A moonbow is a weird natural wonder that Wikipedia can better explain than me. (Science hurts the brain.) The one and only moonbow I ever saw occurred on the Big Island of Hawaii, in early 2007, during a training exercise and right after I took over my scout platoon. I found it poignant, charming, and worth writing in my journal about. Then my NCOs gave me dip for the first time and I got dizzy and went to bed in the back of my Stryker. (Didn't vomit, though! Take that, Kodiak snuff.)
Anyways, that has nothing to do with anything. I just needed an intro for the book list I'm about to pontificate about. So here goes, a list of books I've read/am reading, all thanks to that wonderful month of freedom known as
1) The Gods of Diyala, by Caleb Cage and Gregory Tomlin - Full disclosure - Caleb is also from Reno, and he and I met up at his brothers' pub a couple weeks ago to talk Iraq memoirist-from-Reno-talk. And as great a guy as Caleb is, I wouldn't blow smoke up the Interwebz's backside unless I thought his book deserved it - and it does. Set in Diyala Province in Iraq in 2004, Cage and Tomlin chronicle their companies' deployment, and Good Christ, I'm glad they did. Some things in the Army are universal, like the Suck, soldiers' dark humor, and bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy. But this book opened my eyes to the aimlessness of the early Iraq War in ways no other book has, to include Evan Wright's Generation Kill and Nate Fick's Nate Fick is Super Awesome. (Just kidding. I've heard from anyone that knows Fick that he's a great dude and a better leader. And his book is very good. I'll definitely vote for him for Senator of America someday. What? That's not snark, I mean that!) Anyways, buy The Gods of Diyala if you want to understand how and why the protracted shift to counterinsurgency was so essential. It's like a ground view of Tom Ricks' Fiasco, complete with an ironic title mocking a way too earnest company commander. (Bringing this paragraph full-circle, Ricks now works for Fick at the think tank Center for a New American Security.)
2) The Farther Shore, by Matthew Eck - This book was recommended by the blog On Violence, and they were spot on with such. A veteran of Somalia, Eck's novel brings a literary voice to postmodern warfare in a way I've not seen yet. It's lean, and it's style screams of "What Would Hemingway Do!" rewrites, but all literature is derivative, to be fair. The end gets a little trippy, but personally, I really enjoyed it, considering I lived the symbolism Eck conveys. Those Hurt Locker fucks would've been much better off making a movie from this.
3) The Man Who Never Returned, by Peter Quinn. A work of fiction, The Man Who Never Returned revisits the unsolved disappearance of Justice Joseph Force Crater in New 1930-New York City. This is a Depression-era mystery laced with NYC mystique and nostalgia. Further, the writing is really, really good - Quinn possesses that quintessential Irish gift of gab and is able to transcribe such on paper. (Not as easy as you might think, by the way.) I've lived in this city for 18 months now, and am only now beginning to appreciate the historical importance of it - literally every neighborhood block deserves its own Wikipedia entry. Quinn brought me to a place I didn't even know I imagined until I started reading. It's a plot-driven novel, so I don't write to write about any details for fear of giving it away, but highly recommended.
4) Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential, 'America's Most Scandalous Scandal Magazine, by Henry E. Scott. America's obsession with pop culture isn't a new thing. TMZ has always existed, even before the Internet, even before the paparazzi, and well, even before TMZ. Scott delves into the history of the scandal magazine of the golden age, a rag called Confidential - a magazine that once proclaimed "Why Joe DiMaggio is Striking Out with Marilyn Monroe!" (Punny. Very, very punny.) Hollywood lives have, apparently, always been sordid, and our society's obsessions with them have always been prevalent. Scott's journalistic background shines through, and he manages to write about some really interesting, messy details with a clean distance. The treatment of Sammy Davis, Jr., both in the press and out of it, were my favorite anecdotes of the book. All things must end though, and such a fate was destined for Confidential, as well.
5) The Mullah's Storm, by Thomas Young. Fiction about GWOT is (finallly) starting to churn out, and Young's novel brings all the immediacy and relevance of a thriller with it. Set in modern Afghanistan, it starts with a transport plane going down in the middle of a harrowing blizzard in the Hindu Kush. Young's own experiences as an Air Force give the book an authentic voice, and keeps the story from drifting into "suspension of disbelief" territory. In an author's note, Young writes that "When you write fiction, your best work may come from what scares you the most ... The Mullah's Storm is an imagining of that fear [for me]." Job well done, Mr. Young, because The Mullah's Storm is now my fear too, and I'm not even a pilot.
6) The Pugilist at Rest, by Thom Jones. A collection of short stories, Jones went from an unknown to a The New Yorker darling instantaneously in the early 90s, after he sent in a short story also entitled "The Pugilist at Rest." (Wonder where he got the title for the book.) That story and "I Want to Live!" are reason enough to pick up this book, though I must warn you - Jones's writings are dark and blunt in ways that may make you uncomfortable. Like, have to put the book down and get a Jack and Coke uncomfortable. Definitely not a pick-me-up type of thing, but a bona fide exercise in modern literature and an exploration of the deepest crevices human existence can offer.
That's about all I got for now ... I guess I'm the Jon Gruden of book reviews! I enjoyed all of these reads for a variety of reasons. Bring me my Crown of Hyperbole, Mike Tirico! (To be fair, there were two books I read in the past month that I didn't like, one of which I absolutely abhorred for its' lack of self-awareness and pomp and circumstance, but I'm not going to bring this post to Negative-Town.)
Next on the docket - Gregory Martin's memoir Mountain City, about his upbringing in rural Nevada, and Raymond Carver's Cathedral, because let's face it, anyone who writes short stories wants to be Raymond Carver, sans alcoholism.