Posted November 10, 2014 by in Book Lists

Veterans Day Reads

Veterans Day is tomorrow. For some, it might be just another work-free day, but Veterans Day should be celebrated. Soldiers risk their lives on a daily basis. Many of us will never know what it’s like to be a soldier—both in battle and back at home. The closest experience we’ll have to actual combat is inside the fictional (and sort of fictional) worlds that novelists create.

While there are a number of classic war novels that are more than worthy of your time—check out War and PeaceAll Quiet on the Western FrontGravity’s Rainbow, and From Here to Eternity, there are also several future classics from this decade that are just as good. On Veterans Day, if you are looking to read a novel about soldiers, check out one of this decade’s best war narratives.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Kevin Powers is an actual veteran of the Iraq War. It makes perfect sense to pick up his stunning novel, The Yellow Birds, as a Veterans Day read. The Yellow Birds is powerful, meditative, poetic, and, to put it mildly, brilliant. The story is about two close friends, Private Bartle and Private Murphy, and their struggle to stay alive in an active combat zone. Both men are young and still learning what it means to be an adult—they navigate personal boundaries and hopes and dreams. Powers’s novel’s greatest emotional power resonates inside Private Bartle’s impossible promise. I won’t reveal what it is, but you should rush to your local bookstore to find out. The Yellow Birds is one of the best novels of this century.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Whereas The Yellow Birds is very quiet, Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is loud and vulgar. It’s also an excellent piece of fiction. A news outlet shows footage of Billy Lynn and his fellow soldiers conquering an Iraqi obstacle. Overnight, the men become stars. They are whisked away to the Dallas Cowboys football stadium, and they are expected to be part of the spectacular halftime show. I know that it sounds bizarre. Honestly, it is. But it’s so good. The final product is a satire that is this generation’s Catch-22. Be prepared to laugh, shout, and even cry. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a winner.

Redeployment by Phil Klay

Phil Klay is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and he’s a writer that you should get to know. Redeployment came out earlier this year. (Check out our review here.) As award season heats up, Redeployment will likely become more and more popular—it is a nominee for the National Book Award. Unlike The Yellow Birds and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkRedeployment is a short story collection. Some of the stories take place during combat. Of course, those are overseas. There isn’t a weak story in the bunch, but the ones that take place back home, in the States, are the real winners. Klay writes about damaged characters who have to figure out how to live again. The title story is the best piece of short fiction of 2014. It’s breathtaking.

There you have it, Bookkaholics. The Yellow BirdsBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and Redeployment are three great books about veterans. Pick one up on this Veterans Day. Do you have a favorite recent war novel? If so, sound off in our comments below.

Bradley Sides

Bradley Sides is a graduate of the M. A. in English program from the University of North Alabama. His fiction appears in Belle Rêve Literary Journal, Birmingham Arts Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, Freedom Fiction Journal, Inwood Indiana, Literary Orphans, and Used Gravitrons. He is a staff writer for Bookkaholic. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is actively seeking representation for his debut middle-grade novel.