Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Farewell to War, Baby (Military Week)

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is a classic war novel. This book is loosely based on Hemingway’s own experience.  Set in WWI, American Frederic Henry is an ambulance driver in the Italian Army. At one point, his buddy Rinaldi, introduces him to Catherine Barkley, an English nurse’s aide.  She’s on the rebound from the death of her fiancĂ© and she’s a bit of a basket case.  One second she’s slapping Frederic when he leans forward to kiss her, the next minute she’s offering him a kiss.  He takes her up on the offer, and their lips barely part before she’s talking about their future life together. Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction comes to mind.  It’s almost spooky, but he plays along until he has to leave for duty. After receiving a nasty war wound to the knee, Frederic is sent to a hospital in Milan where he encounters Catherine again.  He falls in love with her during his recuperation time and Catherine becomes pregnant. Unfortunately, after a few months Frederic must return to his unit, and they are once again separated.  Of course, now he’d rather be with Catherine, especially when the Italians started executing officers involved in an unfortunate retreat.  That is when Frederic says “farewell” and escapes in a river.  He soon says “hello” to his Catherine as they meet again.  Life is good.  But before all is said and done, Frederic must say two more “farewells.”

I liked the book, but wasn't wholeheartedly enthralled with the writing; it seemed a tad stilted, at times terse and choppy.  Rinaldi also irritated me.  He constantly threw the word “baby” into his conversations. “How are you, baby?”  “Good-by, baby.” “Take your pants off, baby.” Shave his head and stick a lollipop in his mouth and you have Telly Savalas saying “Who loves ya, baby?” in the 1970's detective drama Kojak.  I couldn't wipe that image out of my head.

My husband thoroughly enjoyed this book.  He not only liked the descriptive war scenes, but surprisingly, he also liked the love story—more than I did

Like so many classics, this book is available free online.  Visit

There’s only us two and in the world there’s all the rest of them.”

Ernest Hemingway,  A Farewell to Arms  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929; reprint, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), 134.

“Nothing ever happens to the brave.”
“They die of course.”
“But only once.”

Ernest Hemingway,  A Farewell to Arms  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929; reprint, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), 134.

"God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to fall in love with any one. But God knows I had…" 

Ernest Hemingway,  A Farewell to Arms  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929; reprint, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), 90.

Happy Reading,


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Monday, May 27, 2013

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers

Thank You Servicemen and Servicewomen
(Military Week)

Today is Memorial Day, a day to commemorate the men and women who died during military service. It is a day to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  And for all those who have been, or are now, in the military, willing to risk their lives on so many fronts (including physical and mental), I want to say thank you.  Thank you for offering so much!  Of course, the families of all soldiers also deserve our gratitude.  I cannot imagine the heartache and stress of not knowing if your loved one will come back, and if he or she does, what kind of person will they be after what they've been through. 

If ever there was an iconic image of war, the six men raising the flag on the island of Iwo Jima during WWII, certainly comes to mind.  I have to admit that I am not a history buff.  I don’t particularly like war movies.  When I read books set in a war, the battles are usually a backdrop to the main love story.  In other words, this is not my usual pick of books.  But I became interested in Flags of Our Fathers through a forwarded email.  It was about an eighth grade class that took a trip to D.C. On one of the stops the class visited the bronze statue of the flag raising in Iwo Jima. I don’t know if the story was true, but it stated that at the memorial statue, James Bradley, the author of Flags of Our Fathers, just happened to be there. He began to tell the students about the six boys who raised that flag. The “old man” of the group was only 24.  The youngest was 18. He told how three of them never left that island.  They died there.  The other three that survived were catapulted into an unwanted whirlwind that rocked their lives.  One of them was his father, John “Jack” (Doc) Bradley.  His father, Jack, made it a point to never speak of the war.  The only thing he ever said was “The real heroes are the guys who didn't come back.” And so after his father passed away, James took years of research to find the real stories of those six men who almost everybody recognized yet not many people knew.

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers examines the lives of the six young men who became instant and even reluctant heroes in that iconic photo of the flag raising on Iwo Jima in February of 1945. The book relays the background of each of the men, who they were and what family values formed them. Bradley pieced together their histories as well as the realities of the unforgettable battle with heart wrenching detail.

It was only 1/400th of a second, the time it took to take that photo, but the magnitude of the resulting propaganda had a huge impact.  For the six men it was just that, a blip in time compared to the job they had at hand. When the flag went up the fighting was far from over, though Americans hailed the photo as a victorious boost to morale. It touched the people and the government saw it as a great opportunity. The three surviving men were pulled from the battle to begin a Bond Tour to raise more money for the war efforts.  They became instant heroes, whether they liked it or not.  Each had a different way of handling that fame.  Rene Gagnon hoped his notoriety would help him gain employment.  It didn't.  Ira Hayes hid behind the bottle and eventually died at age 32.  Only Jack Bradley, the author’s father, did his tour duty then forevermore backed away from the press after he left the service.  With great determination, he kept his private life private and never talked of the war again.  That was his way of handling it.  He decided to go on with his life.

The stories of the six men are compelling. But more than their stories, we see that they were just six small but valuable parts in a much bigger story.  There were so many others, so many who suffered, who gave their lives.  Eighty thousand American men fought 22,000 Japanese for over one month in unimaginable circumstances. Our U.S. Marines could not see the enemies.  Sixteen miles of underground tunnels hid the Japanese as they picked our guys off. After a long and bloody battle, the Marines finally did conquer that tiny sulphur-stinking island which we desperately needed for a landing strip en route to Japan.  But it was at enormous cost. 22,851 casualties. 7,000 dead. It was “one of the most intense and closely fought battles of any war.” If war books do not usually make it onto your reading list, you may want to reconsider just this once.  Flags of Our Fathers is dramatic, moving, and enlightening.

When you go home
Tell them for us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today

Message chiseled outside the cemetery on Iwo Jima
Flags of Our Fathers James Bradley with Ron Powers, (New York: Bantam Books, 2000), 247.


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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Realities of Restaurants (Memorable Memoirs Week)

Maybe you’re a foodie who likens the exciting popping sensation of quinoa to a vegetarian caviar.  Perhaps you’re the couple who has to be the first to try every new restaurant—then pass your valuable critiques onto friends and family. Or do you prefer the “all you can eat buffets” where troughs of enigmatic food from every imaginable country are ready for sampling? Maybe you’re none of those, just a regular Joe-Schmo (or Jolene-Schmolene) where dining out is a special occasion, befitting to dusting off your finest duds, ready to be schmoozed in a tablecloth and candle-lit atmosphere.  Or perchance, you’re one of the brave ones—an aspiring chef.  Whoever you are or how you prefer your intake of professionally-concocted sustenance, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain may be a book for your consideration. This book is a memoir of Chef Anthony Bourdain’s humble beginnings as a dishwasher (sudsbuster, a.k.a. pearl diver), to his education in the Culinary Institute of America, to various restaurant venues, to a renown executive chef in the Brasserie Les Halls in Manhattan. And with the honest and sarcastic wit you may have come to know in his TV series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, this book is an eye-opening, humorous tell-all.  In it you’ll be served a behind the scenes look at the high-stress restaurant world, where tension and cocaine meet skill and timing.  After reading this book, you’ll either appreciate your dining experience much more, or you’ll think twice before ordering the fish on Monday.  You’ll know what it takes to put it all together. You’ll meet the dream-team of ruffians that make it all happen. You’ll understand what an amazing feat it is to feed a 200+ seat restaurant, along with a 150+ seat grill, and top it off with an entire floor of banquet rooms from a kitchen “as big as a hangar.” You may even feel ashamed or at the very least present a nice little blush the next time you demand gluten-free bread or the vegetarian meat platter or what-have-you when it’s not on the menu.  I truly enjoyed this irreverent look at the restaurant business. So did my husband and son.  

"Jimmy had “moves,” meaning he spun and twirled and stabbed at meat with considerable style and grace for a 220-pound man.  He was credited with coming up with “the bump”—a bit of business where a broiler man with both hands full of sizzle-platters knocks the grill back under the flames with his hip."
Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2000), 26.

Cook well done translates to “Burn it!” or “Murder it!” or “Kill it!”
Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2000), 224.

Happy reading and eating!


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Monday, May 20, 2013

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

An “Adventurous” Childhood (Memorable Memoirs Week)

The Glass Castle is a memorable memoir about kids growing up in a highly dysfunctional family.  Both parents were extremely intelligent, but seemed to do everything they could to avoid work and properly provide for Jeannette and her three siblings. Instead, the kids were left dirty, poor, often times homeless, unsupervised, and always hungry.  What makes this book so memorable is that incredible incidents were heaped on one after the other. The hits just kept coming. It left me in slack-jawed astonishment that people could really be like that. And surprisingly, Jeannette didn't seem to judge her parents harshly, when I’m not sure most people would be so tolerant. 

Jeanette's father was an alcoholic. Her self-centered mother only wanted to be an artist. She was seriously devoid of maternal instincts genes. The need to work so her family could eat was a distasteful concept. When she was “forced” to take a teaching job, the kids were the ones who ended up grading her papers and nearly pushing her out the door to work. 

Both parents made sure their kids knew Santa Claus wasn't real, just in case they got it into their heads that they might actually get lavish presents.  They weren't complete scrooges, though.  They did celebrate Christmas—usually just a week later.  That way they could grab discarded Christmas trees, ribbons and bows after the fact. 

Their unconventional upbringing sometimes made their kids look at the world with a unique perspective. One memorable moment was when Jeannette’s dad gave her a star for a Christmas present. He told her to pick one out of the sky and she could have it for keeps. “Years from now, when all the junk they [the other kids] got is broken and long forgotten,” Dad said, “you’ll still have your stars.” Yet this one touching moment was overshadowed by the alcoholism that would bring him down to shameful and unconscionable depths that no child could forget.

Don’t miss this book.  The buzz it generated when it was published in 2005 was well deserved. I actually got my son to read this book—and even he really liked it! Later my husband read it and gave it thumbs-up

Update:  Jan/2017: My daughter just read it on her maternity leave, and yes, she loved it too!

The Glass Castle details some of the lows parents can reach.  On the other end of the spectrum, I would like to recommend The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan. This delightful autobiography highlights what an extraordinary mother who found creative ways to keep her family fed in the 1950s and 60s while they, too, dealt with an alcoholic father. 

As a father figure, I also love Mr. Gilbert’s parenting style in Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbert Carey. Set in the early 1900s this book is a charming memoir of parents who use incentive and innovation to bring order to their big brood.

Happy reading!


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