Friday, October 24, 2014

What We're Reading: Memoirs by Veterans

Blue-Eyed Boy: A Memoir, by Robert Timberg

Robert Timberg was a 1964 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and served with the First Marine Division in South Vietnam from March 1966 until January 1967 when he was wounded. After Vietnam, Timberg went to graduate school to become a reporter, and he worked at the Baltimore Sun for more than three decades as a reporter, editor, and White House correspondent. He has written a major book on the military figures who were involved in the Iran Contra Affair, The Nightingale’s Song, as well as a biography, John McCain, An American OdysseyBlue-Eyed Boy is a compelling story, one of personal triumph over great adversity in the aftermath of war and a terrible wounding, but much of the power of this memoir comes from Timberg's use of his own story to trace the long-lasting and persistent divide in this country between those who served and those who did not. For the Vietnam generation, it forces us to remember emotional wounds we thought time had healed, and to face the fact that, perhaps like Timberg’s own physical and emotional wounds, they have healed imperfectly. Blue-eyed Boy is a call for redress from a country that treated but indifferently a generation of American veterans who served in Vietnam.

The wound Timberg received when his vehicle struck a Vietcong land mine was not one that could ever be hidden or forgotten. It would always be present for others to see, and he would have to deal with that for the rest of his life. Timberg skillfully recounts his own dawning realization of what had happened to him. He is in a great deal of pain immediately after the fiery blast, but when he first looks at his visage in the mirror he sees his familiar face, however badly reddened. He doesn’t realize what is about to happen--that the skin is simply going to fall off, that his features will morph and melt and scar. His former appearance will never be restored. He went through years of operations and reconstructive surgery after the disfiguring third-degree burns to his face. The reaction of others to his scarred and frightening visage, the pity of friends and the unguarded comments and frequent revulsion of children, is a moving story.

It is the nature of his wound that ties the personal and public aspects of this story together. The physical damage is a visible symbol of the abiding psychological damage that has taken place within. That damage is not just about the wound itself; it is about what Timberg feels is the reluctance of the nation to appreciate and honor the choices and sacrifices of those who served in an unpopular war, both the actual and metaphoric averted eyes and turning away, the frequent antipathy, these attitudes towards the soldiers that were extended to the idea of military duty and service itself in the years that followed the war. For Timberg it is not whether the war was right or wrong but whether you answered the call when your country summoned you. He can have a grudging respect for those that answered it negatively, such as the anti-war activist David Harris, who took the consequences for refusing to serve and went to prison. What he can’t abide are those who evaded giving an answer, who finagled endless deferments while they protested the war or fled the country. In Timberg's view, they were willing to let others serve in their place, and then they dishonored those who did so.

One can share Timberg’s feelings about the disrespect directed against those who made the choice to go to war because they felt they were doing their duty to their country, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that their country was in some measure complicit with those who sought deferments and found ways to evade the draft. In practice, the selective service system compelled those to serve who had little political power or influence in order to fill the ranks for a war that would not have been tolerated as long as it was if it had sacrificed the sons and daughters of the upper middle class, the wealthy, and the politically connected.

Timberg traces here an abiding divide in America about citizenship and its obligations, about the idea of duty to country. It is perhaps a discussion we should have. As ever seems to be the case with discussions of this sort, the polarization arises from entirely different value systems. The antagonists talk past each other--they don’t even seem to speak the same language. But what makes it even more difficult now to have the discussion and reconciliation that Timberg seeks is that as a nation we have, with some deliberation, devised a way to avoid it while still finding a way to carry on the business of war. In the aftermath of Vietnam, service to one’s country has become (however much we thank soldiers for their service) a voluntary career choice. It is a more dangerous profession than some others, but not a matter of duty or civic obligation. If we any longer have such a sense of duty, we have contracted it out to a segment of the population willing to carry that burden for us. You wonder if younger people who were raised in this country after the Vietnam War might even be able to understand Blue-Eyed Boy, the pain and the anger and from where it comes. This is a book for those of us who know.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Zombies walk tonight!

Just a reminder that Max Brooks, author of World War Z, will be the featured guest at Woodbury University's “One Book, One Community” program, TONIGHT (Thursday, Oct. 23), from 5:30-8 p.m., at the Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium on the Burbank campus of Woodbury University. The event is FREE, and open to the public.
Mr. Brooks will speak for approximately 45 minutes, then allow about 15 minutes for questions and another 15 minutes for book signings.

At 7 p.m., there will be small group discussions or activities related to the book.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lit Crawl/LA NoHo!


From 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. this Wednesday night, thousands of Angelenos from all corners of the city (and some Burbankians as well) will come out for a FREE night of literary mayhem.

Choose your own literary experiences, from more than 30 literary events at a variety of restaurants, theaters, galleries, and other venues within a walkable area along Lankershim Blvd.

Participating groups will share fiction, poetry, plays, and everything in between, in the NoHo Arts District in North Hollywood. They include The Rumpus, 826LA, Los Angeles Review of Books, Avenue 50’s Poesía Para La Gente, Homeboy Industries, PEN Center USA, The World Stage, Tongue & Groove, The New Short Fiction Series, Hot Dish, Beyond Baroque, Cal State Northridge Alumni Writers, and more!

There are three 45-minute rounds. Attendees can hang out at one venue to see one presentation during each round, or “crawl” from venue to venue.

Round 1 is from 7:00 to 7:45 p.m.
Round 2 is from 8:00 to 8:45 p.m.
Round 3 is from 9:00 to 9:45 p.m.

There is also a closing party at 10:00 at the Federal Bar, 5303 Lankershim Blvd.

You can take public transportation via the Metro Red Line, the Metro Orange Line, and Metro Bus.

Burbank Public Library is pleased to be one of this year's sponsors, and you will see some representatives from our library at a couple of the venues!

For more information, including a list of venues, visit the website at !

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This week at the library...

Buena Vista branch, 7:00 p.m.

Author Event:
Meet the author, get an autograph, have tea and "biscuits," get a free surprise gift.

Northwest branch, 4:00 p.m.

DIY Pumpkin Canvas Bag
A craft program for kids in grades 1-8
Space is limited! call 818-238-5640 to reserve your spot.

Buena Vista branch, 2:00 p.m.

Hallowe'en movies!
25 minutes
27 minutes

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Zombies! Max Brooks!

WOODBURY UNIVERSITY is having a “One Book, One Community” program with a ZOMBIE theme.


Join in a Zombie Panel Discussion, from 6:00-7:30 p.m. in the Library on the Woodbury University Campus. It features:

Amy Converse on Zombies + Avant Garde
Rossen Ventzislavov on Zombies + Philosophy
Phil Pack on Zombies + Biology


MAX BROOKS, author of World War Z, will be the featured guest, this Thursday, Oct. 23, from 5:30-8 p.m., at the Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium on the Burbank campus of Woodbury University. The event is free, and open to the public.

Mr. Brooks will speak for approximately 45 minutes, then allow about 15 minutes for questions and another 15 minutes for book signings.

At 7 p.m., there will be small group discussions or activities related to the book.

Max Brooks is the bestselling author of World War Z, The Harlem Hellfighters, The Zombie Survival Guide, and its graphic companion, The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks.


TODAY, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Buena Vista branch...


Join us for a Local Authors' Showcase in the meeting room of the Buena Vista Branch Library. There will be more than 50 authors of books on a variety of topics and in a number of genres. Discover new books! Connect with new authors! Stop by and help us celebrate the written word!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reminder! New book club meets tonight!

Genre X Book Club meets for the first time tonight, October 16, at 6:30, at the Central Library in the auditorium! The club's slogan is, "Not your mother's book club," and discussions will be led by librarians Jeff and Laura M.

Tonight's book is Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, but if you're just seeing this notice now and haven't read it, come anyway! Express your interest, hang with your reading peeps, and get pumped for next month's meeting! November's book is the National Book Award-winner Just Kids, by Patti Smith, and in December the club will read the graphic novel Black Hole, by Charles Burns. After that, the members will join in choosing future selections!

What we're reading: New Peter Heller

I have had Peter Heller's The Dog Stars on my list of "want to read" since it came out in 2012 to effusive critical praise, without ever actually managing to read it. Just before I went on vacation, I picked up a couple of novels from the new books shelf at the Central Library, without even noticing who wrote them, because I liked the titles and descriptions; and that's how I got hold of Heller's new book, The Painter.

Since its tone seemed serious, I put off reading it while on my trip, instead opting for lighter fare (a couple of YA novels, a cozy mystery series), so I finally cracked the book on Sunday night. It has held me in thrall ever since. In fact, it made me late to work on Tuesday, because I couldn't put it down until the mesmerizing chapter I was reading was over!

People are mentioning in reviews how Hemingway-esque the protagonist is, probably because Jim Stegner is a "manly man" who fly fishes and camps and is led by his temper into untidy brawls (and more) in addition to painting Expressionist masterpieces. But the writing style reminds me more of Cormac McCarthy, though not as stylized--and I don't know how it is possible to write prose that is both spare and lush at the same time, but it is. Heller breaks all the writing rules, with incomplete sentences and phrases strung together in a staccato line that perfectly delineate his subject, settings, and events. His descriptions of Jim Stegner's paintings make me desperately want to see them, but the descriptions are so powerfully explicit and detailed that I can almost picture them in my mind's eye well enough to paint them myself! (Though I'm sure they wouldn't have the panache and whimsy of a Stegner.)

Even the book design works in its favor. Usually a book is typeset with continuous paragraphs, only differentiating them by the indent at the beginning of each and the hard return at the end; but in this book, the designer (or perhaps the author in collaboration with the designer?) chose to put a full return of space in between each paragraph. What this does (whether intended or not) is give you a wide open feeling when you are reading it--it's almost like those spaces on the page give you permission to pause, to breathe, to feel a sense of the panoramic vistas of Colorado and New Mexico in front of which the action of this book takes place.

The Painter pairs thoughtful, philosophical musing about life's tragedies and how we react to them with breathless scenes of action worthy of the latest blockbuster thriller, and some of the best romance/relationship scenes I've read in a while (or ever). The protagonist's turns of phrase when observing the world around him are also clever and arresting--here's one example:
One of the things I had read about crows somewhere is that they are much smarter than their station in life. I mean, unlike other birds, it takes them about two hours every day to secure enough food to survive and the rest is play time, electives.... So crows must spend a lot of the day wondering what they are supposed to do now, what they are here for, and that seemed like a cruel existential dilemma for anyone who didn't have TV.
If you imagined the perfect combination of literary and popular fiction, this would be it. I was fascinated to the end, and I won't be delaying any longer in seeking out his first book!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Upcoming events in Burbank

Here's the "What's New in Burbank" video for this week. It includes:
  • National Community Planning Month 
  • Verdugo Recreation Center Re-Opened
  • Halloween Events in Burbank
  • Burbank Walk of Fame
  • Burbank Town Hall Meeting
  • Octoburfest 2014
  • Local Authors’ Showcase at the Buena Vista Branch Library!
(If you want to skip to the last item, it's at 5:30.)