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Old 10-08-2013, 04:51 AM
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War literature (for a 17 y/o)


There is a lot of beautiful war literature around, but most of it that comes to mind is not all that encouraging for the average 17 y/o.

I'm tutoring a girl for whom we need to find her book of war lit, any war. Obviously, English language is the problem, that's why she's my student. So that's the challenge: I want her to actually read the book, and understand it, and get excited about it.

I checked that it needs to be actual war literature, LotR doesn't count.

Her teachers suggestions I just don't think will really capture her attention. I love Hemingway but he's out (looong, difficult). I thought about Catch-22 and All Quiet... but think those will just not hold her attention either.

I think she would probably enjoy reading The Kite Runner, but it's just too long for someone who has trouble with English.

I'd probably go for War Horse myself, but it's classed as a children's book so I don't think she'll be allowed to read that.

So... please share the war literature you love, and any recommendations for short, perhaps contemporary novels would be most welcome. What's The Book Thief like?
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Old 10-08-2013, 05:15 AM
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Diary of Anne Frank? I'll think a bit more
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Old 10-08-2013, 05:17 AM
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I remember really liking Bruce Catton's Banners at Shenandoah at that age. It's a Civil War novel from the point of view of a young Union cavalryman.
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Old 10-08-2013, 05:44 AM
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Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab is pretty good and not a difficult read. It's a biography about a squad of SAS soldiers dropped behind enemy lines during the early stages of Desert Storm.
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Old 10-08-2013, 06:58 AM
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The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is very easy to read, linguistically. It's an assigned text at lower secondary school level in the UK, is a hit with adults, has won many prizes and hits you very hard as long as you understand what happens at the end. There's a film of it, but I've no idea if it's any good.

"Once" is also a fantastic young adult book about a boy in occupied Poland. He's not a sweet, nice kid, which makes it more appealing. Linky: http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/ne...00/4737068.stm

Some WWI poetry is also pretty accessible, if poetry counts. Wilfred Owen to start with.
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Old 10-08-2013, 07:02 AM
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Forgot to say - I'd definitely recommend The Book Thief. Again, the main character is a bit of a naughty kid, which helps. The length might put some kids (and adults) off though.
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Old 10-08-2013, 08:55 AM
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Empire of the rising Sun by JG Ballard might be an option. It might be a bit bleak though as it's pretty grim stuff in places.
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Old 10-08-2013, 09:18 AM
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The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.
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Old 10-08-2013, 10:26 AM
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Thanks for the great suggestions, and please keep 'em coming. If they're not suitable for my student I can always do with good tips for myself!

madrabbitwoman, I'm teaching in the Netherlands, so she will definitely have read Anne Frank's Diary in Dutch already. I should've mentioned that!

Good call on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, thanks SciFiSam. I am worried the teacher might complain about it being too easy/young though. I'll ask. So The Book Thief is quite long? Is it about the same as The Kite Runner? (I should really get round to reading it myself!)

It seems quite difficult to balance, with War Horse and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas on one side and the other end of the scale weighed down with War and Peace...

Last edited by gracer; 10-08-2013 at 10:26 AM.
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Old 10-08-2013, 10:43 AM
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Thanks for the great suggestions, and please keep 'em coming. If they're not suitable for my student I can always do with good tips for myself!

madrabbitwoman, I'm teaching in the Netherlands, so she will definitely have read Anne Frank's Diary in Dutch already. I should've mentioned that!

Good call on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, thanks SciFiSam. I am worried the teacher might complain about it being too easy/young though. I'll ask. So The Book Thief is quite long? Is it about the same as The Kite Runner? (I should really get round to reading it myself!)

It seems quite difficult to balance, with War Horse and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas on one side and the other end of the scale weighed down with War and Peace...
You could point to the multiple awards TBITSP has won, and point out that the language is intentionally simplistic, but the message is important.

The Book Thief is long for a YA book that's not part of a series - you know, how things like the Harry Potter series get longer as they go on. It's not insurmountably long, but it is dense. It's worth a try but not the first book I'd choose.
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Old 10-08-2013, 10:47 AM
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Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt - A Newberry Award winner, although it might skew too young, it would be an easy read.
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Old 10-08-2013, 10:53 AM
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Way too young, but a longtime favorite of mine is Snow Treasure, about schoolkids in Norway saving their country's gold from the Nazis.
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Old 10-08-2013, 11:46 AM
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It's interesting to see YA lit from the US about the Civil War. It's pretty obvious that would be THE young adult lit war (yeah duh), but growing up in the UK & Netherlands, it was always the Great War in the UK and WWII for the Netherlands (and lots on that one in the UK too).

I feel sort of silly commenting, because it's so obvious, but it just occurred to me reading all these comments. Thanks for the insight!
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Old 10-08-2013, 12:24 PM
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I read Spirit of Survival when I was a teen. It's been quite a while, so I'm not sure if it's the best fit language-wise, but it deals with a young girl's experiences under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and her issues (legal and cultural) adjusting to life in the US. For someone who isn't a native speaker of English, there might be some common ground there.
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Old 10-08-2013, 12:32 PM
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"The Things They Carried" is a decent choice. It is a collection of connected short stories based on the Vietnam War. I don't remember the language being exceptionally complex but there is quite a bit of symbolism underlying fairly simple prose. Also with most stories being semi selfcontained it would be easy to go through the story a chapter at a time.
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Old 10-08-2013, 12:46 PM
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If you were thinking of recommending Heller and Hemingway, I'd assume your pupil's English is already quite good.

You say you want something that will hold a 17-year-old's interest, indicating to me that she might be somewhat jaded.

Or would she be interested in a true story by someone who served in a war?

Three books off the top of my head that certainly interested me:

M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker, the basis for the movie and TV show;

To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy, the most highly decorated US soldier of WWII, also made into a movie starring and written and produced by Murphy himself;

Going after Cacciato, by Tim O'Brien. Starts out in Vietnam, and is one of the most surreal novels I've ever read.

Another book, not about war per se but about drug smuggling in the cutthroat jungles of Southeast Asia (close enough, if you ask me): The Virtues of Hell by Pierre Boulle. I started reading it on a Saturday morning and didn't put it down until late on Sunday.

Last edited by terentii; 10-08-2013 at 12:47 PM.
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Old 10-08-2013, 12:51 PM
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How about Winston Churchill's account of the Boer War?

Or, how about some of the poetry from WW1?
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Old 10-08-2013, 01:28 PM
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M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker?
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Old 10-08-2013, 01:57 PM
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Originally Posted by terentii View Post
If you were thinking of recommending Heller and Hemingway, I'd assume your pupil's English is already quite good.

You say you want something that will hold a 17-year-old's interest, indicating to me that she might be somewhat jaded.

Or would she be interested in a true story by someone who served in a war?
Yes, in Dutch schools (VWO) the level is expected to be very high. They are meant to be reading adult novels like the ones I mentioned, but obviously as she is taking lessons with me she isn't quite there yet. She would absolutely be able to read them, that's not really the problem.

It's more that... well, I want her to enjoy reading. And often when it's always been difficult, the pleasure in reading isn't a natural thing. But I think (shh don't say it too loudly!) I might have lit a tiny little spark? When we do poetry (we did Romantic poetry last term, war poetry this term, and I sneak in Shakespeare etc when I can) she lights up. For all her trouble with the language, she really gets the poetry! Poems are short, and as we connect the dots together it's exciting and fun. (No really, it is!) I worry that if I make her read Hemingway she'll just give up. I'd rather she read something short and do-able and loves it, and so works her way up to Hemingway.

And on top of that: she's 17. There is plenty of homework in her life.


Great suggestions, thank you!!
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Old 10-08-2013, 02:03 PM
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I liked Jeff Shaara's WW2 lit. The Steel Wave was riveting.

Excerpt:
http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/...eel-wave_N.htm
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Old 10-08-2013, 02:12 PM
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This was one of my favorites:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chickenhawk_(book)
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Old 10-09-2013, 12:21 AM
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Another book that just occurred to me: The Great Escape by Paul Brickell. The true story of the British POWs incarcerated in Luft Stalag III, and later made into a blockbuster movie.
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Old 10-09-2013, 05:52 AM
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Possibly All Quiet on the Western Front. Or Five Chimneys by Olga Lengyel.

Last edited by KRC; 10-09-2013 at 05:53 AM.
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Old 10-09-2013, 06:08 AM
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If War Lit includes actual histories, then Stalingrad by Anthony Bevor.
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Old 10-09-2013, 06:37 AM
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How about Maus?
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Old 10-09-2013, 08:04 AM
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I've thought that Fields of Fire is one of the finest war novels ever written. Further, the prose and vocabulary aren't that complicated, it's fairly straightforward. The author provides a glossary for some of the more esoteric Marine and Vietnam War era slang. The narrative is written in an episodic manner, with some flashbacks and flash forwards which might be tough to follow though. Plus, it's fairly short.

Last edited by Gray Ghost; 10-09-2013 at 08:05 AM.
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Old 10-09-2013, 08:13 AM
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I'm leaning towards All Quiet... for my student, because it's quite short, it has a Sparknotes page (I have nothing against sparknotes, it's all learning! As long as the reading still gets done.) and she can watch the film afterwards if she likes. I'll see what she thinks.

I love all the other suggestions so much though, there's a lot going on my Xmas list. I can't believe I haven't read Maus yet!
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Old 10-09-2013, 08:13 AM
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What exactly qualifies? Does it have to be first-hand accounts, or can it be fiction?

If historical fiction is in the mix, I might look at the Warlord Chronicles (story of King Arthur vs. Saxons), Saxon Tales(Saxons vs. Danes) or the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell. Or possibly some of the Hornblower or Aubrey/Maturin novels.

For first-hand accounts, I liked "Forgotten Soldier" by Guy Sajer. It's kind of like an "All Quiet on the Western Front" except in WWII on the Eastern Front.
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Old 10-09-2013, 08:30 AM
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Adding on, Immediate Action is Andy McNabb's---the Bravo Two-Zero guy---memoir of his initial infantry service, selection to SAS, and service in Northern Ireland. I liked Bravo Two-Zero, and I thought Immediate Action was a nice bookend to the story. I have not yet read, but mean to, The One That Got Away, the account of the Bravo Two-Zero mission by another member of the unit and
SPOILER:
the only member of the unit to escape capture by the Iraqis,
Chris Ryan.

Heading to Iraq, but a little later on, Generation Kill is excellent. So're the episodes I've seen of the HBO T.V. series of it. Sebastian Junger's War is a great documentary of a U.S. unit in the Konegal Valley, Afghanistan. The accompanying movie, Restrepo, is supposed to be quite good too. Staying in Afghanistan, the account of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor, is yet another glimpse of the Afghanistan War, along with some examination of a few moral dilemmas inherent in fighting a war. I found all of them easy to read and interesting.

Finally, Lothar-Guenther Buchheim's novel, The Boat, and history, U-Boat War, are both very good at showing what it was like to serve (and mostly, die.) in the German U-Boat service during WW2. Plus, the movie of his novel isn't too shabby either. See the Director's Cut, if possible. Pack a lunch if you do.
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Old 10-09-2013, 08:56 AM
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Quote:
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What exactly qualifies? Does it have to be first-hand accounts, or can it be fiction?

If historical fiction is in the mix, I might look at the Warlord Chronicles (story of King Arthur vs. Saxons), Saxon Tales(Saxons vs. Danes) or the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell. Or possibly some of the Hornblower or Aubrey/Maturin novels.

For first-hand accounts, I liked "Forgotten Soldier" by Guy Sajer. It's kind of like an "All Quiet on the Western Front" except in WWII on the Eastern Front.
Everything qualifies!

According to the teacher at school (I'm a tutor, so I don't make the rules) it can be any war. Technically no children's books or YA lit, but so much is cross-over that I don't really take it as a rule. It can't be allegory though, so fantasy WWII allegories are out

For this thread, however, everything goes. If you think it's war lit & you enjoyed it, share it! (And maybe mention it specifically if you think it would be good for a 17 y/o EFL student.)
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Old 10-09-2013, 08:57 AM
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When we do poetry (we did Romantic poetry last term, war poetry this term, and I sneak in Shakespeare etc when I can) she lights up. For all her trouble with the language, she really gets the poetry! Poems are short, and as we connect the dots together it's exciting and fun.
If you feel like tossing poetry into the mix, these two have always fascinated me:

Dulce et Decorum Est (WWI) and

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner (WWII).
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Old 10-09-2013, 09:29 AM
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If you feel like tossing poetry into the mix, these two have always fascinated me:

Dulce et Decorum Est (WWI) and

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner (WWII).
The Owen is in the syllabus, but the other one is a great addition. It's short, so perfect to sneak into the lesson quickly, and as the syllabus is all WWI poetry it gives a really interesting contrast. You can see the intervening 30 years in the writing. That'll be interesting to put to her. Thanks!

Anyone familiar with contemporary war poetry? How about the American Civil War (as I indicated early, it's not something I am at all familiar with in that way.)
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Old 10-09-2013, 09:58 AM
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Roald Dahl wrote some good short stories based on his war experiences, collected in Over To You. You can find synopses here. They're easy to read, with humour both light and dark; the general theme is of the psychological cost of war.
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Old 10-09-2013, 11:26 AM
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I almost forgot.... "Gates of Fire" by Steven Pressfield is probably the most entertaining and interesting war novel I've read. Kind of poignant as well.

It's the story of Thermopylae that "300" wishes it could have been, and the movie that I wish could have been made, instead of that cartoony garbage.
  #35  
Old 10-09-2013, 03:31 PM
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Another vote for The Red Badge of Courage.
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Old 10-09-2013, 03:54 PM
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I'd rather she read something short and do-able and loves it, and so works her way up to Hemingway.
If these are the qualifications, then I'd suggest The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk, by Paul Gallico. It is more of a novella or extended story, but it has a nice plot that a young lady might enjoy. WWII plays a large role, especially towards the end; and Gallico, while not as gritty as Hemingway, might be able to serve as a stepping-stone towards that goal.
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Old 10-09-2013, 04:56 PM
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My dad gave me this book for Christmas 1965, and I would still enjoy reading it today:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Real.../dp/B0007EPD42

It has everything from Gallipoli to Verdun to Lawrence of Arabia (and she could watch the movies Gallipoli, Paths of Glory, and Lawrence of Arabia afterwards). My personal favorite is the story of Felix von Luckner, aka the Seeadler.

I got this book at the same time as the one above, and it's still another great read:

http://www.amazon.com/Flying-Aces-Wo.../dp/0394805607

My favorite chapter is the one about Manfred von Richthofen, aka the Red Baron.

Last edited by terentii; 10-09-2013 at 04:57 PM.
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Old 10-09-2013, 06:55 PM
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How about Winston Churchill's account of the Boer War?
My suggestion is from the same author, different war:

The Second World War
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Old 10-09-2013, 08:14 PM
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The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.
I second this recommendation.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is another civil war classic.
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Old 10-10-2013, 05:07 AM
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Another vote for the Red Badge of Courage.

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Originally Posted by Suburban Plankton View Post
My suggestion is from the same author, different war:

The Second World War
At 4737 pages, it may be a tad longer than what the OP is looking for.
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Old 10-10-2013, 05:59 AM
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Leon Uris?
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Old 10-10-2013, 09:37 AM
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Yes, in Dutch schools (VWO) the level is expected to be very high. They are meant to be reading adult novels like the ones I mentioned, but obviously as she is taking lessons with me she isn't quite there yet. She would absolutely be able to read them, that's not really the problem.

It's more that... well, I want her to enjoy reading. And often when it's always been difficult, the pleasure in reading isn't a natural thing. But I think (shh don't say it too loudly!) I might have lit a tiny little spark? When we do poetry (we did Romantic poetry last term, war poetry this term, and I sneak in Shakespeare etc when I can) she lights up. For all her trouble with the language, she really gets the poetry!
So while not directly related to today's question, lyrics are something I found a great source of vocabulary and of "things they don't teach you in class".

I first encoutered English' literal treatment of dialectal variations and, uh, non-dictionary pronunciations in the lyrics of Queen's The Works, of all places. That year's teacher had encouraged us to try and understand the lyrics to the songs we liked, and to ask questions about it; the more-by-the-book ones would have totally freaked out at being asked "why does it say 'cos' here?" (IIRC, there were two different alternate spellings of "because" - yes, in the lyrics of the same record)

Last edited by Nava; 10-10-2013 at 09:38 AM.
  #43  
Old 10-10-2013, 10:16 AM
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The Good War by Studs Terkel. A tremendous book I can't say enough good things about.

It is quite long. OTOH it's really composed of many brief memoirs (taken from spoken interviews) of civilian WWII experiences.
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Old 10-10-2013, 10:59 AM
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My personal favorite is the story of Felix von Luckner, aka the Seeadler.
Amazon book link

I read that book in my teens, and became facinated with the anachronism of a wooden sailing ship being used as a man of war in WW1. But I don't know if that kind of thing would appeal to girls/young women.
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Old 10-10-2013, 11:06 AM
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I read that book in my teens, and became facinated with the anachronism of a wooden sailing ship being used as a man of war in WW1. But I don't know if that kind of thing would appeal to girls/young women.
Well, diff'rent strokes fer diff'rent folks....
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Old 10-10-2013, 12:09 PM
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Are we talking fiction or nonfiction? If we stray from literature per se into history, I'd recommend John Keegan's inimitable The Face of Battle. Keegan talks about the pitfalls in understanding what we read in historical accounts of battles, examines the experiences of individual soldiers, and discusses myths and misunderstandings about warfare. There's also a brilliant analogy between alpine mountain climbing, which started out as a social event but became increasingly technical, isolating, and physically arduous, and warfare's steadily increasing technology and vast expansion, leaving individuals similarly isolated and exhausted.

Both for his advice on how to interpret "battle pieces" one will read elsewhere, and his open-eyed depiction of the horrors of battle, this is a useful book for young people to read in their formative years.
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Old 10-10-2013, 12:16 PM
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Another vote for The Book Thief. Classified as YA, but one of my favorite books of the last few years.
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Old 10-10-2013, 12:58 PM
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Was going to say The Red Badge of Courage, but it's already been mentioned. It's lovely - not too long, straightforward, but beautifully told. Powerful, even in its simplicity.

The Book Thief is excellent; easily one of the best books I've read. It's got a great story, and really flows. However, I can see how the author's use of language might cause a bit of difficulty. He's very lyrical, and the imagery is outstanding. But if she's very literal, it might confuse her. A few examples:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
"Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain."

“Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his heart, but he made it a point not to scratch it. He was afraid of what might come leaking out.”

"One of the Jews on his way to Dachau had stopped walking now. He stood absolutely still as the others swerved morosely around him, leaving him completely alone. His eyes staggered, and it was so simple. The words were given across from the girl to the Jew. They climbed on to him.

The next time she spoke, the questions stumbled from her mouth. Hot tears fought for room in her eyes as she would not let them out. Better to stand resolute and proud. Let the words do all of it."
It's still a beautiful, beautiful book, and more than worth the reading.

Last edited by Snickers; 10-10-2013 at 12:59 PM.
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Old 10-10-2013, 01:03 PM
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I totally missed the part where you mentioned that she loves poetry. In that case, I'd whole-heartedly recommend The Book Thief for her. The imagery, the way he uses words - amazing. It totally captivated me.
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Old 10-10-2013, 01:17 PM
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When I was 17 I read August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
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