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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A little light reading

Mom mentioned to me that my book reviews were more about me than the books. There are lots of book reviews for all of these books, this is my blog if I'm writing about books it's only natural that I should mention how they affected me.

Way back when I was teaching 7th grade English I found it rather difficult to get boys to read. I'm not talking about the textbook, but regular books. Girls would read S. E. Hinton, or Judy Bloom, or Danielle Steele. Boys would look at a Stephen King book that was 2000+ pages and pass. I tried getting them to read Robert Howard's Conan books because that was when the Governator was making his Conan movies. They couldn't get past the first ten pages, the vocabulary was too hard. I tried Mickey Spillane, still not interested. I tried reading Edgar Allan Poe out loud to the students and had to explain just about every other word. Then I discovered Barry Sadler and his Casca series. The books were two hundred pages long, fairly large font, there is very little wasted wordage on landscapes, clothing, furniture or that kind of stuff. The vocabulary was basic without too many bad words (7th graders after all and I didn't have tenure yet), and non stop military action. I picked up as many copies as I could find at my favorite used book store, and all I had to do was make the boys read the first ten pages and they kept turning them. A number of the boys over the years would come in boasting that they had never read a book before and weren't going to, by the first month they were asking for a second one. It's not often that there is a series of books with a fairly easy vocabulary and high interest.

Barry Sadler is best remembered for the best selling song of 1966, The Ballad of the Green Beret. His singing career didn't last long and he was in a few movies without any real memorable parts. He then started writing books. Casca: the Eternal Mercenary is a series of at last count 28 books covering 2000 years of warfare. The premise is that Casca Longinus was the Roman soldier that pierced Christ's side on the cross, and the blood that fell on him turned him immortal. Subsequent books have him in World War II as a panzer soldier, in China, Japan, Persia, get the picture?  Sadler wrote the first 12, and the rest have been written by others using his name after his untimely death. He also had a series of books that dealt with a Vietnam veteran named Rossen who is a hired assassin in world hot spots. There is one rather forgotten book Morituri, set in Rome during the time of Nero about a Gladiator. I enjoyed it, but not many other people have even heard of it.
What I like about the books is that the history is fairly accurate, not all that hard to do as they cover military campaigns and battles, the cultural aspects of the time period are minimal and there is less to get wrong.
My favorite line from all the books is from Casca: The Samarai. Casca is in fuedal Japan and sees monks wearing swords. He says to himself, "I've always found that if religion takes up arms, the world is in a pile of shit."
Just look around the world today, and ask yourself if that's a true statement. 

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