American Sniper: The Auto-Biography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History (Chris Kyle)

I am glad to have read this book right before this most recent election, which seems to have the entire country at each other’s throats. This autobiography serves as an explicit reminder of those Americans who are fighting overseas, what they are fighting for, and why it is important.

Kyle’s informal writing style moves this book along quickly, creating the illusion that you are conversing with an average American, not an experienced and seasoned academic writer. This enhances the overall feel of the novel, making it accessible to anyone who decides to read it. Kyle continually refers to himself as a regular kid from Texas, attempting to remain modest throughout the tales of his military successes overseas.

As it features a Navy Seal operating in Iraq, this autobiography frequently tests the boundaries of political correctness. Many who have reflected on the book before me have found this to be a real negative aspect of it, but I feel as though criticizing the book in this way speaks to a misunderstanding of the author’s experiences and viewpoints. It is very easy for the average book critic to comment on Kyle’s insensitivity towards the Iraqi people and radical Islamic extremists, but this attitude seems remarkably naive. While Kyle does his best to place his readers in the shoes of the American soldiers fighting in Iraq, how could you possibly relate to this experience without being there yourself?

The history nerd in me loved the play-by-play explanations that Kyle provided of different operations and battles throughout the war. I loved reading about the different stages of the Iraqi war and the ways that different military units operated, both together and independently. It is fascinating to read Kyle’s firsthand account of such things, as you do not get this often enough in the media or in much of the existing material on the War in Iraq.

Of course, Taya’s excerpts help reveal the incredible strain that military life can have on a family. Her frustrations at raising her kids alone and feeling as though Chris could never love her or their family as much as war are both depressing and thought-provoking. In a lot of ways, military families give up their sense of normalcy as one spouse continues to serve in the armed forces. Chris’ difficulty returning to an average lifestyle when on leave is indicative of the further complications that military families must face. Chris’ eventual decision to return home and take on his role as a father was a happy ending to this marital conflict, but it seems as though not all families are so lucky.

This book is a beacon of patriotism and inspires its readers to take a step back and appreciate those who are fighting for our country. Kyle mentions a few times that he is not fighting in Iraq for any reason except that he is loyal to his country and this is where his country has sent him to fight. This seems to be a direct comment to those who protest the soldiers fighting our wars, which unfortunately does happen around the country. Kyle also takes extreme acts of protests, such as burning a flag, as a direct insult and disrespect to himself and other American soldiers. I wish I could encourage all American protesters to think about this before acting in such a way, and remember who, and what, they are disrespecting when they do such things. Where we would be without our military?


Down These Mean Streets (Piri Thomas)

This was a great book – Full of love, hate, chaos, moral challenges, and everything else you could want in a coming-of-age tale. Piri’s memoir brings the reader back to mid-20th century Harlem, where his family faces the Great Depression before moving out to Long Island in the burgeoning days of Suburbia.

Piri is raised in a multi-racial household, with a Puerto Rican mother and an African-American father. As he gets older, Piri begins to realize what this means, and attempts to come to terms with his racial identity and the implications it holds for him in pre-Civil Rights Movement America. He struggles to maintain a relationship with his white-looking siblings, strikingly different than his own appearance, and eventually leaves his family to return to his beloved Harlem.

Piri tells his story in a somewhat ineloquent way, which makes it all the more genuine to the reader. You can feel the frustrations and confusions of the Puertan Rican street kid as he travels through the South and back to New York in attempt to figure out who he is. As you follow Piri through his struggle with addiction and his stint in prison, you develop an appreciation for the boy who would eventually grow up to write this award-winning memoir.

Piri’s story is probably not that relatable to many who read it today, including myself, a middle-class white woman who grew up in a comfortable beach town on the East End of Long Island. Regardless, his struggle to discover his identity and his place in the world is familiar to each and every young adult, as the majority have struggled with these issues throughout adolescence and even their early twenties. I would definitely recommend this book to today’s youth, and anyone looking to gain some perspective.

Turning to “The Classics”

I have recently developed an interest in classic literature, which has become a rewarding chapter (no pun intended) in my literary experience. It started last year when I decided to read through a number of Dickens novels that I ended up really enjoying and learning a lot from. I was gifted a decent amount of Barnes & Noble credit this summer, which I happily took to their huge store in Midtown Manhattan to purchase new reading material.

For those of you who don’t know, Barnes & Noble has an amazing classics collection. You can find it upstairs in the 5th Ave store, covering an entire wall. Not only do they have a wide selection of classics, they are available in different sizes and prints to fit your needs. And the best part – Most of them only cost a few dollars, with the more expensive ones hitting just $6-$7. I was able to purchase about ten classics, each a comfortable size to fit in a small purse, and none of them larger than the Kindle I normally carry.

Anyway, I have been working my way through these books all summer, and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only is it enjoyable to read through such strong writing from great authors of different times, it is also great for my Social Studies classroom. History and literature go hand in hand, and integrating them can help students find a more personal connection to both subjects.

My personal commentaries on the books will be hitting the blog in the upcoming weeks, but it felt appropriate to include this post to explain the trend and encourage all of my readers to start their own classics binge!

Where the Negroes are Masters (Randy Sparks)

Randy Sparks clearly expresses the interconnectedness of the Atlantic world in the 17th and 18th centuries in Where the Negroes are Masters. He successfully narrates the stories of prominent figures on the West African coast, specifically in Annamaboe, to show the balance of power and the far-reaching influences of African, European and American politics and culture on one another. While Sparks can seem repetitive and his chapters disconnected, these flaws do not detract from his overall arguments nor the value of his book to the lacking historiography of the African role in the slave trade.
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