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The latest Narrative Nonfiction Reading

This month the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club read Young Men and Fire: A True Story of the Mann Gulch Fire by Norman Maclean.  The publisher writes, “On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen Smokejumpers, the United States Forest Service’s elite airborne firefighters, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Less than two hours after their jump, all but three of these men were dead or fatally burned. Exactly what happened in Mann Gulch that day has been obscured by years of grief and controversy. Now a master storyteller finally gives the Mann Gulch fire its due as tragedy.”

It was an interesting and very detailed account of this notorious and influential fire.  Part scientific exploration, part homage to the fallen and part personal odyssey for the author to satisfy his own needs, this book had something with which each member of the group could identify.  But with any book that has so many facets, that also meant that there were things about it that some members did not like.  One member found the long sentences confusing and thought it needed more editing.  This is likely due to the fact that Norman Maclean died before he completed writing the book.  The editors left it pretty much as he wrote it and asked his co-researcher to fill in the blanks.  Another member commented that the repetition of words and phrases was tiresome.  This brought up an interesting discussion of storytelling techniques, as Maclean considered himself a storyteller rather than a reporter.  A marine scientist in the group made interesting comparisons between the behavior of water and the wind that the author described in detail. Overall, the group felt they learned a great deal about the nature of forest fires and the many dangers firefighters face. 

Anyone interested in fires, the U.S. Forest Service or true adventures should give this book a try.  Also, if you have read or seen the film adaptation of Norman Maclean’s more famous story, A River Runs Through It, about two brothers in Montana at the turn of the last century, then check out this book to see another side of this well loved author.

Next month we will be discussing Blink:  The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.  New members are always welcome to join.  Come to the reference desk to pick up a copy to read before our next meeting on Friday, September 7, 2012 at 10 AM.  Hope to see you there!

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