Thursday, July 1, 2010

With Reverent Hands: The Hunters

With Reverent Hands

I bring you with reverent hands / the books of my numberless dreams.
-WB Yeats, "A Poet To His Beloved"

WB Yeats, I'm sure, gave books to his beloved that he valued highly himself, and that he handled with reverence.  If you had to recommend a book you revered to someone, what would it be?
I'm asking you to highlight one book.  One book that you adore, that you prize, that changed your life, that you would save from a burning building, that you found serendipitously on a library shelf or at a used bookstore, looking lonely and ignored.  A book that thrills you but that, you have come to realize, no one else has really ever heard of, much less read.  With Reverent Hands is all about those books- the ones that deserve a wider audience than they are given and that you want everyone to go out and read, even if they are out of print.

This week's post is by Skip, who posts at The Reading Ape.  I only learned about Skip's blog after he commented on mine, but I really enjoy it.  He not only reviews books, but also has many discussion posts; one you might remember is about the gender roles in blogosphere.  So I was quite excited to get his post in the With Reverent Hands series- and here it is!  I'm sure you'll enjoy it, too.

What book are you highlighting?
The Hunters by James Salter

When did you first read it?
The Hunters
I first read it four years ago. I then proceeded to read everything else Salter wrote.

What is it about?  Please give a brief summary.
The Hunters is about a squadron of American fighter pilots during the Korean War. The protagonist, Cleve, is the acknowledged finest pilot in the group before a green, talented interloper threatens his standing.  

What makes the book stand out to you?  Why do you love it?
I loved reading about fighter pilots as a teenager and desperately wanted to be one. I read a bunch of pulpy books about Vietnam and World War II and loved, and still love, them. As I got older and my tastes matured, I moved onto to "serious" literature and there just wasn't anything out there that tickled both the sky-addled kid and the critic in me. When I read, The Hunters, it felt like the book had somehow been written for me.

On its own, though, it is a masterpiece. Salter is generally considered the finest prose stylist of his generation and the descriptions of flight here are nothing short of astonishing. He balances the power dynamics of these supremely (and necessarily) egotistical men with the thrill and horror of aerial combat. 

It also has a dynamite and moving ending; one the four or five best I've ever read.

Please finish this analogy:  If you liked _____________, you'll probably enjoy this book.
He, like many of his age, was profoundly influenced by Hemingway. So if you liked A Farewell to Arms, you'll probably enjoy this book.

With Reverent Hands
What sort of person would you recommend to read this book?
Really anyone who cherishes beautiful sentences will be pleased here. I might also mention, since Father's Day is in the offing, that this would be a terrific gift for fathers and grandfathers, perhaps especially those who served in the armed forces.

Do you have any quotes you would like to share?

Two, if you'll indulge me:
He would sometimes recall, as if it happened to another, person, the compulsion to press close to death, to feel the purity that followed. He had always been respectful of the inner conquests of men and the rarefied, ascetic world they occurred in. He had traveled the world for a while, accomplishing he was not sure what, unless it was that he had learned a little of silence and perhaps devotion.

He knew a tranquility as times as a dream of deepest waters. If death were ever to touch him here, it would be with a gesture of equality, with fingertips only. In this high, sterile realm he would fight and, conquering, it seemed, become immortal.


  1. I do love beautiful sentences, great language is a treasure

  2. I have read a lot of books about the war, but never anything that sounds like this. I also am drawn in by the promise of beautiful writing and great characters. I am going to have to try to check this out sometime. Thanks so much, Skip, for sharing this one!

  3. Aarti, I congratulate you on a fantastic idea for a feature! A tip of the hat to you. Cheers, Kevin

  4. I love these posts and the books that they highlight, ones we would never probably know about otherwise.

  5. I wonder if my father had read him - the books sound right up his alley.

    Looks interesting, I'll have to keep an eye out.


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