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“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.” I’m not a huge fan of altered Austen, but Helen Fielding’s effort haunts me, largely because it’s so applicable to my own existence. I’m not going to go into the details, but I am fairly certain that there is a daytime soap opera writer who follows me around and plagiarizes my life experiences to amuse the masses. I think it’d be a much better arrangement if I were paid for providing such great material, but my stalker is likely quite happy as is.
Anyone who knows me understands that I read the way most people breathe. That’s probably an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Books are my escape, but when things get really bad, I suffer the kind of anxiety that makes it difficult to focus on page after page of text. In short, I stop reading and feel a little lost, and then I have to sort out all my emotions without my favorite coping mechanism which is all kinds of fun. Long story short, I actually didn’t pick up a book for several weeks. I fell behind in my reading challenge and my reviewing and for a while there, I actually didn’t care. Then of course the world stopped spinning, I started feeling a little guilty, and I fell right back into reading because as we all know, books are absolute magic and who doesn’t need a double dose of that in their life?
So what have I been reading? Lots of this and that actually and I’ve loved every minute of it. Flashlight Commentary is now dedicated solely to historic fiction and nonfiction and while a few of these titles meet the criteria, most don’t so I wont be offering a full review on any of them. That said the books are actually pretty interesting so I thought it’d be fun to share a few thoughts on each before getting back to our usually scheduled programming.
When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning
It’s specialized reading to be sure, but I found it fun. I’m WWII junkie anyway, but seriously, it’s a book about the power of books! How freaking awesome is that? There are also some great facts about the publishing industry and how reader response influenced the powers that be to change the way books were made, marketed, and written.
“Authors whose books were selected as ASEs were rewarded with a loyal readership of millions of men. Word spread quickly about the titles that were perennial favorites, even reaching the home front. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was written in 1925, was considered a failure during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. But when this book was printed as an ASE in October 1945, it won the hearts of an army of men. Their praise reverberated back home, and The Great Gatsby was rescued from obscurity and has since become an American literary classic.”
Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner with David Fisher
This one was okay. I don’t think it measures up to Nimoy’s I Am Spock which I highly recommend to everyone whether or not they like Star Trek, but that’s just me. Leonard was a nice effort, but something about it didn’t feel entirely genuine and I often felt there was an undertone of comparison rather than camaraderie.
“What made the show work, in addition to the relationships between the members of the crew, were the stories we told each week. Star Trek was a tribute to the great tradition of science fiction, in which future civilizations were used to tell contemporary morality tales, tales about subjects that couldn’t be addressed for various reasons at the time.”
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden
I was denied a review copy of this one and in retrospect that is all kinds of awesome as I ultimately downloaded the audio from my local library. For those who aren’t aware, the book is narrated by the author and if that isn’t fun enough, several of the cast and crew also contribute their voices to the narrative. Love the film? You’ll love the book, but trust me on this, you’ll love the audio more.
“So when you see Westley fall to the ground and pass out, that’s not acting. That’s an overzealous actor actually losing consciousness.”
American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice
This was a spur of the moment impulse selection. I hadn’t seen the movie, but I was interested enough in the military aspects to try my luck and actually enjoyed a lot of the material. It was insightful, but down to earth and I liked the lack of pretention in the author’s tone.
“The joke was that President Bush only declared war when Starbucks was hit. You can mess with the U.N. all you want, but when you start interfering with the right to get caffeinated, someone has to pay.”
American Wife: Love, War, Faith, and Renewal by Taya Kyle with Jim DeFelice
American Sniper ends before Kyle’s death, so finishing the story with his wife’s memoir felt appropriate. Reading the books back to back was interesting as there is such contrast in the way they remembered various events, but when push comes to shove, I think American Sniper stronger and would have difficulty promoting American Wife with the same enthusiasm.
“When life brings you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray.”
American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms by Chris Kyle with William Doyle
I mentioned that I liked Kyle’s tone in American Sniper so I took note when the book referenced a second publication and set about tracking down a copy. American Gun includes a lot of mechanical jargon about firearms, but I found the context original and liked how the book related gun technology to memorable moments in United States history.
“There will always be good. There will always be evil. There comes a time when honest debate, serious diplomatic efforts, and logical arguments have been exhausted and only men and women willing to take up arms against evil will suffice to save the freedom of a nation or a continent.”
Flags of Our Fathers by James D. Bradley with Ron Powers
I’m actually amazed it took me so long to read this one, but the timing actually put the subject matter into interesting perspective. The book follows the lives of the flag raisers at Iwo Jima and the cultural legacy created by the famed photo, but as it turns out, the man who inspired the book. I didn’t actually know that until after I finished the book, but I found it appropriate considering John Bradley’s aversion to his own inadvertent fame.
“Heroes are heroes because they have risked something to help others. Their actions involve courage. Often, those heroes have been indifferent to the public's attention. But at least, the hero could understand the focus of the emotion.”
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
I don’t think this one needs explanation, but much like As You Wish, I recommend getting the audio of this one. Fisher’s writing is hilarious in and of itself, but her verbal expressions are absolutely hysterical. I was literally biting my tongue to avoid cracking up while listening to this one.
“Now I think that this would make a fantastic obit- so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”
The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward
This one was actually inspired by a recent trip to the Nixon Presidential Library and is partially responsible for my desire to make a return trip. Woodward’s writing is fascinating and I love his phrasing, but the insights afforded by the book put interesting perspective on both Watergate and the trial that followed. I'm not sure I'd recommend it as casual reading, but I enjoyed the time I spent with it.
“’When you’re in the White House,’ Butterfield said, ‘everyone lies. You can sort of get feeling immune.’”
Being Nixon: The Fears and Hopes of an American President by Evan Thomas
Remember what I said about The Last of the President’s Men being partially responsible for my wanting to revisit the Nixon Library? Being Nixon represents the other half of that equation. Thomas’ illustration is even handed, but his interpretations made me think more about key moments in Nixon’s presidency, his legacy, and why history paints him the way it does.
“Nixon’s inclination toward the dark side has long been a cliché. Less understood (possibly even by Nixon himself) is his heroic, if ill-fated, struggle to be a robust, decent, good-hearted, person.”
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
I don’t think I should have to explain my interest in this one. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book with an insane looking racoon on the cover? Lawson’s writing is all kinds of random, but in the best possible way and is well-worth looking into.
“Like my grandmother always said, ‘Your opinions are valid and important. Unless it’s some stupid bullshit you’re being shitty about, in which case you can just go fuck yourself.’”
The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
This one was actually inspired by the realization that I will actually be listening to Neil Gaiman from the cheap seats in a few weeks. I thought it apropos so I jumped into the collection of essays and fell in love with every single one of them. I also remembered why it was that I love blogging about books, so if you feel the need to attribute my return to anyone, send that gratitude to Gaiman.
“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story.”
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