I cannot begin to explain why after some 40-odd year’s three books from High School English suddenly called to me to be reexamined. After all, at the time, it was assigned reading, (Ugh!) but they must have had an impact on my psyche because I had not forgotten them. I even re-read them in the exact order they were allotted in 10th grade English.
Run Silent Run Deep
By Edward L. Beach Jr.
I think maybe my love for submarine video games (set during WW II) just might have developed when I read this novel. Although at the time I read this book, I never knew it had also be made into a movie in 1958, starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.
Beach was a real-life submariner during World War II, who was in the Battle of Midway and participated in numerous combat patrols, earning 10 decorations for gallantry, including the Navy Cross.
Run Silent Run Deep in reflection is well-paced; however, it does take its time getting up to speed with the actual combat action. (Which I am sure as a young male reader was a struggle to wade through). Using the concept of a Navy tape recording made by Commander Edward J. Richardson, the story begins with him and the stories primary figures training for submarine warfare. We learn a lot about the characters, their relationships, and about the tools of underwater combat. Tension is created early with the two key players in the story, Richardson and Jim Bledsoe, when the first is forced to withdraw a command approval for the later. Although they will continue to serve together throughout most of the story, this friction is an ongoing thread throughout the book.
Run Silent Run Deep kicks off when the crew moves from training to the action in the Pacific Ocean. We blow-up countless Japanese ships, and escape from several Imperial destroyers. Like any good story, we are quickly introduced to the arch-villain. Captain Tateo Nakame, nicknamed Bungo Pete. As the skipper of the destroyer Akikaze, he has an almost mystical power in sinking American submarines.
During the novel, the terror of Bungo Pete will have its effect on our characters and end with a thrilling confrontation that tests the metal of our naval forces.
By Joy Adamson
Born Free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows…. Who can ever forget the theme song from the film version of this book song by British singer Matt Monro, winning an Academy Award, and featured on late 1960s radio. (Kind of like “You Light Up My Life” was during the 70s.) I can remember that this song did jade my opinion of the book when it was assigned.
Born Free reads very much like a National Geographic story and has almost become a cliché of humankind’s attempts at keeping wild animals wild. Adamson’s novel is, of course, a real accounting of her and her husband’s efforts to at first keep a lioness as a pet, and later to re-introduce it to the wild where it was meant to be. During the story we travel throughout Africa, encountering natives, poachers, rogue animals that must be put down, and struggle with illness. For the most part, Born Free is a heartwarming account of watching Elsa grow from cub to adult. As with the raising and caring for most pets we experience the joy of their new discoveries and their interactions with life. However, as we learn through the Adamson’s experience, not all creatures are meant to be kept indoors.
The old hardcover copy I checked out from the library had lots of photographs of the Adamsons, Elsa, and others featured in the narrative. I cannot remember if my mass paperback edition during my first reading in high school had all these pictures, but I believe it did. The photos compliment the narrative giving the reader more than a description of the location, but visual representation. This was particularly helpful since not a lot of characterization or physical elements were provided regarding people in the story.
The reintroduction of Elsa into the wild and the feelings that the Adamson’s experience as the lioness begins to blend with her own kind does pull at the heartstrings. This book was an easy read, and as a pet owner, I did connect with the emotions presented. However, I strongly recommend you skip the novel, and just watch the movie. Press mute during the theme song.
Small Sidebar: In 1966, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers starred in the classic wildlife film Born Free. Later, joined by their son Will, they founded Zoo Check to save wild animals from life behind bars. Today, that charity is called the Born Free Foundation.
Planet of the Apes
By Pierre Boulle
When I read this novel for the first, 20th Century Fox had already produced four installments of the film franchise. The film mythos had crept into every corner of society, and as a fan of the films, I was excited to read the novel. Much to my surprise at the time, the book and the movie were not the same. Actually, of the books I read in high school, this one, with its double-twist ending, was one I’d never forget.
The story opens with the discovery of a message (actually a manuscript) in a bottle floating in space. Space travel is commonplace, and the rescued text is a light diversion for the wealthy couple as their ship glides through the cosmos.
It tells the tale of journalist Ulysse Mérou, who along with two men of science have embarked on a space voyage to the solar system surrounding the star Betelgeuse. A few chapters focus on elapsed time in relation to the speed of light travel, so we understand the astronauts are giving up their current lives for this trip. Once they reach their destination, they notice the planet Soror, which is so much like Earth that they decide to explore. They camp on the planet and discover a naked woman they call Nova. She, in turn, introduces them to her tribe whose behavior is animal-like and they manage to wreck the traveler’s landing shuttle trapping the three men on the planet.
Ulysee and his companions make their home with these savage humans, and when the tribe is attacked, are dumbfounded to learn the attackers are gorillas. These gorillas are fully dressed in safari attire, handle firearms, and drive jeeps. One scientist is killed, another disappears, and Ulysee is captured and carried to a city that matches one found on 20th Century Earth, but populated by apes.
Boulle uses the man’s capture to expound on today’s use of animals in biological research. Conditioning, drug testing, and even brain exploration are scrutinized, as man suddenly becomes the test subject. Unlike the movie, the protagonist, with the help of chimpanzee researchers is eventually granted his freedom and roams among the apes, still an oddity, but part of their society.
Much happens during Ulysee’s period of freedom. He locates one of his fellow space travelers, joins on a search in the ruins of an ancient city, and finds he is about to be a father because of his relationship with Nova. All these elements drive the story to a thrilling conclusion with an escape from the Planet of the Apes and his return to Earth.
If you have enjoyed any of the old or new versions of the ape saga, you will want to read the novel that gave it birth. The ending will doubly blow your mind.
- What books were you assigned to read in (grades 10, 11, 12) High School English?
- Did you love them or hate them?
- Is a copy still sitting on your bookshelf?
- Do you re-read it (them) from time to time?
Would love to hear from you.