Jarhead: A Soldier’s Story of Modern War

When Anthony Swofford wrote Jarhead, I doubt he knew how much praise it would earn. Jarhead is a non-fiction book that details Swofford’s service in the United States Marine Corps during the Persian Gulf War. It is a gritty, raw story that may be hard for some to read, as it graphically depicts scenes of war, sexual content, and frequently uses profanity. In this, the book is true to its content, as war is never a pretty thing. It is full of death, violence, abuse, insanity, and horror, but in retelling this, Swofford also managed to incorporate his sense of humor. He describes aspects of war and life after experiencing the terrors involved in such description that I often found myself close to tears or looking behind me to ensure that no one was going to attack me. Swofford spent no time trying to paint a positive picture of himself, in fact, he often seemed arrogant and full of himself, as many young people who are high on adrenaline usually are.

Swofford’s descriptions were incredibly unique and gave a fresh look at a topic that’s been explored since the dawn of military activity. He vividly retells details of going through his old stuff and finding his uniform as well as the memories it brought up afterward. Rather than romanticizing military service, as much of the media tries to do, he offers a look into the dark, twisted underbelly of service in which men go insane. A world in which they lay in spider-filled pits in the middle of the deserts, piss themselves out of fear as mortar charges drop all around them, and play with dead bodies as though they were children’s’ toys.

Swofford was a sniper and thus had much experience in the… less savory side of military service. He describes the precision with which he worked in terms civilians can easily understand, but keeps it raw enough to send chills down my spine. At one point in the book, Swofford was prepared to take a shot that he’d been waiting on for quite a while, his stress was running high due to numerous factors of living in the war zone, but he received a call at the last second for him to not take the shot. He broke down mentally, something snapped within him as an airstrike was called to do what he’d been waiting to do.  Swofford likely took a few creative liberties and exaggerated moments of the stories within the memoir, but it was an amazing read nonetheless and kept my attention for the days I spent reading it.

Rather than focusing on war itself, Jarhead focused more on military culture and the behavior of soldiers in times of desperation, boredom, fear, or sorrow. It shows how horrible conditions can get and how badly those conditions can mess with one’s mind. It goes through the bonding of brothers in arms, and the unbearable loss that comes when one of those brothers is lost to war or his own hand.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading military history or memoirs.

“The Thief of Always” by Clive Barker

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker is one of my favorite books for both sentimental and literary reasons. My mother introduced me to this work of Clive Barker’s when I was twelve, shortly after she bought a copy from a library sale. She gave it to me and told me how much she enjoyed it at my age and how it felt like another world entirely. In an attempt to bond with her over the summer of my eighth-grade year, I dove into it. The Thief of Always gave us a common ground and subject to talk about, she seemed to share my excitement as I told her about the book while she reminisced. I’ve read it at least three times throughout the years, picking up on new details each time.

The story revolves around the life of a ten-year old boy named Harvey Swick. In the beginning of the tale, Harvey experiences extreme boredom and grows tired of the routine he falls into daily at school and in his home. During a particularly bad storm, a man (more similar visually to a goblin) named Rictus hears Harvey’s pleas for a more fun life and invites him to join him with his siblings in “The Holiday House”. The Holiday House is a place in which friendship is abundant and adventure seems as constant as the oxygen they breathe. Harvey stays there for 31 days, meeting new friends such as Wendell and Lulu as well as experiencing every holiday and season of the year daily. Mornings are spring, noontime is summer, afternoons are autumn, and nighttime is winter. He is able to get any gift he could ever desire on Christmas, and as anyone would, he takes advantage of it. The children are permitted to explore almost anywhere they’d like, but going to a dark, gloomy lake on the property is not looked upon highly by house- staff members (Rictus, his siblings, and a human woman named Mrs. Griffin along with the illusive homeowner, Mr. Hood) and going home is not an option. Though his friend Wendell seems content, Harvey believes him to be a bit naïve as the house begins showing its darker side. It drives Lulu to physically morph into a demonic-seeming fish who lives in the dark lake. The book follows Harvey’s discoveries and attempts to get back to his parents without drawing attention to himself.

Clive Barker wrote The Thief of Always in a way that can successfully capture the attention of children as well as provide deeper meanings for adults and older readers to seek out. This kind of writing is rare, oftentimes when a story is labeled as a “child’s book” it implies a simple story with a very obvious lesson to learn. That is not the case with The Thief of Always. Each time I’ve read it, I’ve been able to pick up on new elements of it from metaphors to subtle foreshadowing and a nearly-hidden B story that can easily go unnoticed unless one is actively searching for them. It is a very cleverly-written story meant to captivate readers of all ages.

“Dirty Pretty Things” by Michael Faudet


Dirty Pretty Things by Michael Faudet is a collection of poems, short stories, and quotes of love, lust, and heart-wrenching loss. Faudet, the long-time partner of poet Lang Leav, released the collection as his first book in 2014. The two worked together in many aspects of the book from editing to publication as well as the signing tour, the introduction of the book even features a short piece from Leav that shows her admiration of him as a fellow writer as well as her lover.

Faudet captures a wide array of human emotions through his work with a powerful lack of censorship and refusal to follow a typical or traditional pattern. He showcases his versatility through this piece by offering a variety of works in many different styles of writing, all centered around the most intimate aspects of his personal life and painting an image of who he is as well as how he came to be the writer he is today.

Perhaps the most vulgar collection centered around love and human desires that I’ve read thus far, reading Dirty Pretty Things was an entirely new experience. At times I caught myself wondering things such as “Can he say that in here?” or even physically cringing at certain phrases or mental images that would be typically censored or simply not told in poetry and short stories in today’s society. These reactions caused me to dwell not only on the human condition and what I’ve been lead to believe was acceptable, but also opened my eyes to the reality of writing not introduced to us in a structured learning environment.

Writing is not always pretty. What we learn in schools is not necessarily reality, but a watered-down version of it. Contrary to classroom censorship; life can be hideous, life can be vulgar, it can be one of the most grotesque things humans ever experience, but in that there is beauty. There often isn’t a happy ending waiting on the other side of a mountain of struggle; depression can kill even the biggest smiles, anxiety can bring a bitter end to the most wonderful relationships, only a fraction of endings result in smiles and fond memories, but all can provide entertainment.

Heartache, love, and lust are feelings most (if not all) people can relate and connect to. Faudet realizes this and embraces it with gritty phrasing and primal imagery, often throwing in an element of sarcasm. Through his work, he is able to reach the minds of many, whether they be teenagers driven by heartache and infatuation or adults who’ve matured well past their teenage years and wish to have a moment of recollection and think back to names and nights forgotten. Through his raw emotion and lack of censorship, he’s created a style of writing far different than any I’ve seen thus far.

Pieces in Dirty Pretty Things can range from only a few words or lines to several pages long, each conveying its own message, a timestamp in the author’s life. I enjoyed reading it and experiencing different moments from the poet’s life.


Halo: The Fall of Reach

Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund is the first novel in the extended universe of Microsoft’s Halo series. It takes place in the distant future, in an era of space colonization. Within the novel, Nylund paints the stories of UNSC (United Nations Space Command) soldiers in their first confrontations with an alien race known as the covenant that is out to destroy mankind. In their first message to humankind, the covenant claim to have been sent by God to destroy mankind for a better cause. The title of the novel itself is a nod to the central conflict as Reach is the name of the planet on which much of the story takes place. The planet Reach was invaded by the covenant in an attempt to eradicate mankind that sparks an interstellar war. John, a young boy at the time of the confrontations, was one of hundreds of children removed from their home worlds and trained for years to participate in the UNSC’s top secret Spartan program. Spartans, as they were called, are genetically enhanced humans with abilities and strength comparable to those of superheroes. John, number 117 of the spartans, is the protagonist of the series, known as Master Chief by most within the universe.

Nylund is a well-respected science-fiction writer in today’s era. This is likely due to his ability to captivate audiences of all walks of life through expansion of a popular fictional universe. Though the novel follows a group of soldiers, conflicts often stem from a more complex, underlying moral issue (removal of children from their homes for the sake of genetic experimentation) rather than the typical strategy-oriented story on war tactics. When wartime circumstances arise, Nylund provides an excellent look into the minds of his characters and thoroughly explains situations military strategy in a way that civilians can understand. Often, changes in font type are used to represent codes sent between commanding offices as well as transmissions from the covenant. Subtle changes such as these add a certain element of realism to such an outlandish universe by emphasizing important details.

Characters within the story, regardless of how small their roles may be, are given all the depth and emotional reaction of real humans, making it easier to be fully immersed in the conflicts introduced. Nylund captures humanlike characteristics perfectly and thus provides a sharper contrast between human soldiers, genetically mutated spartans, and the barbaric nature of the covenant. Because of their purpose in the war effort, spartans are trained to neglect and repress their emotions through physical labor, thus causing moral dilemmas in the spartans themselves as well as their trainers. Human soldiers are portrayed as feeling much more anxiety about the seemingly inevitable end of humanity as a whole as they see alien fleets glassing whole planets from outer space. Spartans, as their name suggests, are a small, but surprisingly powerful group of individuals, willing to defy seemingly unbeatable odds.

Halo: The Fall of Reach and other books within the series are typically accessible through outlets such as Barnes and Noble and Walmart for as little as $4.00 each, making them a favorite among fans of the Halo franchise.