"The Road", "Books for Living", "Silent Night"

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A book so well written I feel privileged to have read it. Powerful, and devastating, and beautiful. The dialogue is spare, yet achingly full of meaning and emotion. The writing is superb, the characters immediately relatable, and the pacing perfect. I was constantly torn between needing to know what was on the next page and fearing to turn that page in case something awful happened to them. 

The main character, referred to only as the man, and his young son, referred to only as the boy, are walking through the burned out, ash covered remains of America several years after a catastrophic nuclear war. Cities are flattened and empty, charred cars and bones litter the highways, and any houses or buildings left standing have been stripped of anything useful long ago. The two are heading south because it might be easier to survive in a warm climate. They forage for food and claim the odd blanket or piece of clothing found along the way for warmth, but their main concern is to avoid people. There are other survivors, and they are as desperate as the man and the boy and will kill, or worse, to take what little they have. Now the man is sick and knows his time is limited. He worries what will happen to the boy. 

I hesitated to read the book because the movie was so moving that I wasn't sure I could, or even wanted to, handle it. I decided to read just a couple of pages at a time, but once I began I found it hard to make myself stop. Sometimes the books I read from the Pulitzer Prize list make me wonder what they were thinking, but this one is completely deserving. Not that I know what makes a book worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, but I expect excellence is part of it and The Road is that and then some. So don't settle for the movie; read the book! 

Books for Living, a Reader's Guide to Life by Will Schwalbe

In a previous book, "The End of Your Life Book Club", the author wrote about the books he and his mother read and talked about while she was being treated for, and dying from, cancer. His honesty and insight impressed me, so when I heard about this new book, I was hoping for more of the same, and of course a few more titles to add to my tbr list. He came through on both fronts. Each chapter deals with a different book, explaining when and why he read it and what his life circumstances were at that time, then sharing what he took from it that helped him in his own life. His stories are real and personal, and I always find his writing comforting somehow. It's an unusually satisfying read.  

Silent Night by Stanley Weintraub

When WWI began, it was generally believed it would all be over by Christmas. Finding themselves still in the bloody trenches on opposing sides of no man's land Christmas Eve, some soldiers called an unofficial truce and joined their enemies to celebrate. It usually began with the Germans singing carols and setting up small, lit-up Christmas trees where the British could see them. A few brave souls would climb out of the trenches and take tentative steps toward the other side in hopes the British would respond in kind and not shoot them where they stood. Throughout the night they buried their dead - the bodies that had been unreachable during the fighting - shared food packages from home, drank together, exchanged small gifts, and even played soccer. Their activities were unsanctioned but most of the officers looked the other way, until day dawned again and they all went back to killing each other. Nothing like it had ever been known to happen before and there are those who saw it as a miracle of sorts, a light in a dark time, evidence that the human spirit will always arise victorious. Others saw it as a breach of discipline and a threat to the fighting spirit the soldiers needed to survive. Either way, it is a fascinating episode in history brought to light in this well researched and thought-provoking account.   


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