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OverDrive's Big Library Read: American Sniper and why you should care

Big Library Read logo - American Sniper book cover
17/03/2016

One of my best primary school buddies and I used to have a thing for superheroes. In costumes sewn by our moms (Batman for me, Superman for him) we’d roam the streets of his subdivision – this was the 1970s, when roving gangs of children were both safe and cute – looking for wrongs to put right. We were both imaginative kids: I’m a librarian and still live mostly in my head. He, on the other hand, must have loved the action most – even if just make-believe. He joined the RCMP and loves his job.

The library’s eBook distributor, Overdrive, will give all library customers a chance to see themselves through the eyes of another man of action. The company’s Big Library Read program has chosen American Sniper – the autobiography of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, which formed the basis of Clint Eastwood’s film adaption of the same name – for unlimited simultaneous download between March 17 and 31. That means you and all your friends can download the title at the same time, read and discuss.

Why read American Sniper? Let’s acknowledge right away that this book may not be for everyone. Kyle, a Texan who grew up loving guns and fulfilled his dream of joining one of the world’s most elite fighting corps, is unabashed in his flag-waving, Bible-affirming patriotism. Kyle comes across, though, as a relatable guy, and his tales of brutal training and battlefield exploits are breezily told. The book, for me, prompted a revelation: here is a man of action who loved to be in a fight. And just as with my friend, that is in no way incompatible with being a devoted family man.

Here are some reasons American Sniper should be worth your attention. For one, some who read this raw and honest account of Kyle’s four tours of duty in Iraq may find it speaks directly and powerfully to their own military experience, whether in Afghanistan, Bosnia or elsewhere. For others Kyle’s tense and riveting scenes of combat offer a glimpse of what it’s like to walk in a veteran’s shoes.

What impressed me most about the book is its careful attempt to appeal to a broad spectrum of interests and across political lines. Sure, there are detailed gun specifications designed to appeal to firearms enthusiasts, but there is also this passage, which is one of the most vivid and moving descriptions of the effect of post-traumatic stress I’ve ever read:

Imagine climbing a tall ladder out over a river, a thousand miles up, and there you’re struck by lightning. Your body becomes electric, but you’re still alive. In fact, you’re not only aware of everything that’s happening, but you know you can deal with it. You know what you have to do to get down.

So you do. You climb down. But when you’re back on the ground, the electricity won’t go away. You try to find a way to discharge the electricity, to ground yourself, but you can’t find the damn lightning rod to take the electricity away.

Second, the book offers a first-hand peak inside the most powerful fighting force in the world, where the swagger of its troops is backed by untold billions in hardware at beck and call: “We were heavily outnumbered. But that was not a real problem. We began calling in air support. Within minutes, all sorts of aircraft were overhead: F/A-18s, F-16s, A-10As, even an AC-130 gunship.” For me, Kyle is an ideal narrator to show where that swagger comes from, and also humble enough to be a trusted guide.

Third, Kyle’s decision to include first-person passages written by his wife, Taya (who after Kyle’s tragic death in 2013 penned her own bestselling memoir) sets the book apart from similar gung-ho accounts by letting you question his motivations with Taya Kyle’s sober second thought: “I was so mad at him for leaving the kids and me on our own,” she writes. “I wanted to count on him, but I couldn’t. His team could, and total strangers who happened to be in the military could, but the kids and I certainly could not.”

In short American Sniper offers more than may appear at first glance. (For the sake of due diligence let us also note scenes with foul language and some gory descriptions. This is a war memoir after all.)

If you remain unconvinced and perhaps a tad put off by American Sniper’s sheer American-ness, let’s not forget another ex-soldier’s account of bravery in the field that is much closer to home. Unflinching: The Making of a Canadian Sniper by Ottawa City Councillor Jody Mitic is a no-less exciting and unvarnished account of Mitic’s overcoming of multiple challenges to become a member of an elite sniper team in Afghanistan. Mitic is just as straight-talking as Kyle without the patriotic bluster or righteousness; his is a tale of a more semi-regular-guy with a talent for shooting straight and a knack for “patrolling spirit…. No matter how uncomfortable the conditions are, you get the job done.” Indeed for Mitic the stakes are even higher than Kyle’s: after losing both legs below the knee in a landmine accident, he recounts his recovery in terms that leave little doubt about which of the two soldiers was the toughest. Both autobiographies are fascinating counterparts and speak volumes about the countries, and the cultures, from which both snipers emerge.

Finally, if you are interested in these titles and wish to explore further, American Sniper has become the most successful of what has emerged as a vibrant publishing sub-genre, the ex-Navy SEAL memoir, along with others touching on the secretive world of special forces operations. Notable examples of the former are Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor, (Mark Wahlberg played him in the 2014 movie adaptation), and Mark Owen’s No Easy Day, recounting the location and killing of Osama Bin Laden. The Canadian counterpart to the SEALs is the elite and even-more-secretive Joint Task Force Two, from which to date no verified memoirs have emerged, although Ottawa Citizen journalist David Pugliese delves into the force’s history and operations in Canada’s Secret Commandos.

Comments

Wondering if anyone has considered purchasing this cd collection to add to the library inventory.
A request had been made several months ago.
Thank you,
Christina Wolf