Friday, January 8, 2016

book review: Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present & Future by Lauren Redniss

The basics:  "A dazzling fusion of storytelling, visual art, and reportage that grapples with weather in all its dimensions: its danger and its beauty, why it happens and what it means."--publisher

My thoughts: In the manner of a stereotypical Iowan, I am fascinated by the weather. I often have a hard time believing my corner of the world can have such variance in temperatures every year. When it's below zero, I can't fathom the stifling heat of summer (and vice versa.) To live in a place where weather impacts my life in so many ways, I fear I've forgotten so much of the science of weather I learned in school. I hoped Thunder & Lightning could help fill in those gaps and teach me about weather. Lest you have that same misconception: it's not really what this book is about.

I'm also fascinated by people who live at places with more universal temperature extremes (always hot or always cold) or those who lack the four seasons. There's some of that here, and I most enjoyed the first few chapters, which highlight some of the more unusual climates of inhabited places of this world. Redniss uses the stories of individuals to illustrate phenomena, and her accompanying artwork offers the visual illustration. While I enjoyed many of the stories, I always found myself surprised when the next chapter arrived. I kept expecting to learn more before moving on. I didn't learn as much about weather as I expected to, and I don't fault Redniss for not meeting my expectations; it's her book. As the book went on, I enjoyed it less. It became more abstract, which was somehow less enchanting.

The verdict: I found the storytelling to be uneven in this book. It's told in more of a vignette style than an actual history of weather. Some stories I liked, while others were somewhat dull. I suspect I'm alone in not particularly enjoying Redniss's drawing style in this medium. It's incredibly stylized, which could work well for some things, but in this instance of nonfiction, I found it distracted from reality. I'm certainly glad I read it, and some pieces of it are phenomenal. As a whole, it wasn't as cohesive as I would have hoped, and I found the art to be the emphasis, while I hoped for art to supplement the knowledge.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: October 27, 2015
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Thunder & Lightningc from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Lauren Redniss's website and follow her on Instagram

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