Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk
I was talking to myself the other day about books and we agreed that I had read a few good ones over the past year. Some of the nonfiction I read, such as Tar Sands, made me wonder how much longer humans will be around. It also sparked an intense interest in the XL pipeline project, recently KO’d by President Obama. Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, this book provided me with a good overview of the history and personalities involved in the ongoing development of the tar sands region in Alberta, Canada. As Nikiforuk explains, removing the bitumen (oil) from the sand is very, very water and natural gas intensive. The process also requires huge tracts of land to be excavated to get at the bitumen; this is a real problem for the people living on those tracts of land. There are two sides to the story, however. There are lots of good interviews with tar sands field workers, politicians, oil industry executives, and other whose livelihoods depend on the tar sands. Nikiforuk does a very good job of allowing everyone to tell their story, even if some of the tales are sort of heartbreaking in a “forest for the trees” sort of way. When you finish Tar Sands, you may want to re-read that old copy of Oil! by Upton Sinclair that you have on your bookshelf.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
I’ve been hearing about this book for years. It’s about Vietnam, a war I watched on the TV news every night with my parents. I was still in elementary school so I didn’t have to worry about the draft but I do remember thinking that the soldiers all looked like grown-ups. The Things They Carried is a collection of related stories set in Vietnam that will drive the point home that, for the most part, soldiers in battle are really just kids. O’Brien writes as if he were sitting next to you on the bus just telling you about something that might have happened. “How to Tell a True War Story” is a good example of this. He’s telling the story of one of his platoon buddies telling a story. O’Brien claims this is a “work of fiction” but it must be based on the author’s own experiences in Vietnam. The story about a member of their platoon shipping his girlfriend from Cleveland, Ohio over to their compound in Vietnam overlooking the Song Tra Bong river may be stretching the truth but, really, what is a true war story?
The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell
Ok, by the time you read this maybe you will have already read Donald Ray Pollock’s review of The Outlaw Album in the January 8, 2012 New York Times Book Review. Everything Donald Ray (author of Knockemstiff and The Devil All the Time) says is pretty much what I would say but he does a much better job of it. Ozarks, family ties, neighbors killing neighbors; it’s all there in these short stories. Straight up writing that describes emotions and scenery in short bursts; nothing too long or all fussy. So I am just going to say read The Outlaw Album, it’s good.