Best of January 2015

In the hopes of some more consistent posting, I’m going to try (“try” being the operative word) to do a monthly post on the books, movies, etc., that grabbed me the month before.


johnnySurprisingly, the best book I’ve read this year will be 75 years old in September. But there’s a somber timelessness to Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.

Set in World War I, it is the internal monologue of Joe Bonham, whose wounds leave him limbless, deaf, dumb, blind and without a mouth. His discovery of and efforts to deal with his injuries is itself worthy of praise. But Johnny Got His Gun is viewed as a quintessential pacifist work that explores relevant before and after the book was published, including our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of the most striking parts is an extended passage in which Bonham compares the abstract reasons offered to justify the death of soldiers with reality.

If the thing they were fighting for was important enough to die for then it was also important enough for them to be thinking about it in the last minutes of their lives. That stood to reason. Life is awfully important so if you’ve given it away you’d ought to think with all your mind in the last moments of your life about the thing you traded it for. So did all those kids die thinking of democracy and freedom and liberty and honor and the safety of the home and the stars and stripes forever?

You’re goddam right they didn’t.

Trumbo’s style and structure — the novel won the 1939 National Book Award for Most Original Book — make it even more powerful. The book’s history reflects its strength. By chance, it was published two days after Germany invaded Poland, setting off World War II. Trumbo and his publisher agreed there should be no more press runs until that war was over so it was not printed again until 1946. Deservedly, the book has sold millions of copies since.


About as far divorced from Trumbo’s work as anything, the new season of the BBC/Netflix series The Fall tops January’s movie/DVD/streaming consumption.

the fallThe series is built around a British detective, played by Gillian Anderson, heading up a unit trying to catch a serial killer in Belfast. Admittedly, the fact I’ve had a crush on Gillian Anderson since The X-Files plays a small role in my interest. But I’m usually not a fan of detective/mystery type shows, let alone one with a sexually warped and the killer and I watched the first season late last year only because it was recommended by a friend. Yet the series is binge-worthy. (I watched the 6½ hours of season 2 in two sittings). There is an undercurrent in which Anderson’s character and the killer seem to have somewhat kindred spirits in terms of their strength and ability to focus on a goal. This is as much a character study than a crime drama.

What’s so noble about being dead?

Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun

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