With Memorial Day just past, here are two books — one fiction, one non — related to the military and all things armed forces.
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
Reknown science writer and researcher extraordinaire Mary Roach delves into military and combat science with her latest book, set to publish on June 7. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War explores the science of keeping human beings “intact, awake, sane, uninfected, and uninfested in the bizarre and extreme circumstances of war.” As usual, Mary uncovers the most incredible facts and tidbits of information, and expands your understanding of combat from kevlar helmets to the psychological and physical welfare of soldiers in combat. As with all of Mary Roach’s books, her writing voice is a huge draw. She can make even the most tedious of topics fascinating!
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
I finally got around to reading this incredible novel published in 2012 by Ben Fountain, and I am sorry it took me so long to do so. I was prompted to read Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk after learning recently that Ang Lee will bring this award winning novel to the big screen in November. I must tell you, if I had a dollar for every time someone walked into the bookshop, picked up this book, and proclaimed it hands down one of the best novels they had ever read…I might own my own bookshop. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk certainly has won hearts and minds, and tremendous critical acclaim. (National Book Award Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award)
The subject matter may not appeal to everyone. A U.S. Army unit, Bravo company, is shipped back “stateside” following the broadcast of a dramatic film capturing the company’s critical battle at the fictitious Al Ansakar Canal. Bravo’s victory/propaganda tour is punctuated by cringe worthy interactions with Americans who have little appreciation for the on going “war” in Iraq beyond “nina leven”, “currJ” and the “soooh-preeeme sacrifice” of the young soldiers of Bravo Company. With Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain holds up an enormous mirror in front of our country and the reflection is very, very unflattering.
If you missed this book when if published in 2012, pick up a copy and read it this summer before the movie hits theaters in the fall. Ang Lee will do a spectacular job with his film version, of course, but Ben Fountain’s writing is so good you must read the novel before seeing the movie!
I bought the book Between You and Me; Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris because I am a self-confessed grammar-nerd wannabe. I hope that I am worldlier than that in real life, but as a freelance copy editor, I do have an interest and a healthy respect for the English language. It turns out that this book is not a typical information book to add to my reference library. Along with explanations of many grammar rules, Mary Norris presents anecdotes from her thirty-five year career at The New Yorker’s legendary copy department, as well as some history of how our language developed. Pretty fascinating, even if you don’t get a charge out of proofreading and copy editing!
She explains frequently mistaken rules and expresses them in plain English, and each chapter outlines an element of style and details its origins. Simply looking at the table of contents (including Spelling Is for Weirdos, Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon, and Ballad of a Pencil Junkie); you know that the author is very funny.
This useful and entertaining book explains the mysteries of commas, hyphens, and dangling participles; while the author adds levity to the subject. For example, she speaks of one of her favorite words being “weird,” and her desire for profanity to be used properly. Her references range from classic literature to Homer Simpson, so you have to appreciate her sense of humor.
Many times, reading a book like this gives me that “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” feeling, but the author’s unpretentious and witty writing style allowed me to enjoy the book while learning from it. In fact, she states, “Nobody knows everything – one of the pleasures of language is that there is always something new to learn – and everybody makes mistakes.” Phew!
Very enjoyable to read and not your traditional guide to spelling, punctuation, and grammar, I was not surprised to see this book make its way to the bestseller list. The author is self-deprecating and humble, and I admire and envy her great intelligence and her experience at The New Yorker. She has mastered her craft, and she presents it in a warm and non-intimidating manner. And yes, the correct grammar is, “Between you and me,” not “Between you and I!”
Don’t miss The Avid Reader interview with author Mary Norris about this book on May 30 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on WCHE 1520 AM and also on podcast.
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop