Fives and Twenty-fives

Book Notes

This book was recommended to me by Kris. He had read it, and recommended it as a war tale for our generation. He nailed it with his recommendation.

The book follows several lives of the soldiers during and after a tour in Iraq. Following along the different story paths is difficult at first, as the plot moves from present day to the past, from one character to the next. Once we learn who the characters, and begin to understand how they know each other and how their stories merge and separate, the pace picks up. We learn the social dynamics among the soldiers. We learn the defining events that shaped their opinions of each other, both among the soldiers and between the soldiers and their leadership. We eventually learn of the secrets known and not discussed.

How accurate is the story to real life? How can a story express the boredom of between explosions, the underlying non-stop anxiety, the oppressive heat, or the immediate terror of an attack? I don't know that it can fully do so. This book, however, gives hints of those lives in a visceral way.

There is always loss in war. The strength of an author comes from how much you feel that loss in a tale of war. This one has that gut punch.

Worth reading, and recommended.

“Leaders must have a strong sense of the great responsibility of their office,” I continue. “Because the resources they will expend in war are human lives.”
Page 40

If the secret police do come, what better place to hide than in the crowd?
Page 62

Lieutenant Donovan and Sergeant Gomez pretty much got it handled over at the platoon. Not much need of me.” All that explanation, all those excuses, and we had only just met.
Page 79

The Phenomenon

Book Notes

Over the years, I have bought Kris a number of baseball-related books. Some have been peripherally baseball related, sorta like the movie For the Love of the Game is a baseball movie (for the record, it is not, it is a romance movie with baseball elements, it is not a baseball movie). Some were definitely baseball related.

This one, however, is the first baseball book Kris recommended back to me.

That's right, I bought baseball books for him, but hadn't actually read them.

So, on his recommendation, I read this one.

I didn't know Ankiel's story. In a few sentences: he was a baseball phenomenon, likely to be better than Sandy Koufax, who, depending on how your stats rank your pitchers, is considered the greatest pitcher of all time. Then he threw a wild pitch that got into his head, and he couldn't get it out. He tried, he failed, he left baseball, he came back a hitter and an outfielder instead. He had a good career.

This book is his autobiography of that career. Many parts of the book read like the inner dialog of a person talking with himself, trying to psych himself up, convince himself that he can do this next thing, that the last thing wasn't so bad.

A result of the style of inner chatter writing and not knowing Ankiel's story is that I was really confused in the first two chapters. of the book. By chapter five, Ankiel had written enough of his story that I understood the why of this book, and was engrossed in the story.

Had I been paying more attention when I was reading The Art of Fielding, I would have recognized Ankiel's name before reading this book, as he is mentioned.