War Books

by I.A. Isherwood

Our discussion of Barbusse, Sassoon, and Jünger got me thinking a little bit about WWI books that are popular with readers. Truth to be told, I think about this question a lot because it is part of my research, but also, because I am interested in issues of public memory generally and the popularity of books can be indicators of how readers are interpreting historical events (kinda). Pat Barker’s Regeneration series is a case in point: it came at a time of increased awareness of the psychological victims of WWI and in many ways has changed the way that people who have read these books view the conflict. (In my own development, reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms at 16 years-young had an incredible effect on the way that I viewed the impact of WWI, though, I have been debating what that impact was ever since.)

Last year, I read this interesting list from the New Republic on WWI books. There are some good titles here – predicable – but still good. The list got me thinking about the impact of war books now and whether during the centennial, especially in the USA, if there is a dominant trend of the types of books about WWI being read.

Are people reading about WWI? It the centennial even attracting that much interest in America? What types of books are people gravitating towards? Are they reading fiction, non-fiction memoirs, histories, etc? Or are books less of a thing now and are more people gravitating towards films, television series (Downton Abbey, anyone), or internet trolling to satisfy their WWI quest for knowledge?

The funny thing is that I know a lot more about what people were reading about WWI in the 1920s and 1930s than I do at the present moment. So what do you all think – what books are people reading (or should read) about WWI? What would you recommend people read?