5/16 Salon article on Storm Chasing (1st of 4)

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New Salon article on Storm chasing (Apparently the first in a series of four):
http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2005/05...vold/index.html
The first is by Mark Svengold (a Stormtrack member with zero posts). This is the same guy who wrote "Big Weather" which has been unevenly received by various members of the storm chasing community.

Click "Free Day Pass" to get a day's entry to Salon or if you don't want to hassle with that use this link then scroll down to Books. It is currently the first link there.

Darren Addy
Kearney, NE
 
Been meaning to pick up this guy's book to see what all the hoopla was about. Met him at his table at the Lincoln, Nebraska weather symposium -- seems like a pretty bright guy. His reading was pretty good too.
 
So much for being on chasecation as I had hoped. As I posted in another thread, Mr. Svenvold is speaking in St. Louis tonight (16 May).

Monday, May 16, 7:00 pm @ Left Bank Books Mark Svenvold Big Weather: Chasing Tornadoes in the Heart of America

Mark Svenvold takes us on a grand tour of the world of \"storm chasing,\" where obsessed fanatics descend each spring on America's heartland to get as close to tornadoes as possible. Big Weather delivers both adventure and insight as Svenvold details his close encounters with several violent tornadoes. Along the way he witnesses the circus that storm chasing has become and meets a motley cast of characters even a novelist couldn't dream up With its riveting combination of devastating tornadoes, uniquely American eccentrics, and catastrophe commerce, Big Weather offers an insightful portrait of a region of our nation and a vision of the weather fanatic that lives in all of us.

http://leftbank.booksense.com/NASApp/store...&eventId=297420

Scott
 
I've read about 75% of this book, and I don't see what the problem is. The chaser parts are interesting and good reading. The philosophy parts, I admit often-time fly overhead, but that doesn't make this a bad book. Perhaps the real problem with Big Weather is the audience, and it's seemingly-inability to grasp much of this work. You don't need a thesaurus to get what he's saying, if you've got any ability to understand context.

Some critics have cited Svenvold as "the latest newcomer" to arrive on the Plains and attempt to explain what chasing is. That's kind of the point, getting an OUTSIDER point of view. Chasers writing about chasers has got to be some of the most boring, biased, rehashed crap I've ever had the misfortune of laying eyes upon. We've had a decade of chaser writing about chaser dribble; how to chase, how not to chase, how to chase safe, how to win respect, who to go on a tour with, yada yada yada.

Chasers are some of the most boring people on the planet, and desperately need a stranger's take on their whole eccentric, self-righteous "community." And don't worry about bad publicity; no one who isn't genuinely-interested in weather will remember this in a week. Chasers still have the delusion the world gives a damn about them.
 
Chasers "desperately" need a stranger's take ....etc. etc. What in the world?? Whew...I don't get that. Yeah, that's just what I need....some guy waltzing in and setting "us" all straight. Not me man.
I've come to realize that there are two types of chasers...period. It goes like this:
Hi....I'm Joe Blow"stormchaser"

Hi....I'm Joe Blow....
 
I just finished "Big Weather" and since I'm not a storm chaser per se and don't bill myself as such (although I really do enjoy lurking here and reading you guys that are...) I'll offer my perspective as sort of a typical Everyreader.

First, I think the "carpetbagger journalism" that some have placed on Svenvold is unfair, and it's something all writers get tagged with. Basically, outside observation is what all journalism is, especially the type of literary nonfiction Svenvold is attempting. Writers are writers because they're good at describing what they observe, and being an expert in a field or hard-core member of a subcult is not a prereq for writing a good story about the subject. As Shane noted above, an outside voice adds perspective to a story it wouldn't otherwise have. And I do have to say Svenvold is a gifted writer.

Having said that, however, I think "Big Weather is a flawed work, for a variety of reasons. First, it suffers from a seemingly complete lack of editing. I don't mean copyediting for grammar or style, I mean content editing. I'd say fully a third of the total word count should have been edited out. There are simply too many tangential passages and chapters that don't ever tie together or come back to the book's stated subject. The chapters dealing with the Weather Channel and global warming, what would Jesus drive, and how firm is your foundation are examples of this. They really interrupt the flow of the book. There's nothing wrong with expounding on ancillary topics as long as you can rein it in, or, I don't know, connect the dots back to storm chasing in some way, but Svenvold loses readers in too many long, rambling, off-topic and - quite frankly - mind-numbingly boring passages.

Another gripe I have is Svenvold's penchant for extraneous detail. All writers strive for descriptive color and nailing little details that add to a scene, but it can be overdone. A perfect example of this is on page 118, when he goes to hear Warren Faidley speak. Did we really need a whole page devoted to the history of the Springfield Public Forum?
I don't necessarily blame Svenvold for this, however. He's a writer, and that's what writers do. That's also why every good writer needs a good editor to sort the wheat from the chaff. Svenvold's writing is good, it just has too much chaff blowing around.

Where I was really disappointed, however, was when Svenvold fell into the same old cliched generalizations of the region and its people that those of us who live here have been enduring for years. He doesn't seem to have developed much appreciation for anything or anyone other than the main subjects of his book. According to him the landscape itself is mind-numbingly monotonous. The people (other than the chasers, of course) are hard-luck religious fundamentalists and those that could get out got out a long time ago. Those of us too poor or dumb to escape this cultural purgatory have had to eke out a hardscrabble collective existence as the rest of the nation passes us by. His argument for this sweeping socio-economic assessment? Basements. More specifically, the lack thereof. This is where Svenvold's writing really jumps the tracks into the patently ridiculous, a sneering, patronizing screed against what he perceives as Oklahoma's embedded cultural and economic shortcomings.
I'm not just engaging in knee-jerk provincial Chamber of Commerce boosterism here, either. It seems like Svenvold was simply too lazy, too supercilious or just didn't care enough to devote any time or research to developing the character of the landscape and its people like he did with both the main chasing characters in the book and his numerous off-topic ruminations on life, religion and philosophy, so he plucked a few anecdotal observations out of the air and started riffing. The book suffers as a result. Way too much aren't-I-clever bias-tinged scene interpretation and way too little fly-on-the-wall scene observation.

Like most of you, I've always been enthralled with plains weather, and I've always hoped some writer would take the time, and have the empathy and interest in this region to write a great, lyric book about the symbiosis between the sweeping, awe-inspiring nature of the landscape and its weather. I don't know for sure, but I suspect many of you prefer to chase the plains at least as much for the spare beauty of the landscape as you do the road network and unimpeded view. I think that's an important part of the chaser experience and I believe Svenvold really failed to develop that, among other things.

All in all, though, despite what I thought were some major flaws, I considered it a mildly enjoyable read overall. Not gripping by any means, but Svenvold can turn a phrase. Interestingly enough, I believe Svenvold's father-in-law is John McPhee, who is the absolute, undisputed master of the literary journalism form. Wonder what he thinks of the book?
 
Originally posted by Chad Love

Where I was really disappointed, however, was when Svenvold fell into the same old cliched generalizations of the region and its people that those of us who live here have been enduring for years. He doesn't seem to have developed much appreciation for anything or anyone other than the main subjects of his book. According to him the landscape itself is mind-numbingly monotonous. The people (other than the chasers, of course) are hard-luck religious fundamentalists and those that could get out got out a long time ago. Those of us too poor or dumb to escape this cultural purgatory have had to eke out a hardscrabble collective existence as the rest of the nation passes us by.
<snip>
I've always hoped some writer would take the time, and have the empathy and interest in this region to write a great, lyric book about the symbiosis between the sweeping, awe-inspiring nature of the landscape and its weather.

While not a work about simply weather, I highly recommend "Prairy Erth" by William Least Heat Moon. It is a multi-dimensional discection of Chase County, Kansas - looking at it from every conceivable angle (history, geography, geology, botany, people, etc.). What a book! You want to savor every sentence. Although I was born in Nebraska and have never lived anywhere else, I didn't really "see" its beauty until reading Prairy Erth. Now I can't even look at the weeds in the roadside ditches in the same way.

Darren Addy
Kearney, NE
 
The 2nd article in the series, entitled " Riders on the storm" came out on May 20th. I was thinking that the four articles were going to be by different people, but apparently they are all going to be by Svenvold.

Darren Addy
Kearney, NE
 
While not a work about simply weather, I highly recommend "Prairy Erth" by William Least Heat Moon. It is a multi-dimensional discection of Chase County, Kansas - looking at it from every conceivable angle (history, geography, geology, botany, people, etc.). What a book! You want to savor every sentence. Although I was born in Nebraska and have never lived anywhere else, I didn't really "see" its beauty until reading Prairy Erth. Now I can't even look at the weeds in the roadside ditches in the same way.

Oh cool. I just picked this book up. I had it in my "next to read" pile but I think I'll start it right away. Aside from the storms of course, there's something really neat-o about the prairie. It's more than just open space, I can't quite put my finger on it. One of my favorite things to do is roll my windows down, turn on my favorite CD and drive all alone down the two-lane byways of the prairie...especially in Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.
 
The spelling is correct, but it should be all one word - not two:
Amazon link:PrairyErth.

According to the book flap, the word "prairyerth" is "an old geologic term for the soils of our central grasslands".

Darren Addy
Kearney, NE
 
I've got a well-worn copy of PrairieErth. Great stuff. I like all of Heat-Moon's books. Blue Highways is great. I finished Riverhorse a few months ago. I don't think anyone gets into a region quite like him.
 
I, like many others, thought the book was too wordy. Most of the data in the book is already public (chaser) knowledge, so it was not all that exciting to me. There have already been other posts about the book, covering the poor research and the author's hatred towards some chaser(s) while leaving others untouched. I noticed the book is being moved to the 20 percent-off bin in some book stores. I was told by someone who attended a book signing in Kansas that the author is now claiming to be a "chasing" authority. What a load.

Mike
 
Despite my earlier criticisms, in fairness to Svenvold (and at the risk of offending some of you chasers) I don't think his book should be judged solely on whether or not hard-core chasers like it. Of course many chasers will probably dislike the book. That's typical for a general account of a specialized activity. That's also a problem every writer faces when they set out to cover a complex topic that has a devoted cult following.

Simply put, it's not the writer's responsibility or goal to make the people they cover happy. It's their responsibility to report the story honestly and with enough observational skill that the general reader will take something away from the book, some understanding of why these people do what they do, but without coloring the account with too much personal speculation.

Whether or not Svenvold succeeded in this is, of course, a matter of widely divergent opinion. I'm not a chaser, per se, and don't bill myself as one, so I can't speak to the issues raised by some chasers. My problems with the book (noted above) weren't from a chaser perspective, they were from a general reader perspective and from someone who felt some of Svenvold's more grandiose generalizations sprang more from his own mind than they did his observational journalism.

As for the speculation he's now passing himself off as a chasing authority, I think it's a bit unfair to be bashing him for something that's entirely beyond his control. I don't know him from Adam but I seriously doubt he gave himself that description. That just comes with the territory of writing about something. People label you an authority whether it's true or not. I wrote an article about the Cimarron River a few months ago. Soon after I started getting calls from county historical societies wanting me give talks on the history of the Cimarron because I was now apparently an authority on the Cimarron, based on that one article. This despite the fact your average junior high Oklahoma history teacher knows much more about it than I ever will.
 
I returned my copy for a refund and used the $29.00 for chasing.

I'm told he has emailed out a formal apology to several chasers he attacked?

Mike
 
There's a lot of smearing of this book going on and it's pretty obvious where it's coming from. I have a review pending with a national magazine that I'll post to ST as soon as I get the go-ahead, but in the meantime I want to say that Big Weather is a pretty good attempt by an outsider to examine stormchasing. It's an honest book, and that says a lot.

The chasers who are depicted in a less-than-glorious light (and I can only think of one at the moment) should have considered the reputation they were building as they built it, and not after someone wrote in a book what we've all thought and known for years. Too late now. I seriously doubt Svenvold sent any apologies. I'm sure some would like to create that rumor.

The book has flaws, definitely, and I think Chad's review is a good one. But it's the most in-depth effort to make sense of stormchasing that I've read so far.
 
This has already been hashed out in other threads. Just because the author decided to attack another chaser (like him or not), is not the main reason the book has failed big-time in mainstream publishing. It appears on no major lists and has received very poor public reviews -- moslty from non-chasers, I should add. From the book pubilicity site, the author is reduced to accepting talks at small coffee shops and no-name bookstores. FYI: I visited the Barnes and Nobel store today to pick up an atlas and was told the book is doing so poor it’s going on the "50 percent off bin" soon.

Mike
 
Now you're simply being misleading. The book recieved a starred review from Booklist, is slated for a series of national reviews (including mine), and has a respectable Amazon sales ranking, though that is a poor gauge of a book's performance. It is far from heading for the 50% off bin--LOL. I feel certain that you don't have any inside info on whether or not this book is performing up to the publisher's expectations.

This is a fairly transparent conversation, but I don't want to seem like a champion of the book. I take Svenvold to task for things in Big Weather, but his criticism of the one chaser you devote half your posts to defending isn't one of them. If anything, I think he went pretty lightly on you-know-who. Big Weather is worth reading.


EDIT: I also want to add that it strikes me that somebody who really didn't like this book either wrote multiple bad reviews of it on Amazon, or talked their friends into doing so, and that's pretty low-down. I can understand wanting to defend yourself, but stand up and do it in person. Don't be a snake. Reputation tarnished further--the hole deepens.
 
Amos, you are misinformed buddy. The matter concerning WF has already been resolved in other threads and discussions -- to my satisfaction and most others. Although I have always respected your posts in regards to chasing subjects -- this is out of line. Maybe you were out chasing and missed the previous discussions about all this. It’s become common knowledge that the author’s attacks on WF were based on false information, including his specific claim, for example, that "WF never worked as a consultant for Twister, which was garbage. WF even posted the original letter from Warner’s on his site. Have you even read WF’s response? Have you been turned to the “dark sideâ€￾ of hate and jealously?

Mike
 
Yes, I'm insanely jeaolous, especially of that horn that makes the three-tone whistle when he goes driving past. Where can I GET one of those? LOL.

As for the "dark side," I *have* noticed that Neal Rasmussen sounds a little like Darth Vader on that crappy cell phone he has. Perhaps....perhaps he's my father! Does that mean I have to do time-lapse for all eternity?

I don't want to say anymore about the book; I'm stealing my own thunder. I'll post my review in this very thread (oh no! more people talking about what you don't want them to) when the editor says I can.

AM
 
I'm sure the review will be interesting and all so fair -- given the already slanted preview of your feelings towards Mr. Faidley. I'm sure
WF's lawyers will want a copy.

My final post in this tread -- I still respect you Amos as a chaser but
I disagree with your one-sided attitude -- kicking a fellow chaser
when he's down.

Mike
 
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