Midweek book club – Billy Lynn and Pop up Peekaboo!

My choices this week incorporate “the new Catch 22” and a pop up book illustrated by cuddly toys. Aiming for something for everyone. Parents first.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Ben Fountain

This was my reading group’s book for last night’s meet up. One critic called it the new Catch 22. It’s not. For a start, it’s not funny enough. But the writing can also be quite laboured whereas my remembrance of Catch 22 was that the satire was effortless – he didn’t hit you over the head with the point he was trying to make, which sadly can be the case here.

Having said that, I did have sympathy with what he was trying to do. He wanted to write a book about the Iraq War, a critical book and, not having served, felt that his efforts may not be as authentic as it could have been, he turned to another angle instead. The book satirises the corporatisation (if such a word exists) of things that America holds dear: military service, praying and money.

The novel follows Billy Lynn during a single day. Billy is part of Bravo squad who were captured on camera by an embedded journalist in Iraq in a bunfight where one of their squad was killed. As such, they have been flown around the US in a Victory Tour to raise morale and generally cover up all the terrible things that were being down in America’s name over there. The single day is as Bravo squad are hosted by the Dallas Cowboys at a televised game and includes Billy’s thoughts about the fight, the squad, his family, an unlikely relationship with a cheerleader and the day in general. It’s slow to start with but you get into it. It’s also incredibly easy to skim read without missing much of the plot or the observations.

I’m not giving a very good impression am I? But I am glad I read it and I liked what he was trying to say. He just didn’t do it as well as the reviews suggest and perhaps it’s one of those books that got overly hyped because people liked the messages rather than the execution. There are some good moments and some sharp insights but I think these would have worked better as a novella or short story.

E’s choice this week comes from her library book selection.

Pop Up Peekaboo! Meow!

When asked what my ambitions for E are, I flippantly mention “first woman on Mars” but otherwise things like plumber or hairdresser (both things would be useful to help her parents and should help guarantee employment.) But mainly I want her to be a good reader. So you can imagine my pleasure this week when twice I’ve been in the kitchen making her food/ putting the washing on/ faffing about and have come into the dining room to find that she’s made her way to the pile of books and has got them out to look at all by herself. This was one that she really liked and I found her lifting flaps, pointing at the characters and smiling.

The story involves Stripy Cat looking for his friends – Puppy, Froggy, Bunny and Fluffy Sheep – all of whom are hiding behind flaps. Once they’re found Stripy Cat hides – that cheeky thing. So there’s only five pages. The pictures are of cuddly toys (including fluffy carrots, oh yes) though the only character who doesn’t really resemble an actual creature is Stripy Cat who is purple, pink, yellow, blue and white stripes. This combines all of E’s loves – animals, lift the flaps and an opportunity for her parents to make funny noises when reading. It’s a lovely bright coloured, fun book with interactive bits. We give it a massive thumbs up.

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