Thursday, September 27, 2012
Johnny Got His Gun
Purchased at a bookstore in Oakton, Virginia. I don't remember the name of the store. It was probably Brentano's or something like that. I bought it in high school during a brief period of active reading. When I tell the story of how I gave up reading beginning in 9th grade, it is only partly true. I didn't read much, but very occasionally I would pick up a book, get excited, and then read a couple of others soon thereafter. This was one of those cases.
I am pretty sure the book that got me excited was a book called .44 by Dick Schaap and Jimmy Breslin. It was a true crime fictionalization of the Son of Sam killings in New York in the 70s. I remember being gripped by it. An image in my mind: walking up a staircase at my high school in between classes, reading the book as a climbed. I couldn't put it down, in other words. I finished it in a day or two and told my mom that I wanted to read another book.
My parents, as well meaning as they were about giving me an education, were equally if not more concerned about the state of my soul. I recall that my mother said she didn't want me reading more books about murder and so forth and so set me free in the literature section instead of the true crime section of the store. I think I chose this book for two reasons: it had "gun" in the title and I liked the cover.
I brought it home and read it. It's a very strange novel. It's told from the point of view of a soldier in a hospital during the first world war. He's fully conscious, but completely paralyzed. At first he doesn't realize this, but as it dawns on him he becomes desperate to communicate with the outside world. If memory serves, he eventually finds a way to communicate without moving his body, but I can't recall how. I think when he finally gets a sentence out he asks the nurse to kill him.
Something along those lines. It was much later that a learned about Trumbo the blacklisted screenwriter who wrote Exodus and Spartacus and Papillon. I think they made a film out of this novel, if I am not mistaken.
It does have a great cover.
from Johnny Got His Gun
Put the guns in our hands and we will use them. Give us the slogans and we will turn them into reality. Sing the battle hymns and we will take them up where you left off. Not one not ten not ten thousand not a million not ten millions not a hundred millions but a billion two billions of us all the people of the world we will have the slogans and we will have the hymns and we will have the guns and we will use them and we will live. Make no mistake of it we will live. We will be alive and we will walk and talk and eat and sing and laugh and feel and love and bear our children in tranquility in security in peace. You plan the wars you masters of men plan the wars and point the way and we will point the gun.