Saturday, April 12, 2014

Beth’s Books: From Here To Eternity by James Jones

Beth's BooksThis is #62 on the Modern Library’s Top 100 list, and yes, I’m still plugging away at that list!

I started this last summer, but got a little bogged down in it, so I set it aside for other books after making it about halfway through. (It’s an 860 pager, so I’d already read what would normally be considered a fairly good-sized book.) I recently returned to it, and I was still struggling with it a bit. Although Jones was very descriptive, he tended to get a little too wordy at times, and I was to the point where I was almost ready to give up...but I was over 60% of the way through (I read this on my Kindle), so I decided to keep going.

I’m so glad I did. By the time I got about 85% of the way through, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, and after that, I just didn’t want to put it down.

You can read the synopsis elsewhere. A very brief description is that it takes place in Hawaii, with the main location an Army base, in the time leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and our entry into WWII. We get to know several characters quite well, including Sgt. Milt Warden and Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt, and I came to care about these characters very much. We follow them through various Army-related and decidedly NON-Army activities, such as love affairs, drunken binges, and visits to town and its bars and whorehouses. One of the main reasons I kept reading was because I wanted to find out what happened with some of these characters.

The main thing this book gave me was a glimpse into the lives of the WWII-era soldier. I have never read or watched anything that brought them to life as much as this book. I read the restored version rather than the original 1953 heavily edited version. All the profanity, all the sex, all the anger and hostility and human frailty is there. With the passing of several decades, I believe we have come to see WWII veterans as noble warriors, and have mythologized the Greatest Generation to a remarkable degree. I’m not saying this is wrong. My Dad and several of my uncles were WWII veterans, and they were remarkable men who did remarkable things.

However, they weren’t saints. I don’t know how much of a hellraiser my Dad was during the war, although I know he was a bit of a one before he joined the Army! He didn’t talk about the war much, and it wasn’t until I was probably in my late twenties that he told me a few stories. I think he had his share of fun...there was one story he told me about wandering around some city in North Africa with one of his buddies. It sounded like they were having a pretty good time!

This book showed the bravery as well as the humanity. The soldiers weren’t all innocent young rubes who walked on water. They were ordinary men who went into an extraordinary situation and sometimes did extraordinary things; sometime they just did ordinary things. Like every other human being.

I am very glad that I persevered on this book. I enjoyed the weaving together of the characters’ stories, but most of all, I enjoyed it for the sense it gave me of what my Dad might have been like as a young soldier, about 15 years before I was born. I don’t think that his experience was necessarily like those of some of the guys in the book, but I bet he knew guys who DID have similar experiences. It helped me to think of them as human beings rather than vague “Greatest Generation” demi-gods.

That makes me appreciate even more what they did.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Stuff and Thangs

Stuff and ThingsMy, how time flies when you’re doin’ stuff and thangs like Rick Grimes! Here almost two weeks have gone by, and I haven’t written one word here.

Nothing major has been happening. I’ve been healing up from my abdominal hematoma and going through some blood work because my doctor wanted to check for any clotting disorders. I’m not overly worried about that; clotting disorders don’t run in my family, and I’m not a bleeder. It hasn’t been too much of a hassle, although I wasn’t real pleased with my service at my former place of employment. It was unpleasant enough (they had to stick me three times, and I have great veins) that I sent an email to the VP who runs lab operations, my former head honcho boss. I wasn’t mean about it, but it really was a quality issue, and I believe she’ll address the problem. I’ve gone back to working out, and I should be able to start lifting weights again...I’ll try that tomorrow.

As you can imagine, I was all wigged out and excited about the season finale of “The Walking Dead.” Some people seemed to be disappointed by it, but I loved it. Badass Rick is back, and I think he’s going to be more badass than he ever was. October seems like it’s a long way away!

I went to our local library with Cousin Shane and my sister Diana to do some research on a family tragedy from almost fifty years ago. One of our cousins was brutally murdered by a local cop, and although Diana remembers it well, Shane and I were quite young when it happened and we only know what little we’ve read in some saved newspaper clippings or have been told by family members. It was very sobering to page through the microfilm and see the story unfold as it happened. It was the frontpage headline the day after it happened, and we all got pretty quiet as we read through these stories. We also are thinking about contacting the county where the trial happened and seeing if we can get the trial records. We figure those are public record, so I wouldn’t think it would be a problem. I wonder if you can get that stuff digitally now? No idea, but we do want to learn more about it.

Ken was on a business trip for the latter half of the week, and I had lunch with Shane and Matt one day, and dinner with my friend Dan from college one evening. Sheeba has kept me good company at home, and I’m never lonely with books and movies.

Ahhh, books...mostly I’ve been lost in Bookland. I got through the third book in the Strain trilogy, although it was a struggle. I liked the first two books quite a bit, but was disappointed in the third one. But since it’s a trilogy, you kind of have to finish it, right? Just like you have to watch the third Godfather movie although it is nothing compared to the first two. Then I picked From Here to Eternity back up. It’s part of the Modern Library Top 100 list, and I got a little over halfway through it last year before I put it down for more fun, summer-type reads. It’s really a slog, but it’s good enough that I DO want to finish it. Interesting characters in interesting situations, if sometimes the writing gets excessively wordy. It’s almost 900 pages, so progress is slow. This will sound terrible, but I’m wishing that Pearl Harbor would hurry up and happen, because I want to see how these characters react to it. I also need to see the entire movie (I’ve only seen parts of it), because I see that Montgomery Clift plays one of the best characters, Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt, AKA Prew. I want to get through it soon, because I have lots of good books to read, including the next one on the ML List, Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Caution Fun AheadAlso speaking of books, I ordered a new Kindle, a Paperwhite. My Kindle Keyboard hasn’t crapped out, and I’m still using it and it’s been a good and faithful companion, but the battery is starting to drain much more quickly. Amazon was offering a deal where you could pay for it over about four months with no interest, so that was pretty much impossible to pass up, especially since I knew I was going to have to order one soon, anyway. I’ve had my eye on the Paperwhite for a while, so I went ahead and ordered it. It seems easy to navigate, and I love the slightly backlit screen. It’s still very legible in the sun, so I’m quite pleased with it. I’m looking forward to reading my first book on it!

Let’s see...we’ve got a couple of Broadway shows coming up at the Morris, tickets to see Presidents of the United States of America with Shane and Matt in Indy in June, and our annual Florida vegecation in July. We’ll fit some minor league baseball games in there, and just plan on enjoying the summer. One of the best things about it will be the warmth. Man, it’s been a long winter for so many of us. We’re usually greening up nicely by now, but all the snow just recently melted. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all more than ready for warm weather and some greenery!

I know this wasn’t a super exciting entry. Just wanted to catch up, and I’ll try to bring some fireworks next time. You know I’ve still got fireworks…! I just need to work up some good outrage about something. It’s only a matter of time.