Be the Expert/Become the Expert

This is a post written for link-up post for the month of Nonfiction November! It’s hard to say what I’m an “expert” in, but I’m going to choose a topic that I think I stumbled upon pretty randomly, but am enjoying — OKLAHOMA CITY.

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What a place.

Now, I must admit I’ve never been to Oklahoma City. It’s not a place I’ve ever particularly wanted to go, but in the past year or so Oklahoma City has seemed to spring to life in my… reading life.

I read two of the most facinating non-fiction books on the topic and interestingly enough, I had new downstairs neighbors move in who moved here from Oklahoma City! You bet I’ve been asking them to confirm all the crazy things I’ve been reading!

So about the books:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

David Grann is a fantastic nonfiction writer – he’s a NYT reporter by day, and in his free time he’s written two best selling nonfiction books, one of which was adapted as a movie last year! Killers of the Flower Moon is a work of investigative journalism in to the mysterious murders of indigenous people in Oklahoma.

What this teaches us about Oklahoma: As many of you may know, outside of California, Oklahoma is the most seismically active part of the United States. Why? Fracking. Which means that there’s oil in Oklahoma, and where there’s oil there’s almost always conflict. In this case the indigenous people claimed control over the oil based on land rights, and the white men didn’t want to see that happen. I’ll leave you in suspense about what went down in Oklahoma over the land rights and the oil, but I’ll let you know that this issue prevails to present day and I have it on pretty good authority, that the state of Oklahoma is still pretty divided along racial lines over this issue.

Next Up: Boomtown by Sam Anderson

Will I ever stop talking about Boomtown? It’s unlikely. Boomtown is the fantastic history of Oklahoma City from the founding of Oklahoma to the 2016 season of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. Did you know that the team is named Thunder because Oklahoma City allowed Boeing to test their supersonic jets over the city. Just another example of the city’s search for greatness.

What does this teach us about Oklahoma City: Pretty much everything! We learn about the founding of Oklahoma that literally involved everyone running in from all of the surrounding states at “noon”, bearing in mind that noone had synchronized clocks back then. We learn about the fantastic city plan by I.M. Pei that never took hold. We learn about the Oklahoma City bombing and all of its tragic affects on the population. And we learn about a basketball team that tried its hardest to reach greatness.

I feel like I know a lot about Oklahoma City at this point, but I can’t be a true expert until I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Maybe one of these days I’ll get there and I’ll definitely let you know what I think!

The Perfect Nonfiction – The Killers of the Flower Moon Book Review

The perfect nonfiction is quite a claim – and I’m not sure that I’ve found it, but I (read: Book of the Month Club) sure found a good one. I wonder if there really is a perfect nonfiction out there..

I love a good nonfiction, but I always find that they are so hit or miss. Some of my favorites recently are Deadwake by Erik Larson, Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, The Profiteers by Sally Denton, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and now I’m adding Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann.

As I think about what these books have in common, I’ve broken my preferences down to four main ingredients.

  • Wow factor. It has to feel like I’m really learning something new about the world – particularly the US
  • Good character development
  • A narrative story line
  • A concise ending

Killers of the Flower Moon had the first three, but in my opinion, struggled with the ending – more on that later.

But before we go any further, a synopsis from Goodreads:

“In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood.”

I read it quickly over the course of the last week, when I probably should’ve been studying, and finished it on the plane down to Florida. It was such an amazing story, and my only qualm with it was that the ending spent way too much timing tying up loose ends!

“History is a merciless judge. It lays bare our tragic blunders and foolish missteps and exposes our most intimate secrets, wielding the power of hindsight like an arrogant detective who seems to know the end of the mystery from the outset. “

Grann’s writing reads like a well balanced mix of prose and investigative journalism. The story begins with Mollie Burkhart, an Osage Indian with a large family and a white husband. At the outset, Mollie’s sister, Anna, is missing and it is evident that she won’t be coming home alive.

As soon as you get comfortable with Mollie’s story, Grann shifts to another angle in the story – Tom White, the Bureau of Investigation (Later named the Federal Bureau of Investigation) agent put in place to figure out what was going on in Osage County.

This part was by and large my favorite. The story unraveled so smoothly that I felt like I was spotting things that didn’t seem right, right before the next revelation was unveiled.

It was a very satisfying way to work through the story and that’s largely in part to Grann’s writing style.

The final section mostly outlined Grann’s own investigative work, so maybe he wanted to make sure he included those results. Maybe (I’m 100% speculating) he wanted to tie up all loose ends, so as to be the authoritative book of the Osage Indian Reign of Terror. Either way, I felt that the story was over before the final section, and I kind of skimmed the end.

I don’t want to spoil any more so I’ll just tell you to pick up a copy of Killers of the Flower Moon! As my next move, I’m heading to theatres to see The Lost City of Z, based on another book written by David Grann. I’ll let you know what I think!