A Confession: Reading Fiction Hurts

Labor Day represents the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year for millions of children. Kids are going back to school with their freshly purchased school supplies and a whirling set of emotions-ranging from excitement to dread. I always hated the first day of school. Summer was the best time in my life because I got to sleep in, watch TV all day, and eat carbs whenever I wanted. I always felt a tinge of PTSD whenever “Back to School” commercials began to inundate the airways. Why did I hate school so much? I always loathed the pointless homework and the assignments that supposedly stimulated our creativity. “Alright class, we are going to learn about George Washington…everyone go home and make a poster-board collage with magazine cutouts that remind you of our first president.” These types of assignments are present in every grade and I even see tinges of them in my wife’s doctorate program. In addition to pointless busy work, we had to read famous literature like Mark Twain, Of Mice and Men, A Tale of Two Cities, The Old Man and the Sea, etc. I was good at reading but I struggled to see the appeal in these books. Sure, I did enjoy some parts of these works but the process of reading fiction was usually tedious. Fiction for me made books unappealing and I saw no point in reading during my free time because movies and TV were so much more entertaining. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I realized nonfiction books were interesting and I could read over 50 of them a year without a ounce of misery.

Fast forward a couple years and I have read close to 100 nonfiction books that have taught me more information than my entire K-12 experience. With my newfound love for reading, I figured I should give fiction another shot. My old roommate loves John Steinbeck so I picked up some of his books-these were doable. My friend from high school loves Ernest Hemingway so I borrowed For Whom the Bell Tolls. I labored through this book like a fat guy running his first mile. In the end, I had to SparkNote the last chapters (sorry Megan) because the overall story line was driving me crazy. This experience has taught me an important lesson about myself and about people in general. Everyone is stimulated differently and likes to learn in their own unique way. It’s okay if you never pick up a 700 page book about George Washington and instead make a collage from magazine cutouts. It’s okay if you haven’t read Charles Dickens and instead you prefer to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s okay if you love classic literature but can’t stand to pick up a National Geographic magazine. In today’s world there is way too much information out there for us to absorb everything. Read and watch the things that you enjoy because life is too short; with that said, Breaking Bad can be just as academic as classic literature. The only thing I think is important is that you stimulate your brain by discussing things with others. Whether it is a book, TV show, movie, or magazine discuss it with someone else. This way we all learn from each other even though we all have very different tastes. Are my days of fiction over? Not completely. I think with a little more effort and discussion, I will find the books that make that fat-man mile a little easier.

Our Inner Insurgent

Is there any scenario in which blowing a person’s head off is not a bad thing? Maybe if you were playing Call of Duty, but I would say that 99% of the time killing someone is not the right thing to do. What about the other 1% of the time? This sliver of justified killing occurs during war and is talked about in American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle. Chris Kyle, as most people know him, was played by Bradley Cooper in the box-office hit American Sniper-directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie was sweet and I would recommend watching it. The book, that Chris Kyle wrote, went much more in detail about his experiences in the military and the culture of the Navy Seals. In total, Chris spent 10 years in the military where he experienced several tours of duty in Iraq. During those 10 years he accumulated 11 medals and 160 confirmed sniper kills-the highest number in American history. He was a fiercely patriotic man who cared about his country more then his family; being in battle for him was the ultimate experience. Reluctantly, not wanting to give up service to his country, he left the military to take on the role of husband and father to his two children. In civilian life, he started a business that trained police and security organizations how to hone their sniper skills. In his free time Chris volunteered to help veterans with PTSD and other war related injuries. In 2013, he and his friend were killed by a former soldier who was suffering with schizophrenia and PTSD.

Chris was no angel and there has been a lot of controversy about his alleged experiences. Some of the things written have been found to be lies but these lies related more to his personal life than his service in Iraq. I believe he got a little to enamored by the spotlight and started to go overboard with his storytelling. The thing that fascinated me most about Chris was his black and white view of the world. He said in the book that he feels no guilt from killing all the people in Iraq and feels confident that he can stand before God and justify himself. He describes the Iraqi insurgents as “evil” and that they were “savages” that deserved to be killed; every shot he took was done to protect his fellow service men and his country. Were the insurgents truly evil? The insurgents were trying to defend a way of life that they believed in and eject a foreign invader-the United States. Would we classify ourselves as evil if Iraq invaded the US and we tried to defend our way of life? Is there justification to kill an “evil” person outside the realms of war? Why does a declaration of war by a country make killing acceptable? I have a ton of respect for the men and women who fought in the Middle East and they did kill a lot of people who would gladly hurt Americans. I think we need to understand that we are very similar to the insurgents. We have strong opinions, we want to protect our way of life, we believe in a cause, we would defend ourselves, and a large proportion of us would take advantage of others if allowed the opportunity. Why am I drawing these similarities? I think the more we see ourselves in our enemies the more we can understand that human nature is universal, that we need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, and we need to think about how war creates hate. I commend Chris because he did his job but I don’t commend the US for going to war in the first place. Sadly, for every insurgent Chris killed a new insurgent was born because hate breeds hate-perpetuating a never ending cycle of division between groups.