education, shelter, leisure, clothes, and so on. It’s as if he was a researcher studying the behaviors of a unique species.

Despite Agee’s lush detail of aesthetics, there are several aspects of the southern sharecropper experience that he left out. One notable omission from his account is dialogue. It is clear that Agee is trying to take a neutral stance and avoid bias or sounding political or condescending, which could explain this decision. Another is not addressing the experience of freed slaves-now sharecroppers. However, he does address in the introduction that to write of the African American experience during this time would mean a whole new book entirely.

Although it is clear that Agee desperately seeks to remain neutral in his account, the descriptions of poverty, child labor, and the squalor the tenants lived in make it impossible for the reader to not feel a sense of empathy for the family. Despite avoiding political activism, “Cotton Tenants” manages to expose the dire state white sharecroppers were caught in. As readers, we can’t hear the stories the families tell, but we get an almost voyeuristic look into the exact layout of their houses, down to the oil-stained tablecloths where they gather for dinner. We can almost taste the grimy lard soaked sorghum that most of their meals consist of. We can almost feel callouses develop on our hands as we learn the grueling labor of picking cotton. We aren’t let in on the conversations, but Agee stimulates the other senses with such attention to detail that the reader is left saturated with the sharecropper’s experiences. Agee doesn’t tell, he shows, which makes him an effective storyteller and this account an overall insightful and engaging account.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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“I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

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Have you ever read a book that (figuratively) slapped you in the face and made you realize the true scope of your privilege?

“I am Malala” does just that, which is why I think this book should be required reading for high school English classes.

Most people are probably somewhat familiar with Malala Yousafzai, or at least have heard of what happened to her.  At age 15, she was shot point blank by a Talib, survived, and went on to be the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace prize.

Part history of Pakistan and the rise of the Taliban, part family saga, and part memoir, “I am Malala” is an engrossing look into the Muslim world that shatters the stereotypes and prejudices Americans hold against the Middle East.  Malala was raised in a world where women serve their husbands and children, but her father made sure she was educated.  When the Taliban took over Pakistan and started to suppress the rights of all citizens, especially women, Malala stood up for her right to have access to an education.

Ever since 9/11, many Americans have upheld the stereotype that all Muslims are American hating terrorists.  “I am Malala” shows true insight into what it’s like to live in a Muslim country under the control of a small group of violent fundamentalists.  With the frightening increase in attacks against Muslims in recent news, this book shows the humanity and innocence of most of the Middle Easterners, as well as the fact that Islam is a religion that promotes love and peace, just like Christianity.

This book is heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting.  Malala wanted an education, something that most people from western countries can easily obtain and often take for granted.  Because of that, she was shot by a terrorist on her way to school one day.  This happened less than three years ago.  It is chilling that this kind of violence, especially directed towards a young girl, is still going on in the world.  Amazingly, Malala survived and was only fueled by the attack to fight harder for women’s education.  She is only 17, but has already proved to be an incredibly brave and strong woman.  Her persistence in seeking peace and access to education is inspiring.

Why should this book be required for English classes? Because it shatters the prejudices against Muslims, inspires you to stand up for what you believe in, and makes you appreciate that you can go to school without fear of being targeted by terrorists.

I give this book four out of five stars for its engaging writing and inspirational message.

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2014 Books: A Summary

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My failure to post for the past several months is a result of moving to Turkey and being too busy getting acclimated to my new environment and reading to write.  Though my blogging has been scarce, I have gotten more reading done in the past four months than I’ve ever had the chance to do in my life.  I love my host city in Turkey, but there’s not a lot to do so I’ve been walking a lot and have discovered the wonder of audio books.  Get exercise and read at the same time?  Why haven’t I jumped on this bandwagon before?

Anyways, it would be a ridiculously long post if I wrote a review of every book I’ve read recently.  Instead, I will group them together into categories, and share my favorite book from each.

1) Dean Koontz books

Life Expectancy

Sole Survivor

Velocity

Innocence

Strange Highways

Favorite: Life Expectancy.  It’s a classic Dean Koontz novel that contains suspense, elements of science fiction, but the characters are particularly well developed in this novel.  I thought the ending was perfect as it tied up loose ends but left the reader questioning what would happen if there was a sequel.  The book had you guessing the entire time, but Koontz revealed answers slowly in a way that keeps the reader from getting too frustrated.

2) A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords

A Feast for Crows

A Dance with Dragons (started)

Favorite: it’s a tie because these books tend to run together and it’s been awhile ago since I’ve read them so I’ll just say that as a series, I’m hooked. I want to finish the latest book so I can look up fan theories without worrying about spoilers, but the next book won’t come out for at least another year.  Oye, the annoyance of being addicted to a series! It’s like Harry Potter all over again, but Mr. Martin is taking his sweet time.

3) Non-fiction books

Jesus Freaks (true crime book about the Family cult) by Don Lattin

Life After College (self help) by Jenny Blake

Wild (memoir/travelogue) by Cheryl Strayed

Hallucinations (science) by Oliver Sacks

The Good Nurse (true crime) by Charles Graeber

In Defense of Food (science) by Michael Pollan

The Red Queen (genetics, currently reading) by Matt Ridley

Favorite: In Defense of Food.  Michael Pollan strikes again with a well-researched book that makes you question your food culture.  I enjoyed The Omnivore’s Dilemma years ago and have watched many documentaries on the food industry in America, but this book offered a fresh look at the issues in the US.  What I like best about Pollan’s writing is that he bases his arguments on facts and research, not his hidden political agenda. In science writing, it’s easy to pick out certain studies and use them to promote veganism or animal rights, etc, but Pollan is clearly interested in the food industry because he is inspired by the science behind it, not the social issues (although his research leads to social issues that are easily ignored).

4) Books related to Turkey that I read right before coming, or during orientation

The Yogurt Man Cometh by Kevin Revolinski

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

An Ongoing Affair: Turkey and I by Heath W. Lowry

Favorite: The Yogurt Man Cometh.  It’s a short and snappy travelogue about one man (from my home state Wisconsin!) who teaches in Turkey and shares his misadventures.  I enjoyed reading the book while in Turkey because I could relate to some of his experiences.  His book also inspired me to be more persistent in blogging regularly.

5) Teen Books

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Favorite: The Fault in Our Stars.  I cried. So much.  Then because I loved the book so much and am an emotional masochist, I immediately went and saw the movie.  And ugly cried some more into my popcorn; the tears upping the salt content; giving me temporary hypertension.  Before reading The Fault in Our Stars, I had a bad taste in my mouth about teen books after the poorly edited, meaningless sack of literary garbage that is The Hunger Games.  The Fault in Our Stars restored my faith in the teen lit genre and hope for the future generation.  It’s a book that’s destined to be a classic.

6) Books written by celebrities that, upon looking back, I’m not sure why I read them

Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Favorite: Neither.  I think I was sucked into exploring this genre while working at BookPeople because these books were flying off the shelf like hotcakes.  Moral of the story: when it comes to bestsellers, the customer is not always right.

7) Classic novels

Little Birds by Anais Nin

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Secret History by Donna Tratt

Favorite: It’s a tie between A Clockwork Orange and The Secret History.  Both were very disturbing books, but they had strong messages and are guaranteed to haunt you.  The Secret History had well developed characters and was impossible to put down.  A Clockwork Orange is a classic book, but is definitely worth reading.

As a side note, The Wasp Factory is probably one of the most messed up books I’ve ever read.  I finished it in one night and immediately took a long shower afterwards.  It’s not a bad book, it’s actually quite brilliant.  But you will feel like the world is a horrible place afterwards.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As another side note, I was very disappointed by two books. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was the first.  It’s no fault of Mr. Stevenson though.  It was incredibly well written, but the success of the book depended on the reader not knowing the big punch line.  Everyone today knows that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, so it ruins the whole book.  The whodunnit question that I’m sure was trailing readers along eagerly over a hundred years ago is now common knowledge.  Poor Mr. Stevenson.

The other book that I may be criticized for hating is Little Women.  All the characters were so annoying.  I thought they were all spoiled, self centered, shallow, and weak.  Jo was the only character with any sort of complexity, but oh boy she learns her place in the end when she finally settles down and adheres to expectations of society.  Furthermore, I found all of the girls’ “problems” to be incredibly petty.  Beth had the best idea, which was to just sorta check out of life before she ended up living as a housewife whose only excitement would be something like her dear husband bringing her silk gloves but she, being humble and pious, would sell them to buy poor children some bread.

8) Sci-fi–Fantasy–Horror

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I can’t choose a favorite from this list, because all these books were amazing, with the exception of Night Circus.  That book was just, meh.  Warm Bodies was a captivating book that was more than just a zombie novel.  The Girl With All the Gifts was enjoyable because the author put a lot of work into making the science behind a zombie apocalypse make sense.  The two zombie books, along with Never Let Me Go were all thought provoking books that asked the question: what does it mean to be human?  The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a bizarre book, but the fantasy elements were successful in supporting the theme of childhood memories.

9) Stephen King

Christine

The Green Mile

Salem’s Lot

It (Currently reading)

Favorite: Christine.  Wow, this book packed a punch.  The character development is phenomenal, the storytelling is perfection.  The last Stephen King book I read was Carrie, and that was years ago.  This book had me hooked from the beginning.  I can see why King is such a successful writer: he adds so much color and flavor to the characters that you can picture them acting the action out in front of you.  He is also a master of slowly building up suspense.  I enjoyed his other books, but Christine especially stands out, I think because of how Arnie changed so drastically in response to Christine.  Right now, I’m reading It and I think this one will come in a close second, if not I’ll like it as much as Christine.

10) Other novels

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

The Goldfinch by Donna Tratt

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Favorite: It’s a tie between Me Before You and The Goldfinch.

Me Before You is a heartbreaking love story, well written and captivating.  The Goldfinch is an epic Dickens style novel that covers years of one boy’s life.  Both were enjoyable reads in their own way.  I’ve heard that some people don’t like The Goldfinch because they were expecting some sort of art history book or something like The Da Vinci Code.  If you’re going to read it, expect to enter a long, but well written novel with great character development.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 52 books this year.  Wow.  And most of the books I’ve read this year I’ve finished between September and now.  In a year, I’ve read at least one book from almost every genre in existence.  Some books haunted me, some scared me, some made me laugh, some made me wrap myself in a blanket and go through a box of tissues, some made me question society, and some shattered my ignorance.  Most importantly, they all took me on adventures and returned me as a person changed.

As Stephen King said: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

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Filed under Classics, Fiction, horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Sci-fi/Fantasy, Teen Books

“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” by Mindy Kaling

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Although I am a self-proclaimed book snob, sometimes I just want to read something mindless, entertaining, and fun.  After listening to Bossypants on tape, my expectations of books written by comedy writers dwindled somewhat.  Being a huge fan of the tv show The Office, especially the hilarious character Kelly Kapoor, I was intrigued by the book the actor that played her wrote.

Compared to Bossypants, this book was ten times funnier, better written, and interesting.  Her book is a series of short essays about growing up and how she became a writer for The Office.  Kaling recounts her early life as an overweight Indian girl, and how she found her niche watching and writing comedy as she grew older.  Kaling is far from the Hollywood definition of beautiful and glamorous, and I love her for that.  She stands out from the homogeneous and boring melange of modern actresses.

Part of what makes her book successful is that she’s relateable.  Who hasn’t gone through an awkward phase growing up?  What human hasn’t felt self conscious about his/her body at some point or another?   Who has ever gone through a post-college phase, living in poverty and wondering what the heck they’re going to do next? As a side note, I especially enjoyed reading about her living in a cockroach infested apartment in New York.  It gave me hope as a person living in a cockroach infested apartment in Austin. Through her transition from dorky pudgy kid to successful writer and actress, Kaling never loses her sense of self.  I admire her for being self confident and sticking to her convictions when she is constantly surrounded by pressure to conform to Hollywood expectations.

If you were/are a fan of The Office and are a female (in all honesty this book seems aimed at women), you would enjoy this book for a quick, fluff read.  I give it 3/5 stars because it’s an enjoyable book, but not an outstanding piece of literature.

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Bossypants by Tina Fey

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Every now and then, I give into the temptation of reading a best seller.  Usually, I am disappointed.  As pretentious as I may sound now, best sellers are best sellers because they appeal to the average citizen of average intelligence who likes easily digestible books.  I like a challenge.  So why did I chose to read a memoir about a famous comedian?

1) I wanted to listen to something funny during my commutes.

2) I think Tina Fey is a great comedian and a strong woman.

3) Fey worked as a writer for SNL, so I figured her writing would be superior to some of the other celebrity “authors” out there.

My past experience with comedic memoirs has been positive, mainly because I’ve only read David Sedaris.  Sedaris is the king of humor essays.  Without knowing it, I started Bossypants with Sedaris level expectations.

This book wasn’t bad by any means.  But it also didn’t make me laugh as much as I anticipated.  This book got great reviews and I thought I was in for a comedic treat.  However, I was surprised by how negative and almost vindictive Fey’s writing was.  For instance, there was a whole section where she talked about how she would respond to criticisms of her that were posted on various social mediums.  That seemed very middle-schoolish to me.  Instead of rising above the haters, she spent a lot of time making snarky responses that she clearly spent way too much time constructing. 

Another thing I didn’t like about the book was how humble she was.  Yeah, it’s nice that she’s not arrogant but she should have some pride in how far she’s come, because she’s worked really hard for her success.  It’s so stereotypical for women to down play their successes.  I expected more from someone I thought of as a an empowering female figure. 

The last thing that bothered me, which is a minor thing and only applies to the audiobook: there were a few times she mumbled something really quickly and I couldn’t catch it.  If I rewound that part and cranked up the volume, I still couldn’t here what she said and then proceeded to have a heart attack when the next sentence was belted out.

Overall, I got a few chuckles from this book and listening to it on tape was an entertaining way to make my commute more manageable.  Listening to this book though is like tuning into a pop radio station: it gives you something to listen to, but you are aware it’s just background noise.

2/5 stars

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Meditations on “Meditations”

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After finishing “A Feast for Crows,” I decided (on a whim) to read a non-fiction book.  Immediately, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius came to mind.  Why?  because in a book I read before, the protagonist loved the book and I was captured by his favorite quote: “In the life of a man, his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, his sense a dim rushlight, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, his fame doubtful. In short, all that is body is as coursing waters, all that is of the soul as dreams and vapors.”  Albeit depressing, I thought this was a very thought provoking quote, and I was inspired to find out what else he wrote.

As someone who never studied philosophy, I probably did not get as much from Meditations as I should have.  What I did learn is that Aurelius was a very intelligent and insightful man.  After doing a bit of research, I found that he was a stoic philosopher, so he believed all destructive emotions result from errors in judgement.  He additionally believed that humans have a free will that is in accord with nature.  His belief system is made very clear throughout his book.

I found that Aurelius often repeated himself.  When I found ideas that were redundant, I wrote them down.

Main points of Meditations:

1) You want to adhere to your nature, avoid temptations of indulgences.  People can’t help who they are so be quick to forgive their character flaws.

2) Everything has a purpose in life.

3) We have a short time on earth and what we do in life won’t matter in the long run, so we should live for the moment and make the best of the time we have.

I also noticed that Aurelius contradicted himself a few times. Examples:

1)  He says what is good for everyone is good for the individual, yet he also says we shouldn’t be bothered by the opinions and manners of others.  In my opinion, he is praising collectivism and individualism at the same time.

2)  Others don’t have control over what they do because it is their nature, but you should be able to control yourself.

Maybe I didn’t fully understand all of his reasoning.  As I said before, I’m not a philosopher.

After dipping my toes into philosophy, I don’t think I will actively seek out other opportunities to read philosophical works, at least not in the near future.  I understand the importance of philosophy but I feel that reading these books as an individual and without someone to discuss them with is not a good idea.  However, Aurelius’ Meditations is accessible to the common person.  If you are interested in reading philosophy but have no formal background in it, I suggest starting with Aurelius.  His meditations are like small journal entries rather than convoluted arguments.  This book will also motivate you to let go of your negative thoughts and enjoy life, despite knowing how short it is.  As Aurelius said: “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

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A Book Review, Diet Update, and Other Musings

The first five days of my cleanse went very well.  Then, I had the Travis County Youth show on Friday with my goat class.  Overall, the day was chaotic and tiring, but my students had a great time and one of them won a 5th place award for showing her goat.  I was very proud of all of my students.  I had been running around all day however, smelled like all kinds of animal feces, and was covered in sweat.  Also, I was starving.  So I rewarded myself that night with pizza and beer.  I feel kind of like a hypocrite now, but in my defense, I’ve been eating so healthy every day besides that one incident that I don’t think I need to do the cleanse anymore.  Right now, I’m eating mostly vegetables and to treat myself, I have a glass of wine or a couple chocolate covered almonds.  Because of this, I’m satisfied and don’t feel like I’m depriving myself of the pleasure of eating  food.  Also, giving myself a treat now and then is only motivating me to work out more.

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Besides my food roller coaster last week, I read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed.  In case you haven’t heard, her book is being made into a movie this year.  I’m a firm believer of reading a book before seeing the film adaptation.  When I worked at a book store over the summer, this memoir was flying off the shelves.  Thus, I decided to check the book out myself.  Quick summary: a woman dealing with the death of her mother and recent divorce decides to hike the Pacific Coast trail in California.  Verdict: it was a fast, entertaining read.  I did not enjoy the first chapter at all, but later I found it was necessary to Cheryl’s emotional journey to share so much about her mother.  The book was sad at times, but overall uplifting. The message was that no matter how far you’ve fallen, it’s never too late to pick yourself up and start over.  It will be interesting to see how this book is adapted, since Cheryl’s emotional journey is more important than her actual journey (in my opinion).

Well, that’s been about all that has happened to me the past week.  This week, it’s my goal to start writing more, either on this blog, or start keeping a list of stories/anecdotes that I write.  My other goal is to find some literary publications I can start submitting my writing too.  Even if nothing gets accepted, it will be good experience.  One thing I’m worried about is that I’ve lacked motivation for writing recently.  Sometimes I have a life experience that prompts me to immediately write about it.  However, nothing really exciting has happened lately.  I guess all I can do now is keep reading and living life until that “AHA!” moment occurs.

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The Man Who Lived

Are you a history buff?  Or an athlete?  I am neither of these things, so when I picked up the book: “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.  The basic outline: a mischievous boy named Louis Zamperini learns to control his undiagnosed ADHD by running, makes it to the Olympics, becomes a pilot in World War II, spends weeks stranded in the Pacific ocean on a raft, then is captured by the Japanese and is thrown into a multitude of POW camps.  Talk about worst-case-scenario.  Because it is a fascinating true story and is extremely well written, I think few people would be disappointed in this book.

There are five main sections to this book, and each part I had a different experience with.  I read the story of Louis’ path to the Olympics earlier this year when I was still motivated to work out everyday.  Getting up at 6 am and reading this book while on the treadmill was inspiring.  I could relate to Louis’ extensive training and desire to reach his goal (although my goal was a lot smaller–just to get in shape).  The second part is mainly about Louis joining the air force and talks extensively about the unreliable, faulty planes they used.  I have to admit, I found this part to be the most boring because I have no interest in machines whatsoever.  The whole time I thought: “Good gracious! Fix these planes already!  If so many people are dying from avoidable technical issues, do something about it!”  The third section was the most exciting and terrifying.  I could just picture Louis out in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by a persistent circle of sharks waiting for a chance to attack.  I have a terrible fear of sharks, so I couldn’t imagine how you could keep calm in that situation.  By the end of the raft journey, he literally had to hit great white sharks over the head that were jumping up to try and eat him!  The fourth part was about Louis’ experiences in the POW camps he was sent to.  This part was hard to read, because it was disturbing to read about how awful and sadistic people can be.  When you think of World War II, you think of the atrocities the Nazis committed, but some Japanese militants were just as horrible towards their prisoners.

My favorite part of this book though was the very last part: the aftermath.  You can imagine that after all the events Louis went through, he would suffer extreme PTSD.  He certainly did.  It’s rare that you hear about what happens after a war, so I’m glad the book addressed what happened to Louis when he returned home.  I’ll let you read the book to find out, but I will say that he was never the same person.

Why should you read this book?  Well, it provides an in-depth, fascinating, true account of what one prominent American soldier experienced during World War II.  If you are like me and would rather learn about history through personal experiences rather than solely facts, this is a book for you.  It shows a side of World War II you don’t hear about that often.  And it is simply a captivating story.

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