A great and rare thing happened this month. I read a real gem.
Books bought: The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
Books read: American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales – Pumpkinflowers by Matti Friedman – Grit by Angela Duckworth – Silence by Shusaku Endo – The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone – Shrill by Lindy West – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – Tribe by Sebastian Junger
So many books cross my desk in a year. So many. And several of them are really good. And a lot of them are fairly good but interesting. Not too many of them are terrible – terrible books have a hard time finding a publisher.
But it’s relatively rare that you read something that stands above all of them. That you can’t wait to get in hardcover and immediately add to your shelves. Pumpkinflowers is one of those books. I’ve already reviewed it over at goodreads so not too much more to say. A colleague has described it as the book of “Israel’s Vietnam.” And I’m convinced it can hold its own with the great novels and memoirs of the First World War.
What is it about military writing that draws us in? I’m sure there’s something about peeking into a radically different world. But it can’t just be that. In the age of mass armies, plenty of veterans wanted to read about the war they themselves had fought. For the same reason it can’t just be about wanting to imagine how we would react in battle.
I think, instead, it’s something that appeals to everyone. Men and women, young and old, civilian and veteran. It’s about searching for that profound connections that soldiers seem to form. Something beyond friendship and love. Civilians want to touch it and veterans want to relive it. It seems to me that very few of us, very few of us, develop the deep almost primal bond that seems to form in war. And in an individualistic world – even when surrounded by friends, families, and lovers – something about that calls out to our very meaning as humans.