Tales of Woe and World War II

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really into war movies. I don’t often like things that are violent anyway and I can’t help but cry hysterically every time I see one of those films. The honest-to-goodness truth is that they make me uncomfortable.

So when I was asked if I was going to do a post to commemorate Remembrance Day (which in Canada falls on November 11) I was a little bit hesitant. I couldn’t feel like I could talk about “war books” because I don’t read them that often. Like I said, I can barely watch a “war movie”.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine when he asked me what a “war book” was exactly, and I realized that I didn’t have an answer. When I really started thinking about it, I could come up with a long list of titles of books that take place during a war (specifically World War II) that have inspired me, moved me, and on occasion even made me laugh.

War, or even political conflict, isn’t just about fighting, or the soldiers, or the weapons. War is about culture, religion and social tradition. It’s about history, and political borders, and the men, women and children who find themselves within or without those confines. It’s about the things that we have in common as human beings, and the things that divide us; the things we stand for and the things we won’t tolerate. It’s about the rules we break, the choices we make, and most of all it comes down to whether or not we believe in something.

So in fact, I do like “war books”. I like them a lot. You won’t see me picking up any military study anytime soon, but I’m sure the following books won’t be the last ones about war to grace these bookshelves.

Atonement is probably my favorite of Ian Macewan’s books. It’s not just about the war- it’s a coming-of-age story really, and a look at how the choices we make can sometimes have far-reaching consequences that can last for a lifetime. (It’s a great movie, too!)

Before French author Irene Nemirosky was arrested by Nazis in 1942, she was working on the book now known as Suite Française– the first two novellas in an intended series of three that encapsulate the sweeping effects of war across the French countryside, touching rich and poor alike. The story behind the author’s mysterious disappearance and the investigation that ensued makes this book even more beautifully haunting. (It was also one of my favourite books of 2017.)

I had the honor of hearing Elie Wiesel speak while I was in university and it was one of the most haunting speeches I’ve heard in my life. The most remarkable thing about Elie Wiesel was his unwavering faith in the goodness of humanity despite all of the atrocities he faces. If you pick up any of the books on this list, I hope you pick up Night by Elie Wiesel.

Honorable Mentions

These woeful tales have been featured on my blog before but are still worth a second look.

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of my favorite epistolary novels, and one of my favorite books about World War II, and as such is constantly missing from my shelves (described in this post here about books of mine that are frequently borrowed and never returned).
  • An ordinary man takes a peaceful, yet musical stand against the troops that continue to occupy and terrorize his city in Canadian author Steven Galloway’s book The Cellist of Sarajevo.
  • Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief has a unique narrator that gives this epic tale about a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany a surreal feeling, like you’re watching a movie as it’s happening in real time. (So much so that someone decided to adapt it into a movie, which I think is just as beautiful and haunting.)
  • Two boys form an unlikely friendship in John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which earned a place among the most devastating books I’ve read in this post here.
  • The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett may be short but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack an emotional punch. (Also featured on my list of books that will shock your system.)
  • A tragedy that occurs during the Holocaust becomes a modem day mystery in Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.
  • The Second World War almost becomes its own character in the strange world that is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, in which a perpetually reincarnating girl discovers she may have the power to alter the course of history. (Another favourite from 2017.)

I love to read and I love sharing my favorite books with you. (For more reading inspiration click here or here.) These lists are totally my own creation and I was not paid or perked to share my opinions with you by any author or publishing company. For more of what’s on my bookshelves, click here.

The Serial Book Borrower

KBB_the_serial_book_borrowerThere’s something special about borrowing a book from someone in this day and age where so much of what we read comes from a screen. I’ve never really been a fan of e-readers (you can read my full confession here) and lending someone your Kindle doesn’t feel quite the same as having someone pull a volume off of their shelves for you, knowing that it’s something you’ll love.

It’s always interesting to see what someone has put aside for you because they think you’d enjoy it, or because they wanted to gauge your reaction. There’s a lot of books I never would have read had someone else not insisted that I read them. It’s funny how word-of-mouth is still the best form of advertising if you want to get a book read.

Expanding your reading repertoire is easy if other people know how much you love books. It isn’t unusual for me to leave a friend’s apartment without a stack of books in my arms. (I’m a also a bookshelf snoop, which doesn’t help.) I used to be such a serial book borrower that at one point in time the entire top shelf of my bookcase was devoted to stacks of books I had borrowed from friends and family, organized by original owner.

There’s even a few books of my own that I have loaned frequently to other people. They must have been so good that they have yet to be returned.

I’m always insisting that friends and family read the book before seeing the movie, so my copy of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is off floating around somewhere, as well as my copy of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, although I must admit I haven’t seen the movie yet myself.

I’m bananas about books with interesting narrative structures and reading Jane Austen left me with the taste for epistolary novels (a rare art form these days!). As such, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer are missing frequently from my shelves.

Sometimes a book has to be recommended to you by multiple people in order for you to bring yourself to read it, like Getting Things Done by David Allen (which I reviewed for the blog here). I had to read it twice before it finally “got it”; I’ve been lending it out ever since to anyone showing the slightest interest in it.

It’s amazing how another person’s perspective can transform you all in the simple act of borrowing a book. It’s fun to watch other people react to your choices, and react to theirs in turn. I end up reading so many things I wouldn’t have touched- books about politics, religion, science- and in some cases these books have inspired me to do more research on my own, or explore new territories I never dreamed would interest me.

If you’re looking for something new to read and you find yourself in a reading rut, I highly recommend adopting the attitude of a serial book borrower (like myself) and start asking people what they love. Join a service like Goodreads (it was life-changing for me, and I didn’t even get paid to say that) or simply start snooping their bookshelves. (Ask before borrowing!)

Who knows? The next book that someone picks for you might turn into something wonderful.

KBwB-BFlower-50Do you love reading as much as I do? Snoop my virtual bookshelves over on Goodreads, or visit the Book Section of my blog where I talk about all the books I’ve been reading- the good, the bad, and the non-fiction (which I read more often than you think!). All of the books I review are available on my Amazon store, where I do receive a small kick-back if you decide to purchase one. It helps keep food in my dog’s bowl, so she says “woof!” which I think means thank-you.

You’re probably far away which means I can’t lend you a book, but we can pretend like we can all the same. Comment below or drop me a line and tell me about the book you borrowed that changed your life.