Happy Memorial Day, and thank you to all those who serve in the military/armed forces! In honor of the holiday, I thought I’d make a list of some of my favorite books about soldiers at war. I’ve never been that into books about war, just because I often can’t relate to the experiences of soldiers, but as I thought about this post, I realized I’ve actually read a lot more than I originally thought I had. With that, here’s just a few books I recommend if you’re interested in reading more about war and the sacrifices soldiers make.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
I got this book as a high school graduation gift from a friend, and was told that “it’s a book anyone majoring in journalism should read.” I’m still not quite sure about that claim, but I did enjoy this book far more than I ever thought I would, because it is definitely not the type of thing I’d ever pick up on my own. The book is a blend of fiction and non-fiction, written as a series of related short stories that follow O’Brien and the other soldiers in his platoon during the Vietnam War. It reads a bit like a memoir, likely because many of the stories are at least partly autobiographical. I will say, the first chapter was a bit dry, and I almost didn’t continue with it, but after that, it picks up, and O’Brien’s writing style really comes through. This book is sad, poignant, graphic, and funny all at the same, and I really enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. It’s also a great lesson in the art of storytelling, whether you’re going for fiction or non-fiction, or a blend of both (come to think of it, maybe that’s why my friend said all journalism majors should read it).
Crossing Stones by Helen Frost
I read this book ages ago, in middle school, so I may not be remembering all of it correctly, but I do remember loving it. I may have even read it twice. It follows the story of two neighboring families in Michigan during World War 1, told through the perspectives of three characters in their late teens: Muriel, her best friend Emma, and Muriel’s brother, Ollie. The book is also written in verse, which actually made me like it even more, from what I remember. The structure was just really unique, and there was always something new to see in it. Now, from what I remember, most of this book focused on life at the home front, so it wasn’t exactly a book about soldiers at war, but the parts from Ollie’s perspective do detail his time on the war front. If anything, it was a quick read, and I liked Frost’s style a lot, so I’d recommend it for that.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
A staple of so many high school reading curriculums, if you haven’t read Slaughterhouse-Five by now, you need to go pick it up right now. It was one of my favorite books I read in an English class, and that’s because it’s such a powerful, captivating story, with a little humor mixed in too, about a soldier who’s left empty after experiencing fire-bombing and being a prisoner of war in World War 2. In the book, the main character, Billy Pilgrim, relives much of his life as he becomes unstuck in time and encounters aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. As you might have guessed already, the plot of this book is a bit difficult to explain if you haven’t read it already, but it’s a good look into the effects of war on a soldier, and the aliens and time travel aspects make it an interesting read too. It’s not too long either, under 300 pages, making it a classic that’s actually pretty easy to get into and finish.
And that’s all for today, everybody. If you’re celebrating Memorial Day today, have fun at any barbeques or cookouts or pool parties or graduations you’re attending, but remember to think about the meaning of the holiday as well.