Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reading Influences: War Stories

I spent yesterday re-reading the first part of the book and outlining the next scenes, so I think I'm ready to plunge back in and see how much I can get written, fast.

Since I'm still wading through the Belgariad (I'm nearly done with book 2), I guess it's time for another discussion of reading influences.

On the surface it looks like an anomaly in my general reading taste, but I've long had a fondness for war-related novels, particularly World War II. Unlike a lot of my reading influences, I can't point to any specific time or book that kicked this off. I grew up in a military family, and we lived for a while on a historic post that had a lot of museums. I remember visiting these museums with my dad and seeing things like the evolution of the army uniform, from the Revolutionary War to the present (at that time). My school bus passed the row of artillery from the beginning to the present every day. Daddy-daughter bonding time for me often involved us watching old war movies (my dad called them "training films") together. Then we moved to Germany, and I was seeing a lot of war-related stuff first-hand.

I think I read Anne Frank's diary in fifth or sixth grade (I remember what school I was going to when I read it, and I was at that school in those years), and I liked to read war-related children's books, which tended to focus on stuff like the adventures British kids evacuated from cities during the war had while staying either in small, remote towns or castles. There were a few about Jews in hiding, and as I got older and veered into what we'd call "young adult," there were books about American teens being caught in France when the Nazis invaded and having to escape.

The summer between sixth and seventh grades, we went on a family vacation to Berchtesgaden. One day, we took the Sound of Music tour of Salzburg, but the rest of the time, we were exploring the Obersalzberg, which was sort of the retreat/mountain hideout for the main Nazis. At that time, that mountain was where the American military rec area was, so we were staying in a hotel that used to be Hitler's guest VIP hotel, and everywhere you went, you found remnants of the time when that area was heavily fortified. We got to go into the bunkers, and once we got a map, we were able to figure out which blocked-off driveways led to the sites of the homes of which Nazi leaders. I think that stirred a lot of interest and curiosity because it became very real, but at the same time, I found myself trying to make sense of it all, and fiction helps with that because fiction generally makes sense.

In seventh grade, the junior high school shared a library with the high school, and that meant the children's, young adult, and adult books were all shelved together, which helped me transition to adult books. That was when I really got into reading war books. I never much cared about actual battlefield stories. I was more into stuff like espionage, capers, and secret missions -- essentially adventure stories in a war setting. I got into authors like Alastair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone) and Jack Higgins (The Eagle Has Landed). By the time I was in high school, I was reading Herman Wouk (The Winds of War/War and Remembrance) and Leon Uris (Mila 18).

As I was thinking recently while planning this post, it occurred to me that these books are actually pretty similar to the classic fantasy novel. The spy/secret mission stories involve putting together a team that usually comes from all walks of life and has different specialties. They go on a journey together, usually having to evade the all-seeing eyes of the enemy. They have to sneak into some kind of fortress, and then they either have to find something or destroy something. The Guns of Navarone and The Lord of the Rings are basically the same story, but in a different setting and with technology instead of magic. Though The Guns of Navarone has a lot less elven poetry and is a lot shorter. So, it's not so weird that I would like both kinds of books.

I don't inhale these books quite as much these days, though I have enjoyed Elizabeth Wein's WWII YA thrillers. I don't know that quite so many books about that era are being written now. When I was in junior high, the people who'd experienced the war were probably the prime demographic for writing and buying books, and most of the books I was reading were pretty old even then. Now it's more like ancient history.

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