Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book 18: I'm Staying With My Boys

I’m Staying With My Boys: The Heroic Life of Sgt. John Basilone, USMC by Jim Proser with Jerry Cutter was a letdown. Sgt. Basilone is a great soldier and I learned a lot about him but I hated the book.

I picked up this book because it had a high rating and I knew this year, I should pay homage to my graduate advisor (Goldy). Donald Goldstein helped to write so many books about World War II. His work with Gordan Prange and Katherine V. Dillon has some of the best documented work about the World War II when you are talking about the fights against the Japanese. They wrote At Dawn We Slept, God’s Samurai, December 1941: Tvewle Days that Began a World War and others. Goldy is right it’s too easy to focus on the Holocaust and you lose the larger picture especially at the time, it was about fighting the Japanese (who were most commonly referred to as Dirty Japs). We forget that US citizens were imprisoned for the mere fact they were of Japanese and Asian dissent. We entered the war due to the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. Plus we had some of our largest battles in places like The Miracle of Midway, Iwo Jima and Gaudalcanal. So this year, I want to see read more about the parts of World War II not related to the Holocaust (except some books that are about the OSS).

This book drove me nuts. I’m sorry but a first person narrative with lots of internal thought is not appropriate for a biography especially when Sgt Basilone died in battle. This is the first time I had to check the genre a couple of times hoping it was misclassified by Amazon. It read like historical fiction.  In fact, if it would have been called historical fiction then the book would have been fine.  It would have allowed using your best guess at what was going through his mind (especially during battle) without seeming like he was making it all up.

Then I read the citations, hoping that there was a diary or something along those lines. I was sorely disappointed. The book was under-research in many ways. While it had the help of Basilone’s family, there was little to really see believe what was being said as being Baslione’s mental state. It only had thirteen books in the bibliography and one was self-published (which according to academic standard is a second tier research book).  I won’t lie, I was hoping Goldy would have been cited. But I can't believe that it was allowed to be published with so few resources. I am one who does read the bibliographies even for my historical fiction. I like knowing how much faith I can put into the book as being an expert especially when I'm doubting the writer.

The other thing that drove me absolutely nuts was the organization to the book. At first, it made perfect sense to flashback to childhood. But it should have been done only once and there shouldn’t have been done when talking about events from the same trip to Manila. The constant back and forth seemed random and then ended suddenly once it got to Gaudalcanal, it stuck to a constant time line.  I would have loved to restructure the book.

In the end, I hated the book when it’s billed as a biography. It was not written in an appropriate manner which you can take for fact. If it was done as historical fiction, it would have been a much better book ( I would struggle with the organization but it would have been a lot better). Billing matters. Being honest with the reader matters (just like taking the time to edit a book properly matters).I enjoyed learning about Sgt. Basilone’s life, the book itself was pretty bad.

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