Monday, August 19, 2013

W33: Not So Wild A Dream

An extended grinding of gears signaled the weight of this week’s Biblio-Mat offering, sending a shiver down my spine. Fortunately, it was not another textbook but a slightly less dry piece of non-fiction. Very slightly less dry.

Downright nightmarish.
Published in 1946, Not So Wild A Dream recounted author Eric Sevareid’s adventures as a reporter during World War 2 in 516 pages of first person prose. The deckle-paged book itself was nicely bound with a classic looking matte dustjacket that contained a full page headshot of the author staring pensively at anyone who happened to flip the book over. While a bit dirty with minor bits of foxing, it had held up through the years fairly decently. Well, physically, anyway.

Staring into your soul. With one eye at least.
Billed as a “brilliantly written and profoundly moving personal narrative of one of America’s great reporters”, Not So Wild A Dream had a lot to live up to. The first few chapters started well enough, with the author recounting his small town upbringing. Painting a picture of a disenchanted generation trying to find salvation in a post WW1 world, it evoked a setting that felt reminiscent of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath written ten years prior. However, the heartfelt sentiments were slowly dashed as more and more was revealed about the author’s childhood being closer to middle class than poverty line.

The main story about his childhood revolved around Sevareid and a friend attempting to canoe from the Atlantic Ocean waterways into the Pacific Ocean waterways to lend credibility to the Kensington Runestone that was found in 1898. While this journey at first seemed pointless, it did establish the adventurous nature of the author as well as tie in his first paid job as a journalist as they had managed to collect money from a local paper in exchange for weekly updates.

516 pages without a single picture. Throw a guy a bone here.
From here, the next few chapters recollected Sevareid’s adventures living in the wilderness, going undercover as homeless teens to document a boxcar-hopping trip, and fighting against campus authorities when he became accused of being a “campus red”. While entertaining, these anecdotes did not really add much to the narrative outside of showing that Sevareid’s the type of person who won’t shy away from bad situations to get a story.

At this point, about 75 pages in, the tone changes and the book begins to delve into Sevareid’s adventures into World War 2 reporting. While proper due should be given in that the views of WW2 he presented weren’t completely biased, the subsequent four hundred or so pages were extremely dry and boring - he follows army units into warzones, people die, he moves onto the next country. It may be that it was a simpler time back then and the scope of the 1940’s audience was quite limited, but the text most definitely does not hold up in today’s world of in-depth investigative journalism.
Even the credits were long.
While some sections, such as the part on encountering ragged survivors in Italy, painted vivid pictures of despair, most of the journey into Europe did not move past simply saying that war was a terrible thing. The narrative itself jumps erratically, speeding up and slowing down when it’s convenient for the anecdotes, leaving a disjointed feel to the text. The revelations themselves about the war overseas also felt quite tame, which may or may not be a result of modern media bombarding us with harsher stories and revelations into our own worldwide war on terrorism over the last decade. Reading about Sevareid gingerly following the American army through France and Italy didn’t stir up any emotion other than boredom at the lack of immediate danger compared to a stint through the Middle East as a modern war correspondent, which is all quite tragic when you realize the scope of desensitization that we’ve unknowingly accepted.

The highlight of the book, though, came near the end when a Sevareid enters Rome. For some reason there was a postcard from Nassau to New York bearing a postmark of May 17, 1972 tucked into this section. With cursive script detailing the fun the senders are having in the Bahamas, it was an unexpected but much welcomed contrast to the death and destruction happening in the pages it was sandwiched between.

Fine. 516 pages with ONE photograph.

Book rating: 6/10 (Not without its merits but dry as a bone)

Random quote: "Sometimes now it seems to me that my generation lived in preparation for nothing except this war that has ended and which involved my own life so profoundly." (Seemingly applicable to every generation)

1 comment:

  1. This author eventually became a big name in prime time USA news broadcasting; and even was a featured reporter on 60 minutes.