Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reading redux

Fresh, spirited American troops, flushed with victory,
are bringing in thousands of hungry, ragged,
battle-weary prisoners. (News item)

Bill Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize with this cartoon
I sold myself short. I cut myself off at the knees.

It could be, in a pathetic attempt to elicit sympathy or scorn about how little I read, I have sinned by omission.

Or I just plain forgot. Because I just plain remembered: I read two other books this year!

One was published in 1900, the other in 1971. This, then, is the least useful book review written.

So I'll be brief.

One book was Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum. It's just what it says, an account of the first solo sailing trip around the world, by the sailor himself, beginning in 1895.

Reading so slooooowly as I do, I had to re-start this book a few times, but not for the story itself, which is fresh and funny and moves fast, despite its era and the leisure of Slocum's circumnavigation.

Slocum, a commercial ship captain at the end of his career, decided to transform a wrecked sloop given him into The Spray, a boat so spritely and sure that many sailors have built their own sloops based on Slocum's rejiggering.

The old solitary salt, Joshua Slocum
The book is fun to read with an atlas alongside so you can trace Slocum's passage around a world that no longer exists.

News apparently traveled fast back then, despite the frustrating lack of smart phones, and ports around the world welcomed Slocum warmly, replenished his stocks in abundance, repaired his boat for free, and wined and dined and feted him as a remarkable man on a remarkable journey.

Slocum held me tense as he navigated the Strait of Magellan, dangerous not only for its cold, wild waters but bandits that seemed to lurk at every bend and bay. Delusional one night, Slocum saw the apparition of one of Columbus' officers, the pilot of the Pinta, conducting The Spray safely through a squall. The ghost, Slocum is sure, guides him through the most perilous stages of his trip.

For many hundreds of miles, Slocum simply set a course, locked the wheel, and went below, reading books. A third of the way into the book, Slocum reveals he didn't know how to swim!

It's a quick read. For you, at least. I finally managed to finish it before needing to return it to my swim buddy Doug before he moved away.

Always dangerous, lending me books. You are warned.

From the American WWII Orphans Network site
My friend Rob from college knew better, and gave me his second copy of The Brass Ring, by cartoonist Bill Mauldin. It's one of several memoirs Mauldin wrote, this one focusing on childhood in wild New Mexico and his life in the Army as a cartoonist.

Mauldin had two stellar careers as a cartoonist, mostly as an editorial cartoonist for the St. Louis Dispatch and the Chicago Sun-Times.

History remembers Mauldin best for his first cartooning career — a national service, more like.  Mauldin created Willie and Joe, two bedraggled, world-bearing infantry Everymen, standing in for their flesh-and-blood brethren fighting on the line in World War II.

Mauldin drew the two as true-to-life as he could mirror the infantry's daily struggles, for Army publications written for soldiers. Some Army brass gave Mauldin a Jeep®™ and he roamed the front collecting material for his cartoons, and finding jerry-rigged ways to print his division's newspaper amid the wreckage of southern Europe.

Gen. George S. Patton hated Mauldin's work and wanted it stopped and Mauldin arrested, saying he ruined morale. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander in the European Theater, backed Mauldin for his giving vent to soldiers' frustrations.

The Brass Ring struck me for Mauldin's bald ambition, which I begrudge and envy at once. Having grown up in rural poverty, Mauldin saw cartooning as a one-way ticket to riches and a better life; it reminded me of crime novelist Mickey Spillane's motivation, which was almost wholly to make money. Maybe Mauldin found his better life, but the war found him along the way, and his passion then became an unforgotten touchstone of the war.

Mauldin was a cheeky and breezy writer, making for readers a comfortable conversation at the corner of the bar. All that's missing is the beer. The Brass Ring reproduces many of his best Willie and Joe cartoons. You'd like it.

Maybe you can borrow my copy.

For those keeping score at home, that's five books in 2014.

• • •
In other news:

No comments:

Post a Comment