Sunday, August 2, 2009

What Warriors Read -- to Learn, for Escape?

By Bill Doughty

Catching up this week, after the interview with Professor Jackson, manager of the Navy Professional Reading Program. I want to highlight comments received by two Sailors a while back that I didn’t want to get “lost in the sauce”...

“Christine,” a public affairs officer, and CAPT Hansen, officer in charge of Navy embedded training teams, posted these comments to my review of The Kite Runner in May. In a few words they say so much -- about religion, father-son relationships, diverse viewpoints and book recommendations for families when loved ones are deployed -- above all, putting things in context:

I don't know if these are universal, but before I left, people recommended "Lone Survivor," which is Marcus Luttrell's account of the battle that killed the rest of his Seal team in the mountains of Afghanistan. Also recommended were A Thousand Splendid Suns and Three Cups of Tea. I'll confess that I've only gotten to Lone Survivor myself (I read The Kite Runner awhile back), but the others are on my list.

I'm a huge reader -- my Kindle is my prized possession here, right behind my laptop. I don't watch a lot of television, and I haven't even looked at the 300gb of movies I brought with me. Instead, I read a lot of fluff -- pure escapist nonsense. Some of it with more literary merit than others. I do like to read the books that I learn something from, but it's also important to have the fun reads.

Your comment wrapped up Kite Runner like the crib notes of a good book report. I like the way that you tied up the analogies for me. The book was riveting for me on two personal paths - spiritual and relational. It was interesting to reflect on my adherence to and divergence from my religious beliefs. Seeing the son attempting to be himself and please his father, whom he respected immensely brought me to reflecting on my relationship with my father, growing up, and my relationship with my son.

The Thousand Splendid Suns is even more poignant regarding the place of women in Afghan society.

Both books are must reads to get prepared for a deployment here. The service member must remember though that people are individuals. Although there is societal adherence to Islam, there is some variation as to how conforming people are just as in the U.S. people profess one religion or another, but live varying degrees of it.

Three Cups of Tea is recommended for those deploying too. It is much more positive than the other books mentioned here. Spouses and loved ones remaining behind should read Three Cups so that they have something positive to contemplate in the absence of their service member.

Dennis M. Hansen

Other perspectives...

From Tikrit, Iraq a friend wrote to me that folks he knows are reading escapist books like Twilight and Clash of Kings. He said in an email, “We just read the books people send us.” Graphic novels are a hit with some of the Americans serving there. Speaking of Twilight, I heard on a podcast last week that, with the U.S. economy in a downturn, romance novels are back in vogue.

Like Christine said, fun reads are important too.

Back at my office in Hawaii, my colleagues and I sometimes talk about books around the watercooler, where a co-worker suggested reading Lionel Trilling. I checked out Trilling’s Beyond Culture: Essays on Literature and Learning and found a fascinating thinker. Trilling’s decades-old essays were well worth dusting off and examining. He dissects T.S. Eliot, George Orwell, Mark Twain and Hemingway, among many others.

Mark Twain could help readers escape and learn... Was he America’s greatest writer?

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