Thursday, June 12, 2014

A First World War Reading List

In Belfast World War 1 has never been "the forgotten war" because of the slaughter that took place
in the first week of the Battle of the Somme...
I sometimes wish I still worked in a bookshop. Back in the day I was part of the first crew that opened the Barnes and Noble flagship store on 82nd & Broadway. (This was the store that supposedly put the Upper West Side landmark Shakespeare & Company out of business - the story of which became a bit of an anti-corporate cause celebre and later the Nora Ephron movie You've Got Mail.) I rose up the hierarchy and although I never became a manager at B&N I was trusted enough to set up the book displays on the 2nd floor. In these displays I had free reign to promote neglected authors, foreign language writers and just generally have fun influencing the buying habits of an influential segment of the New York population. It was solely down to me, I think, that Cormac McCarthy and Daniel Woodrell became big names and I know for a fact that we were the first bookshop in America to sell Samuel Beckett's Dream of Fair To Middling Women (I ordered 20 of them and sold them all in a day). 
I can't do that anymore but I do have a blog and today I'd like to get you interested in 10 world war one books that I like and which you might not have read. In a couple of weeks it'll be 100th anniversary of Franz Ferdinand's driver turning left instead of right and stalling the car in front of Gavrilo Princip who had just come of a bakery with a roll in one hand and a pistol in the other...
1. The Great War And Modern Memory - Paul Fussell. A classic dissection of the Great's War's influence on the history and culture of the entire twentieth century. 
2. Goodbye To All That - Robert Graves. What life was like before and after the trenches for one British soldier. 
3. Regeneration - Pat Barker. My favourite World War 1 novel. It justly won the Booker Prize. 
4. The Guns of August - Barbara Tuchmann. How the whole thing kicked off. 
5. The Strange Death Of Liberal England - George Dangerfield. A history classic that no one reads anymore but everyone should. 
6. All Quiet On The Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque. A brilliant look at the lives of ordinary German infantrymen on the line. 
7. A Farewell To Arms - Ernest Hemingway. An American volunteer medic on the Italian front. 
8. The First World War - John Keegan. A comprehensive history of the major battles and theatres of the war. 
9. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War - Christopher Clark. Another view about how it all kicked off. 
10. The Penguin Book Of First World War Poetry. An excellent cheap collection of the best WW1 war poems.