Reading in Iraq: Some embedded books
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(books at Habbaniya base: photo courtesy of Tony Perry)
Foreign policy differences aside, the American public supports our troops in Iraq. One way to show it is by sending them books, lots of books. Marines are readers; the corps even has an official reading list, heavy on military history and doctrine.
As I jump from base to base in Anbar province where the Marines are stationed, I always prowl the book collection. Some are nicely organized shelves tended by civilian employees; other collections are in boxes or spread on tables.
Dean Koontz, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Scott Turow and Louis L’Amour are everywhere. But I always find something unique: a well-thumbed copy of Henry James’ 1909 book ‘The Ambassadors’ in a plywood shack at Camp Fallouja’s helicopter landing zone and John Hersey’s 1956 novel ‘A Single Pebble’ in a recreation room at the Al Asad airfield, among them.
My most surprising find was at a base in Ramadi: a hardback copy of Jean Bowie Shor’s 1955 book ‘After You, Marco Polo,’ the tale of a young couple retracing the explorer’s trek from Venice to Beijing. I can’t remember which base it was, but two years ago I found Leon Uris’ ‘The Haj’ (1984), his take on the modern Arab experience.
My favorite book collection this trip is at the Habbaniya base, two shelves beneath a poster of the venomous snakes found in southwest Asia. Maybe it’s the setting: an abandoned British hotel. You half expect to see Evelyn Waugh sipping gin and grousing about the locals. There, along with the predictable current titles, were two Edna Ferbers, a couple of Cornelius Ryans and a collection of essays by James Jones about World War II.
I try to add to the collections. Among the books I’m leaving behind this year is one about Vasily Grossman. He was an ‘embedded’ reporter with the Red Army during WWII, a sort of Soviet Ernie Pyle, so I claim him as a spiritual godfather.
Tony Pery covers the military for the L.A. Times and has been to Iraq as an embedded reporter on several occasions.