David Abrams was sent to Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division in 2005 – his first deployment in a combat zone. A writer, an author and a life-long reader, David believes books saved his life.
"There were at least two incidents when enemy mortars landed in our camp, not far from the trailer where I lived," recalls David, pictured left, a Master Sergeant in public affairs, who is now stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia. "In both cases, I was holed up reading - the first time I was deep into Don Quixote; the second mortar attack found me engrossed in Jarhead by Anthony Swofford.
"I could very well have been wandering around the camp at the time of the attack, walking to the post exchange (a military-operated general store found at most bases) or jogging around the man-made lake Saddam Hussein had dug near his palace there on the camp. Instead, I chose to stay inside with my books - my comforts and mainstays. In that first attack, which landed in the courtyard of the post exchange, one soldier was killed and 16 others were injured. So, I guess you could say Cervantes really did save my ass."
An 18-year Army veteran, David has devoted himself to literature. His short stories have been published in Esquire, The Greensboro Review and other literary quarterlies. One story, 'Providence,' was included as '100 Other Distinguished Stories of 1998' in the 1999 Best American Stories, edited by Amy Tan. He has also reviewed books for January Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, and Long Island Press. He is currently working on a novel "loosely" based on his experiences in Iraq.
Determined to ensure that he would never be short of a book to read on his Iraqi tour of duty, he selected around 70 books - from Wodehouse to Hemingway to Dickens to Atwood – and sent to them to Iraq by boat via Kuwait. He even made a note of which ones would be read first.
"This was my first deployment to a combat zone, so I didn't know what to expect. I assumed I would have lots of 'down time,"' said David, who has a B.A. in English from the University of Oregon and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska – a qualification earned while stationed in Alaska. "As it turns out, I got increasingly busy at my job, to the point where I was lucky if I only worked a 13-hour day, seven days a week - my reading time kept getting slimmer and slimmer.
"Tucked away in the pockets of my uniform as I boarded the plane with my M-16 and rucksack, I carried Robinson Crusoe, Barnaby Rudge, All Quiet on the Western Front, A Farewell to Arms and Catch-22. I made it a point to read the latter first because I wanted to head into this war with the right attitude."
In the end, David was only able to read about 14 books from his preordained list as he was distracted by books from other sources. After talking about his deployment on literary websites, Readerville and Emerging Writers Network, he was flooded with boxes of books sent by booklovers in the US. Books also came via the Any Soldier website (which sends care packages to soldiers).
"Then there were the Morale, Welfare, Recreation locations around camp where free books could be had for the taking," laughed David. "Oh my God! Free books with no strings attached! That's like offering free porn to a horny guy who's sitting around the house alone on a Friday night. Eventually, I had to buy three more lockers over there in Baghdad in order to store everything I acquired.
"I picked up some personal treasures over there: a Pocket Book paperback of comedian Joey Adams' trashy show biz novel The Curtain Never Falls; a circa 1950s paperback of Vicki Baum's Grand Hotel (with a painting of Garbo on the cover); a 1946 Avon paperback of Sinclair Lewis' The Ghost Patrol; and a gently-loved hardcover edition of As You Were, an anthology of American prose and verse for World War II troops edited by Alexander Woolcott (it was the first of the Viking Portable Library series, evidently). I also gathered a large collection of Louis L'Amours, fell in love with Elmore Leonard, and was buried in an avalanche of hundreds and hundreds of new hardcovers and trade paperbacks from beautiful strangers back here in the United States. It was an embarrassment of riches."
Click here to read excerpts from David's Iraq journal