“BOOM: Oil, Money, Cowboys, Strippers, and the Energy Rush That Could Change America Forever” is a Kindle Single written by Tony Horwitz, detailing his investigative reporting of as many aspects of the contemporary domestic oil situation as he can fit into 117 pages and 4000 miles (Canada tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries and all the pipeline drama in between). This project was written before the Dakota Access Pipeline drama, which was unfolding as I read it -a confluence that I’d love to recommend, were it possible.
As might be expected, “BOOM” reads like good old-fashioned investigative journalism -while Horwitz himself is inserted into the narrative, this is more Gonzo-Lite than some of the more contemporary forms of creative nonfiction, the kind of pieces that perform more as a personal essay viewed in an external framework. Neither of these forms is necessarily superior, but Horwitz has certainly chosen the correct one for his purpose, with mainly concerns exposition. You will learn shit about how Northern America does fossil fuels here. You will come into contact with good people who participate directly in potentially damaging practices, and you will have some sympathy for them. This is something that Horowitz does really well.
All in all, I think that E-readers and E-reading apps offer, if not a better media form, then an additional and valuable one. I can’t think of many magazine publications of 100+ word narrative nonfiction/reporting -the closest thing that comes to mind are the essays of David Foster Wallace, but that seems to be the exception that proves the rule. I don’t want to read a weighty-ass tome on this shit -as much as I perhaps ought to- and a fifteen-page distillation is going to leave a lot of worthwhile shit on the cutting room floor. I was reminded of the value of Jon Ronson’s The Elephant in the Room. These kinds of things are time-sensitive and valuable, and digital publication of much longer longform work that simply isn’t book material is something I intend to keep paying close attention to.
Amazon is now offering Prime Reading to those of us who have capitulated to a Prime membership. It’s quite the collection of free reading material. This is a different beast than their Kindle Unlimited program (an additional subscription that buys access to many, many more books). While I wouldn’t recommend getting Prime specifically for this service, it’s certainly worth glancing at if you already have a subscription.
The two most notable reads I’ve come across are Steven King’s “Guns” and Jon Ronson’s “The Elephant in the Room”. Both are longform essays (25 and 48 pages respectively) by major authors, and while this isn’t a form in which I’d previously encountered King’s writing, I am pleasantly surprised by how good he is at it. “Guns” is an informed and reasonable attack on the state of our public discourse on the things, not the things themselves. King owns a few of them, and his nuanced position (we need more and better regulation, but widespread bans and buybacks generally don’t work) is sure to piss off people on both sides. He is blunt and direct, employing an extremely personal mode of address and judicious profanity. Not only is this piece thought-provoking and very well done, it’s as fun to read as any screed that involves the death of a roomful of six-year-olds can claim to be.
Ronson’s piece is a timely bit of work on Donald Trump’s courting of and influence by the Alt-Right movement, specifically dealing with the Republican nominee’s connection to Alex Jones of InfoWars and others like him. While the immediacy and importance of the topic at hand will likely diminish in a few months, (and let’s not spend too much time thinking about the alternative) “”The Elephant in the Room” is a well-written and thoughtful bit of journalism, well worth the read regardless of our national timeline if you are a fan of Ronson’s work. And as for our national timeline, Prime Reading and Amazon’s Digital Singles are one more aspect of digital publishing that might be of value to writers and readers. It’s a distinctly different animal than traditional longform publication, and only time will tell whether or not it’s a force for good.
Recommendation: Check these two out and scan the offerings for anything else of worth. Let me know what you find, and let me know what you think about Prime Reading and its ilk.
I rely on my phone more than I want to. I’m aware of my tendencies in this regard -I didn’t even get a smartphone until the beginning of 2015. And as much as I resent the damn thing’s ability to intrude into my life and tempt me toward wasting time, there are some redeeming qualities.
1: Kindle app.
I use my old Generation 2 Kindle on backpacking trips -there’s nothing like reading “Lolita” at the base of Cathedral Dome in Yosemite. This means I’ve got a pretty decent collection of ebooks, and I can access everything I’ve stored in Amazon’s cloud with the Kindle Reader app. It’s nice if I get stuck somewhere without a book -I don’t like reading on my phone as much as on the e-ink Kindle screen, (or ideally, a paper book) but it’s still damn useful.
Longreads has a great social media presence, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how often very good creative nonfiction comes my way via Facebook. The work they present is always well written and usually very interesting.
(Since many of you read this via WordPress, here is their blog: http://blog.longreads.com/2016/01/05/were-going-on-a-bear-hunt-in-new-jersey/)
3: You know what, just… don’t download games.
Don’t download games, or anything that you’ll go to out of a reflex habit in response to a passing sense of boredom. Former Reddit addict here -there’s a reason I’ve never gone to Reddit on my phone. If you’re trying to eat well, you don’t by shitty food that’s easy to get into. If you’re trying to develop your intellect, don’t leave yourself with the attention-span equivalent of Twinkies and Lays Potato Chips.