2018, Books, Non-Fiction

Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City (2018, Sam Anderson)

I didn’t know I wanted to read a book about Oklahoma City. (I bet you don’t think you need to read a book about Oklahoma City.) I’ve never been there. All I knew about it was that there is a basketball team there (stolen from Seattle), that the Flaming Lips are from there, that there are tornadoes, that there is a haunted hotel, and that, when I was a teen, someone blew up a building. But as my girlfriend read the book she made comments that made me want to read it. So I read it. I’m very glad I did.

Mild SPOILERS if you can believe it.

This is a pretty incredible book. It weaves together the 2012-13 Thunder season with a chronological the history of the city and the author’s experiences of a couple of OKC’s most famous people, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, and Gary Englund, the city’s most famous weatherman. The book is told in fragments, rather than chapters, some of which are only two pages long – stylistically almost like Kurt Vonnegut in a way – and the format creates an incredible sense of momentum. We know that the book is going to get to the bombing, but the way Anderson gets there, and to the other conclusion of the book (the conclusion of the basketball season) is riveting, and among the most page-turning of any non-fiction book I’ve ever read. (Seriously, it’s suspenseful.) And then, when we get to the bombing, Anderson’s description is incredibly moving (as is his descriptions of the tornadoes he includes in what we might call the book’s climax). Another really positive aspect of the book is his choice for three epilogues, showing that every time he chose to end the book more life happened, as it does, and there was more to tell.

I have only one minor nitpick: the lack of information on the Skirvin – as a basketball fan one hears a lot about haunted it is. I don’t believe in ghosts (because ghosts do not exist) but I would certainly have been interested in learning about why people believe the Skirvin is haunted. That is the only thing I didn’t learn about from this book that I wanted to learn.

But still: this is a great, great book. Rarely have I been moved to care about a place I’ve never been to (and never been interested in going to) so effectively. It’s an incredible achievement. Moreover, it makes me want to read other books about other cities, if only some existed that were so well told.

I’ve only read a couple of histories of individual cities so far, but this is undoubtedly the best or, at the very least, the most compelling.


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