|this is Louie.|
i was feeling a little bereft last night. i was more than ready for bed, but i found myself lingering in the bathroom, standing in front of the sink, brushing my teeth twice as long as i probably needed to, applying and reapplying anti-blemish serum to my multiple spots. (apparently puberty is perpetual for this 35-year old.)
why all the dilly-dallying? i always read before i go to sleep. i find it hard not to go to sleep without reading a little first, actually. and i'd finished my book earlier in the day and wasn't emotionally ready to start something new.
that probably sounds crazy to you, but the book i'd finished was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. if you haven't read it, you probably still think i'm crazy. if you have, i'm betting you understand completely.
i'm only three percent kidding when i say i want my new mission in life to be convincing everyone in the world to read this book. i'm zero percent kidding when i say it changed my life.
i told this to my mom yesterday—that reading Unbroken changed my life—and she said, somewhat doubtfully, "how?"
let me explain.
first, it is an amazing story. an incredible, utterly inspiring, nearly unbelievable story, and yet it's all true.
Louie Zamperini started life as what my Brooklyn relatives call a "scutch"—a rascal, a pain in the butt, unruly, wild, a smart-ass and so on. he then morphed into an a supremely talented, record-breaking track star, who made it to the Olympics in 1936 and would have made an appearance at the summer games in Toyko in 1940 if they hadn't been cancelled due to the world war in progress. he did make it to Japan eventually, but under the most horrific circumstances imaginable.
his story is one of heroism, humility and the strength of the human spirit. his story made me believe, all over again, that certain people are put on this earth equipped to face exactly what they ultimately face, and everything they encounter along the way prepares them to survive something most of us would have no chance in hell of surviving. it is these people—not the Kardashians, not Mark Zuckerberg, not Angelina Jolie or Alex Rodriguez—who deserve our admiration, our attention, our adulation. these are the folks we can learn from and look up to. i don't think most people today, my age and younger, really understand what a true hero is. i'm not sure i understood until i finished reading Unbroken.
the book also gave me something i'm almost embarrassed to admit: a much better understanding of World War II. i could blame my lack of historical knowledge on my Catholic school education, but the truth is that i had great history teachers (like Mr. Pauzano, who was as passionate about his subject as anyone who ever taught me)—i just didn't understand, at the time, how it related to me. at all. and if it didn't relate to me, i wasn't very interested. hello, typical teenager.
i'd seen Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, but that was just Hollywood to me. compelling stories, but i didn't connect them to anything that had actually happened, even though i knew that it had. but Unbroken brought it all home, in a way much more visceral than even the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. it gave me an appreciation for our veterans—all of them—that of course i felt previously, but not nearly as deeply as i do now. it was all i could do not to start full-on sobbing when i saw the throngs of soldiers—young, old, active, retired—marching in the St. Patrick's Day parade last weekend. i am humbled to say that i finally understand. better late than never, i suppose.
and finally, on a personal note, reading Unbroken gave me some insight into myself as a writer. though i started out in journalism, i really thought i was meant to write novels. i struggled through creative writing courses in college and after college, nailing the writing part, but agonizing over how to make up a story. i only fully succeeded when i wrote about something that happened to me, tweaking minor details so i could label it "fiction." i thought something was wrong with me—if only i tried harder, i'd be able to do it. but every time i sat down to write fiction, i wanted to get up. which is actually a normal response for any writer, fiction or not, but there was no part of me that wanted to create stories. tell stories—yes. i was—am—always writing in my head, descriptions, characterizations, first sentences, etc. but making it all up from scratch, creating my own version of Hogwarts or Narnia or even the corner of London inhabited by Bridget Jones? not at all.
Laura Hillenbrand writes beautifully and brilliantly. others supply the stories, she provides the narrative. to me, it's a perfect marriage of journalism and creative writing. that i can do.
anyway, like i said—life-changing. please read this book if you haven't. don't wait for the movie version. don't let it sit on your nightstand unread for weeks and weeks as i did. read it now. i promise—i really, really do—your life will be changed, too.