Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 316 (12/16) -- War Is Boring by David Axe & Matt Bors

There are always some people who run towards danger when the rest of us are running away. Some do it for glory, and some for self-destruction, and some for more noble reasons, like service and chivalry. But many, I would guess, don't really know why they run towards danger -- they only know that they do. And David Axe is one of them.

His recent book -- ably drawn, in a very slightly broad-faced style by noted editorial cartoonist David Bors -- is titled War is Boring, but Axe's focus is much more on himself than on the war zones he visits. In fact, this book should have been titled something like War Junkie (though that particular title, of course, has been used By Joe Sacco for comics about war reporting). Axe has a frame story set in Chad in the summer of 2008, where a UN driver asks him why he's in Chad. Axe replies that it's a long story...and that becomes this story.

Axe doesn't tell us about his reporting, either the mechanics of it (sources, cameras, power supplies, uploading stories, getting details right) or the stories he covered (Iraq, Lebanon, weaponry trade shows in DC, East Timor, Afghanistan, Somalia) -- War Is Boring is entirely the story of what it felt like to be David Axe, the war correspondent who hates the term, in the moments between action and reporting, on the ground in all of those places, addicted to the thrill and slowly going broke to feed that addiction. This really is an addiction memoir -- though Axe-as-a-character-in-the-book doesn't quite realize that on the page -- focused on Axe's need and longing for war. But this addiction memoir is more along the lines of De Quincey than Mary Karr. Axe doesn't overcome his addiction or transcend it; as far as the reader can tell, Axe is even more addicted to war (though he never quite explains what it is about war that thrills him, and his close calls are mostly things that happen to other people) at the end than he was at the beginning.

War Is Boring is a good collection of scenes, all of them showing David Axe either in a war zone or wishing he was, but it doesn't quite cohere as either pure reportage or a think piece; it remains just David Axe's individual story, without most of the details that would make it really particular and specific. It's not boring, but it doesn't really make the case that war is, either.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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