Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
Keywords: fiction, war, Vietnam, marines, suffering, fear, boys, courage, friends
First line: Mellas stood beneath the gray monsoon clouds on the narrow strip of cleared ground between the edge of the jungle and the relative safety of the perimeter wire.
Last line: Only the shadows themselves could change.
Thoughts: The author, Karl Marlantes, is a Vietnam veteran, and much of the plot is stolen from his own experiences. I don’t think you could write a book like this unless you were actually on the ground. The world is so complete and foreign that it’s basically another universe. It’s as much of a fantasy universe as the one in Shorefall. Except in this one, there’s no explanations.
There’s so much military jargon everywhere that there’s a thirty-one page glossary at the back. Usually, I dislike glossaries and never use them, but I did for this book because my attempt to figure out everything through context clues failed. If this had just been fiction and not historical fiction, I don’t think I would have persevered in the face of a vocab-tsunami. If it hadn’t been about a real war, I would’ve been annoyed at all the mysterious phrases and acronyms without being told what they meant.
(And okay, I know I just said that I’m fine without world-building explanations, but I need to revise how my opinion. Maybe I just don’t like having to work hard to understand the setting, whether that’s because there’s no explanation or because there’s a lot.)
Anyways. But because it’s about the Vietnam War, there’s no way I was going to stop reading. This year in school for US history, we’re not going past World War II anymore, but even if we did, I think I would’ve learned more about Vietnam from Matterhorn than from class. Well, I would’ve learned more facts and statistics in class, but none of that can come close to the way the book makes Vietnam real.
Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett
Keywords: high fantasy, sequel–second book in the Founders series (review of first book Foundryside here), god-like beings of legends come to life, that could describe so many fantasy books but I don’t know how to explain
First line: “The gates are just ahead,” said Gregor.
Last line: Together, Clef, Sancia, and Berenice moved to the prow of the ship to stare out at the endless horizon before them, and the dawning, smoke-filled skies.
Thoughts: Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities series is maybe my favorite fantasy series, so I actually pre-ordered Shorefall–I almost never pre-order books. As with all of his other books I’ve read, it destroyed my self-control, and I finished it in a day. And also like his other books, the ending made me hold my head and go whaaat???
But for me, Shorefall didn’t usurp the other four books I’ve read by Robert Jackson Bennett. Before that makes you decide to not read it, here’s my explanation. My reasons might not apply for you at all.
The explanations of how the magic worked were so thorough that it almost felt like reading science descriptions, if science involved objects with personalities. Bennett’s books have crazy good world-building always, but the explanations in Shorefall just went over my head. I think I skimmed or skipped most of it. It’s because I’m generally not that interested in the world-building aspect of fantasy. If you’re like, dude that’s basically the foundation of fantasy, I say: I know!! But even if it was a time travel book, I would be fine if there was no explanation on how it works.
On top of that, I read Foundryside when it came out in 2018, so I had forgotten quite a few major details about what had happened (like the ending). After I tried and failed to find in-depth spoilers for the first book (why are people so polite??), I just had to read Shorefall while being like, wait what happened again to that character again? So basically, I was just kind of confused while reading.
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff
Keywords: an oral history of 9/11 sums it up, oh except I would insert “American”
First line(s): Commander Frank Culbertson, astronaut, NASA: On September the 11th, 2001, I called the ground, and my flight surgeon Steve Hart came on. I said, “Hey Steve, how’s it going?” He said, “Well, Frank, we’re not having a very good day here on Earth.”
Last line: Dan Nigro, chief of operations, FDNY: We survive, we do our daily things, but you’re always a part of 9/11.
Thoughts: I didn’t realize how clueless I was about 9/11 until I read this book. Like I didn’t know basic facts. I didn’t know that the Twin Towers and the World Trade Center were the same things because the towers were two buildings in the larger World Trade Complex. I didn’t know that the towers had crumbed to the ground hours after the attacks because I had never stopped to think about how an airplane crash wouldn’t immediately level a skyscraper.
I vaguely knew that a third plane had attacked the Pentagon and that a fourth been on the way to the capitol but the civilians had given their lives to crash the plane before it got there. (Oh my, even writing that sentence makes my eyes water slightly.) I kind of knew those facts, but if you had asked me before reading this book how many planes had been hijacked on 9/11, I would’ve tried to give you a slightly evasive answer that covered up my uncertainty.
Besides these things that I should’ve known, there were so many other things I had no idea about–like how after the airplanes hit the towers, so much paper floated down that one person described it as like a ticker-tape parade. Or how when the fourth plane crashed, it had disintegrated so that there was almost nothing left except for a giant crater in the ground.
I cried throughout while reading this book. One second I wouldn’t be feeling anything, and then I would read some detail about kindness or bravery or pain, and it would just trigger tears. If I made a list of US history books to read, both this book and Matterhorn would be on it.
Do you pre-order books?
Have you read any good books recently?
How important is world-building to you in fantasy?
How much did you know about 9/11?
What are the best US history books you’ve read?