Saturday, March 30, 2013
March 30, 2013: National Big Read Recaps, Part 6
[This past Saturday, I chaired my NeMLA Roundtable on a National Big Read. Each of the six participants shared interesting and provocative perspectives on his or her chosen book or author, and so I wanted to follow up those presentations with some further thoughts. Not least so you can add your take on these and other books and authors that all Americans could read at the same time!]
The nominee that takes us there—and back again.
The roundtable’s sixth and final presenter, my Fitchburg State University colleague Irene Martyniuk, nominated Sebastian Junger’s War. Compared to any of the other five nominees, Junger’s book—a very recent bestseller, and the inspiration for an Academy Award-nominated documentary to boot—might seem the least in need of broader exposure. But Irene made a compelling case that we can and should engage much more fully with War and its subjects, on a number of different levels.
For one thing, as Irene noted, you could say the same two things of the war in Afghanistan that I just did about Junger’s book: that it’s been prominently featured in our collective consciousness for a good while now; yet that we somehow manage much of the time not to engage with it nearly enough. Junger’s book, quite simply, takes us there. For another thing, as Irene argued with particular force, tens of millions of American lives have been directly impacted by that war, and will continue to be for many decades to come—and Junger’s book brings the war home with its soldiers, and forces us to better recognize and engage with this sizeable and evolving American community.
There’s at least one more significant, and perhaps even more complicated, place to which Junger’s book takes us, though: to the defining role that war has, in our contemporary moment, in our enduring national identity, and, perhaps, in our human consciousness. As Irene put it, a hard but seemingly clear truth, and one from which Junger does not flinch, is that we are drawn to war, that it speaks to us somehow. I’m not claiming that’s true for all individuals, as that’d be a serious injustice to some of the best individuals I know. But collectively? We’ve got a deadly serious obsession with war, I’d say—and Junger’s book can help us admit that we’ve got a problem.
March recap tomorrow,
PS. So last chance for now: thoughts on this nomination? Other nominees for an Even Bigger Read?