BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Back to reviewing?

Yes, I have been slipping further behind in my book reviewing, I know, with 16 books in the stack to be reviewed. As those of you who have been reading my sparse postings in my blog know, my company is falling apart, although I'm still putting significant hours in working from home, I'm having to start looking for a job (in this lovely economy), and The Wife just got laid off. I'm doing 18 hour days, and not making up any ground ... sooooo, the book reviews keep not getting written. I'm in a state tonight where I just couldn't do another networking letter, nor start on a work project, so I'm hoping I can knock down a few titles before I pass out at the keyboard.

Anyway, this is a brand new book, having turned up just a couple of weeks back at the dollar store ... F5: Devastation, Survival, and the Most Violent Tornado Outbreak of the 20th Century by Mark Levine is, as one might guess from the sub-title, a recounting of a devastating weather disaster that happened in northern Alabama in April, 1974. The book is a bit confusing, however, as it was written in 2007, about a storm that happened 33 years earlier, so one might think that the author had some connection to the events. However, the author was born in New York City, grew up in Canada, would have been about 9 years old at the time of the storm, and is primarily known for his poetry. What brought him to this subject? The only clue I can find is that this is "a Miramax book", and might have been penned as a companion book to a movie project.

The fact that Levine is not a "regular" nonfiction writer comes through in the back-and-forth telling of the tale, generally alternating chapters of reporting on what was happening in the US during April 1974, a bit of history on meteorological research (focusing on Dr. Tetsuya Fujita, whose last name graces the tornado intensity scale he developed, hence the "F5" of the title), and "personal stories" of various people caught up in the disaster that hit Limestone County, AL. Unfortunately, this does not "meld" very well, and is more like having had 3 separate books pulled apart and then collated (well, except for the Fujita parts, as he is pretty much "background" info until the very end) chronologically.

The most fascinating part of this, to me at least, was the description of how the weather ended up building up such a ferocious storm front (there were 148 twisters hitting in 24 hours over a dozen states in a broad band ranging from Chicago to Atlanta), which would have been the core of a very interesting book on meteorology, perhaps coupled with the historical background on the science (but at that point it would be a book about Dr. Fujita). However the "soul" of the book deals with the reconstructed stories of a few dozen people, in various family and professional groupings, and how the storm impacted their lives. The problem is, as these stories were told in isolated vignettes, it became hard as the book went on to really tell apart the people, and sort out their back stories. A lot of them died, many were mutilated, some are still alive today, but by the end of the book they all just sort of blend into "people affected by the storm".

Again, my guess is that this book was part of a movie project, and that (given that there is no mention of a movie in it) Miramax opted to just put out the book at some point. As a free-standing work, however, it's highly uneven and difficult to really "get into". This is not to say that it's not interesting in its various parts, just that the level of engagement is pretty low.

As noted above, I got this at the dollar store (with a sticker that indicated that it had been through Target's inventory at some point), so it's likely available in the aftermarket. Oddly (as if sometimes the case with what I find at the dollar store), Amazon seems to have it at their standard discount from cover, and even the new/used guys are asking nearly $3 for a "new" copy (plus shipping, of course). It's not a bad book, and if you're interested in violent weather, a bit of science history, or following folks around in the midst of a disaster, this could be something you'd want to pick up.

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Tags: book review

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