Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes – a GoodReads Review

MatterhornMatterhorn by Karl Marlantes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s cliche to say, but there weren’t enough stars available to properly rate this book. It was definitely 5+, though.

I was 7 years old in ’68 with an older brother who was 18. The Vietnam Era is something that looms large in my memories of childhood. I can still remember the fear I had that my brother would have to go to war. I still remember the news every evening and the discussions at the dinner table afterwards. I was young. I wasn’t stupid. As the war dragged on, I even began to worry at my own fate regarding my possible participation in that war. Fortunately, for both myself and my brother (high lottery number), we got lucky. My parents’ fears never came to fruition.

For someone — even someone like myself with an avid interest in Military History — who has never experienced a battlefield or a jungle ambush or a shelling/bombing, there is just no possible way for them to fathom such an experience. You cannot watch movies or read books to understand what it’s like to be shot at by someone who is intent upon killing you. It’s just not possible. There are many authors who have written books or movie makers who have created epics on film (documentary and fiction) that can bring a tiny inkling, a safe and sterile view, to the uninitiated.

Karl Marlantes has written this story about a group of young boys whose lives change forever as a result of their experiences in Vietnam. This is a fiction, but it is 100% based in reality of that time period. It could easily be a non-fiction narrative; and probably is close to the experiences of many, many men who were there then. I would even think it would be painful for them to read a story such as this; similar to my godfather once telling me that he and his American Legion cronies had to walk out of the theater during Saving Private Ryan because they’d been there and done that and the memories were still close to the surface even 60 years later.

I was never a hawk when it came to this war. I’ve studied it extensively since my teen years to my middle age. It was a part of the fabric of my childhood. I think that’s why it fascinates me so. It was an unbelievable political cluster-screw. So many lives were wasted or altered completely by this event. Regardless of my beliefs about this war, I have always respected and been awed by the sacrifices that young men (and women) in the U.S. Military and its support system made during this time in history.

Again, nothing can put you in their shoes. Nothing can impress upon you what they endured. Nothing. It’s that simple. Total immersion is require for total understanding. This book by Marlantes will take you there. It will make you want to shower and search for leeches on your legs and neck. It will give you a hint of the fear these kids experienced. It will break your heart. Yet, it will only do this to you for brief instance in time while you sit in your easy chair under the reading light.

That being said, experience this book. Experience it two or three times. It’s worth the read. I don’t care if you don’t have an interest in the Vietnam War. Read it, anyway. If you’re human, it will have an effect on you. It will get you to feel. It may bring tears to your eyes. It did this to me.

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Enduring Vietnam by James Wright – a Goodreads Review

Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its WarEnduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its War by James Edward Wright

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hmm… this book is a bit difficult to describe. It’s a lot of things…

  • historical
  • political
  • cultural
  • painful
  • cathartic

If you grew up in the era of this war, this book will be painful to read, yet therapeutic in its presentation of the affects that this war had on many of us from this time in our lives.

I did not serve in this war, but I have the utmost respect for those young men and women who did. I was just a bit too young. Had it lasted just a few more years, though, I would have been a candidate for the draft.

My father and uncles all served in WWII. My brother was of draft age during the height of the Vietnam War, but had a high lottery number and lucked out; otherwise, his life could have been seriously changed by his experiences had he served.

Because of my brother’s age and the fact that this war was the first televised war, it was a daily conversation in our home then. I remember the fear my mother expressed over my brother’s situation. I remember my father’s comments about the news stories on the evening news.

I’ve had an interest in military history since I was a small child, but my focus has always been on the Vietnam War, possibly because I grew up in the midst of all of it. If you have an interest in the era and would like to try to understand what the young men and women of that time period were dealing with, read this book.

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Backfire by Loren Baritz – a Goodreads Review

Backfire: A History of How American Culture Led Us Into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We DidBackfire: A History of How American Culture Led Us Into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did by Loren Baritz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read many books on the Vietnam War. Most were all about the who, what, where, and how. This book, however, is about the WHY! And while many of the reasons behind this debacle in US history were known to me or suspected highly, Mr. Baritz puts it all out there in this book; the motivations, the errors in judgement, the manipulations, the lies and deceit, the ineptitude of our leaders (civilian and military), etc. It’s just the whole sad story that cost so many lives.

And for what?

So politicians could get re-elected? So bureaucrats could continue their cush gigs while feeding from the public trough? So military men could give themselves medals and advance their careers? I have no respect for the entire lot of them.

The ones involved in that cluster-screw who I have respect and empathy for are the U.S. servicemen and women who were out there every day getting the asses shot at. The grunts slogging through the mud and mines to achieve some cockamamie goal dreamed up by suits sitting in air conditioned offices 10,000 mile away.

I have respect and empathy for the innocent Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians who suffered so much during this era. They lost so much to gain so little.

I have respect for North Vietnamese people and leaders. They outlasted the US. They bided their time. They suffered. They lost much. They won.

If you have any interest in this era, you should read this book. It was written in 1985, but could be used as a blueprint of what NOT TO DO in our current era when it comes to “limited wars” and wasting of human life for causes that cannot even remotely be classified as noble.

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – a Few Comments

A Tree Grows in BrooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

I loved this book. It was a bitter-sweet story, yet still left a good feeling in your heart when that last page was turned. It’s not action-adventure. It’s not horror. It’s not sci-fi. It’s about what it is to be a human being. It’s about struggle, pain, hunger, disappointment, loss, grief, happiness, anger, love, death, etc. In other words, it’s about all of us.

Read it. It’s like life itself. No one can tell you about a book. You have to experience it on your own.*

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*This brief review is copied in its entirety from my GoodReads profile.

On Writing

There have been a few times in the past when I’ve been accused by some folks of being a somewhat skillful writer. Now it’s possible that these nice folks just don’t realize what skillful writing really looks like, so it’s also possible that opinions may vary widely among my readers (all three of them).

That being said, I was recently asked how I developed these skills. It all started with my mom. She was a stay-at-home mom when I was a wee lad, back in the early 60s; that’s the 1960s, not the 1860s. Anyway, mom took the time to teach me to read and write and appreciate books before I was in the 1st Grade. I will always be thankful for that.

Once I started on my educational journey, a classical Catholic school education, I was inculcated er… I mean educated by Sister Mary Himmler and her ilk at St. What-His-Name’s Catholic Penitentiary. While I rebelled against the incessant brain-washing and militaristic discipline, I did excel in those three fundamental Rs that were offered in schools during that era… Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic.

I guess that some modicum of knowledge and skills were absorbed via osmosis and cracks of that 16″ wooden ruler applied to my knuckles (of the non-writing hand) and my ass cheeks during my stretch in the care of the Poor Sisters of Capital Punishment. Seriously, though… I do not regret my Catholic school education in the least. If there’s anything to rue about, it’s that I did not take full advantage and excel to even greater heights when I had the opportunity.

What brought this post to fruition today was a conversation with a friend a week or so ago. She had been admiring some article I had written somewhere (forget which/where now) sometime in the past and took a moment to ask me what reference books and such did I keep within reach near my writing desk that assisted me in my writing endeavors.

This then is that list:

  • St. Martin’s Guide to Writing (1997)
  • The Complete Plain Words by Gowers/Fraser (1973)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (14th Edition)
  • Fowler’s Dictionary of Usage (1965)
  • Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition (1969)
  • Thorndike/Barnhart Dictionary (1962)
  • Wheelock’s Latin (6th Edition)
  • Cassell’s Latin Dictionary (1921)
  • Roget’s Thesaurus (1969)

And because of the occasional need to brush up on my rusty Spanish:

  • The Bantam New College Spanish/English Dictionary (1987)

*click to view the full sized image

Note the cool brown bag book covers. Bet you haven’t seen many of those around lately, huh? There’s a whole story about those covers on this blog. Check it out, if you’re interested.

I also regularly use Internet sources in my writing. A few listed below in no particular order:

So, you might be asking at this point, “What does it take to be a skillful writer?” Well, Hell if I know. When I become one, I’ll let you guys know. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by visiting with me for a bit.

Go learn something. It won’t hurt you none, I promise.

Later,

~Eric

Spring Has Sprung (in Florida, anyway)

Today is the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Do you know where your butterflies are?

I walked outside early this morning and as soon as the sun got high enough to warm things up a bit, I watched the world come to life. It was a riot of activity with the birds chirping, the squirrels leaping from tree to tree, the flowers budding in the flower beds, the breeze shaking the chimes, even the bugs doing their buggy stuff out there today. It seems everything knows that spring is in the air.

I’ve always loved springtime. I loved it as a child because I hated school so much back then. I knew that once Spring was here, it would only be a few more weeks before school would let out for Summer. YAY! Summers were long and wondrous back then. Nowadays, they’re short and HOT AS HELL (wobal glarming). In Florida, we like to fry eggs, grill steaks, and brew tea on the hoods of our cars and trucks. Spray on a little PAM and whip up some tasty breakfast. You can also bake by wrapping food in foil and leaving it on your dashboard all morning. It’ll be hot and toasty by lunchtime.

Sadly, Florida really only experiences two seasons… mild and pleasant (some of the Fall, all Winter, some of the Spring), and torridly HOT and HUMID (Summer). Each lasts about 6 months. So, even though springtime is here, it’s just a short prelude to the miserable months until about the middle of November. Ah, well… it is what it is. I’m not going to bitch about it. I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Here’s hoping you folks in other places here and there enjoy your springtime, too. Take some time out from your texting and Twittering to appreciate the simple and beautiful things in life. Don’t put it off. Trump could butt Tweet the nuke codes from Mar-a-Lago while playing a few rounds of golf any weekend now.

Get your green on!

~Eric

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – a Brief Review

The JungleThe Jungle by Upton Sinclair*

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It may be a bit ironic, but I sat down to finish the last 20 or so pages of this book while enjoying a yummy dinner of spicy hot Johnsonville sausages with rice and beans. You’ll have to read the book to see why it was ironic. šŸ˜‰

The book was an interesting read. However, the heavy push at the end regarding Socialism just kinda’ ruined it for me. The book went from a tragedy about the oppression of the working class straight to an expanded political pamphlet expounding the advantages of the workers’ utopia that would come about when Socialism becomes the way of the world.

Like I said, though… it was an interesting read. Just the descriptions of the Chicago meat-packing industry and the ridiculously corrupt politics of the early 1900s makes the book worth reading.

Could even turn you into a vegetarian Socialist!

Yippee, Comrade!


 

*This review was originally published on GoodReads.com

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Books I Should Have Read In High School

WisdomĀ does come with age, it seems. When I was a young lad in high school, we were assigned four books to read during the summer prior to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades (I attended a Catholic high school in Tampa, Florida). I can’t really remember which books were assigned which years, but I have a list from memory that I think is relatively accurate:

  • Kurt Vonnegut’sĀ Player Piano
  • Stephen Crane’sĀ Red Badge of Courage
  • George Orwell’sĀ 1984
  • William Golding’sĀ Lord of the Flies
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald’sĀ The Great Gatsby
  • Charles Dickens’Ā A Tale of Two Cities
  • George Orwell’sĀ Animal Farm
  • John Steinbeck’sĀ Winter of Our Discontent
  • Thor Heyerdahl’sĀ Kontiki
  • James Herriot’sĀ All Things Great and Small
  • Thornton Wilder’sĀ Bridge Over San Luis Rey
  • Upton Sinclair’sĀ The JungleĀ (currently reading)

TheĀ reason there are only 12 books instead of 16 (four years’ worth) is because I got myself a little girlfriend in the summer between 10th and 11th grades. When school started in September, I also had a really cool ’69 Ford Mustang Mach I. I used to leave for school in the morning and drive to my girlfriend’s school and pick her up at the bus stop. We’d gallivant all over town for the entire school day and then I’d drop her back off as the bus was loading to take the kids home. She and I both missed so much of the first quarter of that school year that we could never recover in time to advance to the next grade. She had to attend summer school the following summer and I dropped out and got my G.E.D. from the State of Florida. Obviously, I had not yet attained enough of that previously mentioned wisdom at this time.

But back to this wisdom thing…

I‘ve often said since that time that these type of books should be mandatory reading for people in their mid-30s, not pre-teens or just-barely-teens. I don’t believe that children of 14 and 15 or so years old have the life experience needed to truly understand and relate to the stories and characters in these “classic” type books. Most everyone did just what I did. We skimmed and then bought the CliffsNotes in order to pass the quizzes and act somewhat knowledgeably about the characters and plots of these books. That’s a sad thing.

IĀ have always been a reader from a very young age. My mother taught me to read and write before I ever started school. However, I just didn’t like (and still don’t) someone telling me what I had to read. This is why I don’t join group reads or similar things. I like to read what I want to read when I want to read it. This rebelliousness or pigheadednessĀ on my part kept me from reading these books way back then.

Fortunately for me, I corrected this situation later in life; once I was mature and experienced enough to truly appreciate the wonderful and profound things these authors were trying to communicate to their readers using the limited medium of the written word. I am forever grateful that I was wise enough to pick these books up and give them a go. They broadened my knowledge and enlightened me to many things I would not otherwise have experienced.

There only two books in the above list that I haven’t read as of yet. They areĀ Kontiki andĀ Winter of Our Discontent. I intend to read both of them sometime before the end of this year; might be some good reading for those cool winter eves here in Florida. Nyuck!

Anyway, should you be somewhere past 35 years old or so and are contemplating your next read, I strongly suggest you hark back to those days of yore during your teen years and pick a book or two that you didn’t read like you were supposed to. You won’t regret it.

Read something! It’s good for you.

~Eric

*You can find all the above books and millions more at Goodreads. There you can read a synopsis of the book along with other folks’ reviews and thoughts. It’s a great website.

A Goodreads Review of Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace

Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universe, Time Warps, and the 10th DimensionHyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universe, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Science tends to be a bit dry, but Dr. Kaku manages to make it interesting; with just a small boring spell during the discussion of Kalusa-Klein and introductory string theory. This is to be expected, though. You just can’t make multi-dimensional imagery and vibrating strings very exciting to the lay person. It looses something without the excitement of its underlying mathematical foundation.

Dr. Kaku tries his hand at a bit of futurist prognostication, too… very LONG, LONG term future, I mean. The discussion of Type I, II, and III societies and their respective technical and scientific prowess was quite interesting. Sadly, though, the discussion about the impending death of our universe was a bit depressing. Good thing it’s a very, very long way off.

All in all, this 1994 book was chocked full of interesting scientific history and understanding of the amazing things around us. We’ve only just begun. Just a few thousand years ago, we could barely manage to keep ourselves warm and fed. Today we’re sending probes to other planets, asteroids, the sun, etc. Imagine what we’ll be doing in 5000 more years. I can’t wait to see. šŸ˜‰

Read it. Science is fun.

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A Goodreads Review of Dan Simmons’ Abominable

The AbominableThe Abominable by Dan Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always enjoyed how Dan Simmons weaves his fictional stories so tightly around real non-fiction historical events. And while this particular story isn’t my favorite of his books of this type (The Terror and Drood were better), it is a wonderful story. It’s also one that he writes is a certain way, using certain styles (I won’t spoil it for you) that almost makes you wonder if it might just possibly be a true accounting of something that actually did happen. Of course, as a writer, if Simmons manages to get you to feel that way once you’ve closed that back cover after reading that last page, then he did his job… and did it well.

My only complaint about this book, which isn’t really a complaint, is the fact that it slowed down a bit here and there due to detailed descriptions of technical matters and procedures carried out by the characters in the story. It was all quite interesting, though, and actually got me searching Google for some more info on the things these folks were doing in this story. So, see… not really a complaint at all.

Read it. You might like it. šŸ™‚

~Eric

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Image credits: stock publisher’s photo of book provided by Goodreads. com