Good morning!

Huh?  But it’s noon!

I know, but I just woke up.  You see I was up all night reading "Unbroken".


I was clueless too.  Daniel Glass sent it to me.  I was just planning to scan a few pages in order to not feel guilty, to let him know I’d made an attempt, but then I got hooked and sucked down the rabbit hole.

I’ve pretty much given up on nonfiction.  It’s unsatisfying.  You experience facts but not emotions.  Hell, it’s much easier to write down a tale than make one up.  But so often the stories that rivet us are true.  Because truth is stranger than fiction.  In other words, if "Unbroken" had been a novel it would have been easy to push aside, as the work of a fabulist, telling a tall tale that couldn’t possibly be true.  But the fact that Louie Zamperini really did compete in the ’36 Olympics and then floated on a raft in the Pacific for dozens of days after his plane crashed and was ultimately rescued and…makes you keep turning the pages.  Because life is confusing enough in this modern era where everybody’s connected and there’s no money, what was it like half a century ago, when both rich and poor enlisted in the armed forces, fighting to save democracy?

The book starts off with Louie floating in the aforementioned raft.  That’s an excellent device.  You know where you’re going right up front, like deciding to take a long trip and MapQuesting your destination.  But you don’t really know what’s involved until you hit the road, experience the construction and the topography and the exquisite meals in podunk towns and the stops for physical fuel at places that sport brand names that have you questioning why they survive.

Survival.  What does it take?  Today’s kids tend to know what it takes in a videogame, but how about in the big bad world?  You need skills, but you also need perseverance and belief.

That’s what’s lacking in today’s instant gratification/get rich quick world.  People have the mistaken belief they don’t have to pay their dues, that life is all about luck, rising to the occasion momentarily and getting a pass for the rest of your life.  But a spot on "Real World" delivers fame, but no riches.  And "American Idol" isn’t much better.  There’s no career there for most people.  And Carrie Underwood was trying to make it for years before she won, and her two-dimensional songs mean she’s got a fraction of the audience of gawky Taylor Swift, who writes from the heart and can instantly sell out stadiums.

Character.  That’s what’s built when no one’s watching.  Do you cry when your mommy forgets to pick you up in a rainstorm or do you put one foot in front of the other knowing you’ll get soaked but you’ll make your way home?  Do you stop when you see an accident, offering help to those you do not know?  How about animals, can you save one in distress without being one of those people who thinks our furry friends are more important than human beings?

Laura Hillenbrand is not a good writer.  She’s a good researcher, she knows how to assemble the pieces of Louie Zamperini’s story.  But she’s no Hemingway, no Mailer, if she spent more time writing instead of collecting data the words would flow in a more satisfying way.  But in this case, the story is so riveting that just laying it down gets people to pay attention.

What really hooked me in this book was that Louie Zamperini grew up in Torrance, California, before the Beach Boys, when it was an outpost as opposed to the repository of America’s dreams.  That fascinates me, what it was like before everybody started paying attention.  Not only physical locations, but artistic careers.  Usually the best music is made on sheer will power, when no one else cares and there’s no money, little marketing, just the music itself.  That’s so different from today’s constructions.  I love the Adele album, but even there there was a committee, building something commercially friendly.  But how did Cat Stevens come up with "Tea For The Tillerman"?  Better yet, listen to "Trouble" off the previous album, "Mona Bone Jakon".  That one track is better than anything on the Adele compilation, because of its sheer honesty, its wistfulness.  You can see the individual right through the song.  I’ve read about Adele’s troubles, but there’s still a scrim in the music, I don’t know who she really is.  But someone who writes "Trouble" or "Carolina In My Mind" or…  Listen to the first American Elton John album.  It sounds like it was cut in a church, listening to it is a religious experience.  Sure, "Your Song" was a hit, but check out "Sixty Years On" or "The King Must Die".  The album didn’t seem to be made for us, but Elton, and that’s why we’re so interested.

"Unbroken" is a peek into the life of Louie Zamperini.  Who didn’t win the gold medal, who spent eons in a Japanese war camp, but survived.  Not intact, alcoholism took over his life.  But he ultimately triumphed, over his captors in Japan and in his head.  And he didn’t go on to start a hedge fund, he dedicated his life to helping disadvantaged boys.

Not that anyone forgot he was Louie Zamperini.  That’s real fame.  Vanilla Ice is a footnote.  Wilson Phillips is a joke in a movie.  But if you’ve done something real, people respect you, they don’t look down upon you.  We want to get close to heroes.

If you’re into war stories, "Black Hawk Down" is a better book.

I’ve never read "Seabiscuit", Laura Hillenbrand’s previous tome, haven’t seen the movie either.

No, I’m not selling this on history, not triangulating, not trying to prove to you why you should pay attention, I’m telling you "Unbroken" stands alone.  Start it and you’ll finish it.

A great book creates a private universe which you’re privileged to inhabit.  It’s a special feeling far different from everyday life, despite being positively human itself.

Pick up "Unbroken".  Go for the ride.

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