Over the holidays I read some light fiction, e.g., M C Beaton’s The Blood of an Englishman, a disappointing formulaic addition to her sometimes delightful Agatha Raisin series. This was promoted as the 25th book in the series and had that tinge of rushed, PR-touted offering, undistinguished from any other book in the series. A shame.
I also read Alexander McCall Smith’s Handsome Man Café in the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series and it was much more satisfying. There’s always growth in the characters and lovely descriptions of their Botswana locale. Oddly enough, this is the only Smith series I like, I find his other books tedious, self-conscious and preening.
I read a couple of meaningful WWII books, Escape from Colditz by P R Reid and Flying Fortress: The Illustrated Biography of the B-17 and the Men Who Flew Them by Edward Jablonski. Both Reid and Jablonski were remarkable heroes and remarkable writers, an appealing combination.
Escape from Colditz includes both Reid books, The Colditz Story and Men of Colditz in one volume. The volume is exciting and often tense, frequently disturbing because there’s not always a happy ending for these men. Colditz was for officers, and was a largely-ignored postwar story for a time since immediately after the war, it was a part of the geo-political East Germany, controlled by the USSR. An interesting question brought up by the book: Should so many Allied POW’s try to escape when increasing numbers of Allied airmen were crashing into enemy lands? Did it help the airmen by tying up German troops, SS and local police? Did it hinder the airmen by galvanizing so many locals into organized units that became proficient at finding Allies? Reid proffers it didn’t much matter. The men at Colditz, the supposedly unescapable prison for inveterate escapees and troublemakers, were men who would rather die in uncomfortable freedom for a moment than safely live in the relative comfort of prison. A fascinating book by a Brit writing mostly about Brits, French, Polish, Dutch and a few Americans and Belgians.
The B-17 fascinated me even though it contained a lot of technical info that I didn’t understand. Personal stories combined with an air warfare vision of the war and day by day, sortie by sortie successes and failures, background history of the air forces and the men behind their expanding role. A lot of history in one book.
The 2 books that have stayed in my mind, weighing me down with questions and sometimes sadness, are Code Talker by Chester Nez and Meat Eater by Steven Rinella. They surprised me because I intended to read the short books and move on to ahem, “meatier” books but I still think about them.
I’ve read other books about the fascinating Code Talkers but Nez has the most modest, understated way of saying the most incredible things. I loved his beginnings, a lovely heartfelt account of his Navajo upbringing and his extended family, their love of their livestock as near-family. I winced through his accounts of forced boarding school by Christian missionaries where, ironically, he learned the English that made him a reluctant bilingual but enabled him to be in the elite Code Talker group, really special ops of WWII. He loyally credits his fellow Code Talkers or anyone connected with the program and he relates his later hardships of dying children, divorce and health handicaps with calm acceptance. What made me sad, though, was the silence imposed on the Code Talkers for so many years after the war. Their slowly evolving recognition came too late for some of the Code Talkers or their families and late for them to be viewed as heroes by the patriotic Indian community, a community that desperately needed heroes and success. Incredibly no Code Talker ever broke the Army injunction of postwar silence, enjoined in case the code was ever needed again. More incredible was the main theme of this book: Nez never sees himself as a victim, ever, no matter what.
Lastly, Steven Rinella and his book that frankly, I only read because my SIL encouraged me. I’m glad he did because it’s one of those quiet books that hits you in the face, making you question accepted beliefs and points of view. Although I grew up with hunters, I’m not a hunter and was a vegetarian for many years. I’m now trying to eat meat and reduce my intake of processed carbs, such as soy products. Surprisingly, Rinella has helped me eat more meat by viewing it as a natural act, one that made our ancestors smarter and stronger by way of better protein.
I’ve been watching his MeatEater tv shows and it helps that Rinella is so darn likable. He reminds me of my brother and other young men who grew up outdoors, playing sports in any empty lot they found, passed newspapers for spending money, doted on their Moms, did daily chores inside the house and out, bought used bicycles and fixed them up and later bought used cars and fixed them up.. They always broke the rules some, going farther outside the yard and playing tricks with their bikes and always with the wise cracks. Then they were all asked or told by their country to fight a war that wasn’t a war in Vietnam, only to hear the American media insult them and their war and came home to calls of “Babykillers” and being spat upon while walking Main Street.
Rinella is, IOW, the quintessential American young man with boy next door good
lucks looks but not handsome, fun to be with but not witty, an average student who isn’t brilliant but possesses a native intelligence yet doesn’t drop trivia or NYT quotes but down deep learns what he needs or wants to know. I think he writes and quotes literature/poetry for the time-honored reason that he has to. I don’t know Rinella’s politics but in the American future of Obama Pajama Boy and Princeton Check Your Privilege Blame America First Boy/Man, Steve Rinella gives me hope.
Here’s a bit of his Thomas K Whipple quote:
All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.