Thursday, April 2, 2015

John M. Kinder

John Kinder is an assistant professor of American studies and history at Oklahoma State University.

His new book is Paying with Their Bodies: American War and the Problem of the Disabled Veteran.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Kinder's reply:
I tend to get on reading kicks. I’ll get into a subject, read as many books as I can, then flame out after a few months. It’s the same with movies. I once watched about fifteen William Hurt movies in a row, and when I was done, that was that. I still like William Hurt, but not like I once did. Not like I did in the middle of the kick.

Over the last year, I’ve burned through a couple of topics: climate change, mountain-climbing, Nazi-hunting, espionage, prisons. The latest is true crime. I’ve been into true crime since I was a kid, when I first read Margaret Anne Barnes’ Murder in Coweta County. The murder took place not far from where I grew up in LaGrange, Georgia. I don’t know if the book holds up, but it left scars. So did Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. That was in high school. To this day, I can’t shake my fear of the rural, the desolate. The middle of nowhere.

Right now, I’m about a third of the way through Joseph Wambaugh’s The Onion Field. It’s an ugly book beautifully written. The crime is ugly, the characters are ugly, the world of midcentury Los Angeles they inhabit is ugly. But Wambaugh’s writing has a hypnotic quality to it. His language isn’t hard-boiled; it’s dreamy, poetic. The Onion Field is not a page-turner—at least not so far—but I can’t put it aside for very long.

In my day job, I’m a historian. I study organized blood-letting: war and its effects on survivors. My work-reading can be grim. I just finished A History of Bombing by the Swedish writer Sven Linqvist. It’s written as a series of 399 numbered sections. Readers can move through the book chronologically. Or they can follow one of 22 paths through the maze of pages. (Arrows direct you from section to section.) The effect is both powerful and disorienting. You bounce back and forth until you end up right where you were at the beginning: with fantasies of death. Linqvist concludes, “Global violence is the hard core of our existence.”

And I think he’s right.
Visit John M. Kinder's website.

--Marshal Zeringue