Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Back To Literature, Past
A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Names GI Films from Iraq Literature of the New Millennium

   Don't look now but technology isn't the only thing that is changing faster than the speed of light. So is literature. Trouble is, it feels as if it is sliding backwards at warp speed, rather than moving forward.

   A few short decades ago radio turned away from "The Haunting Hour" and "Burns and Allen" to meaningless rants and conversations between hosts with no couth and listeners who can't talk.

     TV news has become entertainment that panders to the lowest common denominator and little known bloggers have filled the void once occupied by reporters who were once concerned about preserving our freedoms when they dug up and exposed news that wasn't favorable to whomever was in power.

    Movies have become formulas and audiences are sheep who must have quick cuts and precisely placed plot points or we deem them "slow" or "boring."

    Once upon a time creativity was allowed to run rampant in novels and the world's tolerance for different voices was fertile soil for the likes of Joyce and Faulkner to bloom.

    Nevertheless, today the scent of hope for the future is in the air. On March 14, the Los Angeles Times' "First Column" reported that our soldiers are developing their own art form. New technology allows our GIs to carry small camcorders and miraculously they have not been prevented from doing so. They are shooting real life, horror-ridden battle scenes. They are snipping them, adding music or leaving the moans of combat there for all to hear.

    Many are using their films as therapy. The Times reports that Daniel Nelson, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine views them as stories we create about our lives. He says "Part of the healing process is for them to create a narrative, to organize an emotional story that allow them to get a handle on it." Most authors who write memory-based fiction or nonfiction view their writing in exactly the same way.

    Other soldiers view their videos as an exercise in freedom of speech. A few cross the line into much darker areas; there will always be those who draw their boundaries much lower than the culture at large but for one to limit the expression of others is always problematic because each of us traces our own line of acceptance at different heights using different capacities for understanding and compassion in our assessments. These movies are memoirs--visceral as the best books in that genre. These works are molded by a combination of desperation and the human need for expression. How can we say they are "wrong" or "right?"

    Not all understand that. Some GI filmmakers believe their own films are nothing more than trophies from the alleys of Baghdad. (My uncle thought the German Lugar he brought from the front in 1943 was a souvenir; he now knows that it was much more than that.)

    But some battlefield directors will not need to wait four decades to find meaning in what they are sending home via e-mail or stuffing into their duffle bags. They know their films are more than memorabilia or documentation even as they point their cameras at what most of us don't want to see.

    Some critics--both within the armed services and outside of them--are condemning the films and those who made them because they do not tell the stories as our politics or our preconceived notions would have them told. Still, these films reflect the souls of our fighting men and women. And that is a positive sign. Great literature does not bow, smile and scrape. It explores whatever is important to its time and it does so even if the sensibilities of some might be offended.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: The demand for my THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T has been so great I started a free newsletter called “Sharing with Writers” that will continue to feed tips and resources on book promotion and writing to authors long after they've read FRUGAL. Send an e-mail to with “subscribe” in the subject line

Readers' Tip: Books with a Thanksgiving theme are hard to find. PILGRIM GIRL: DIARY AND RECIPES FROM HER FIRST YEAR IN THE NEW WORLD by Jule Selbo and Laura Peters is being released this month. It may be ordered at as an e-book and as a paperback on Amazon. Teachers will use this as a resource for a creative Thanksgiving unit in their classrooms; grandparents and parents will love it. Kids will "eat it up."

2005 Past Columns

Carolyn Names GI Films from Iraq Literature of the New Millennium
A Simple Good-bye to Robert Creeley

© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.