Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blood, Sweat, & Tea - Advance Review*

Weird Ink is as much about blogging as it is about writing. So how appropriate is it that the first advance review I get to bring you just so happens to be a blog turned into a book?

Blood, Sweat, & Tea: Real-Life Adventures in an Inner-City Ambulance is exactly that: the print version of Tom Reynold's wildly successful blog, Random Acts of Reality (Trying to Kill as Few People as Possible), collecting some of the "best-of" entries from over the past five years. The blog has received honors from for Best Literary Medical Blog and Best Medical Blog - and rightfully so - as Reynolds not only has a command of the language which allows him to communicate his experiences well, but interesting stories to impart.

Reynolds' command of the language had me comparing it to Prada (as I began reading it before I had finished that one) and I must say, it stood-up quite nicely. In fact, Weisberger made much of her literary scholastic background in The Devil Wears Prada, and Reynolds manages far fewer misspellings, syntax, and general errors than she (I threw some editorial commentary into the excerpt, but I have yet to get around to reviewing the book - soon, soon). I did have some trouble with the slang, and there is a lot of it, but in writing this review, I came across a very handy glossary on the blog itself - only then did I think to check the back of the book, where said entry resides in full...

Being able to access the blog while reading the book was an entirely new, and entirely gratifying, experience. While it may be an overwrought expression, "surreal" is about as close as I can get. I can't exactly describe it, but you feel like an "insider" - like you really know the author - maybe like when a celebrity you've met or know comes on TV while you are talking to them. Again, I'm not sure how to describe it, but I guess it makes the author seem more accessible and "real" and adds an entirely new and altogether exciting dimension to reading.

As for the book itself, Blood, Sweat, & Tea is pretty fantastic. Let's separate it from the blog for a moment and think of it as a series of vignettes with no semblance of order and little connection to one another. Knowing that it was based on a blog, I was slightly disappointed at first that the author had not tried to tie everything together to form a more traditional narrative - to make a logical story of the events. However, once I became accustomed to the style, I realized that that would have detracted from the atmosphere Blood, Sweat, & Tea achieves; even if it had not been a blog before becoming a book, given the subject matter, a traditional narrative would have lessened the impact.

While each article is epistolary (as opposed to stream-of-consciousness), the randomness of the subjects they cover and the events they record serves wonderfully in communicating the chaotic nature of the job. You are never really certain what each new vignette is going to bring and each lends to the pastiche. Some ways in, you have an understanding of the work, the job, and Reynolds himself, without the author actually stopping to directly inform you of such things (though he does occasionally devote whole posts to clarifying various topics and aspects). One entry makes you laugh out loud; the next makes you question your own convictions and the way the world works; the next brings you to tears. But in the end, they all coalesce to form an excellent, informative, and entertaining look at the life of one Tom Reynolds, EMT, and his thoughts on his job, the state of medicine, the world, and more.

For all its apparent aimlessness, Blood, Sweat, & Tea flows nicely and the format lends itself greatly to intermittent reading. This is the perfect book to read alongside a more traditional novel; it is very easy to pick up, read a few articles, then put back down without ever losing your "place." That is not to say Blood, Sweat, & Tea is not a gripping read - quite the contrary - as I often find myself picking it up to read "one or two" entries during commercial breaks or the like, then having to force myself to lay it back down!

Once finished, I have considered going through to see if I could reorganize the entries into a more traditional narrative (purely as an editorial exercise), using the cause-effect-outcome process, but I think that defeats the purpose and would diffuse the impression it makes on the reader. It's a unique experience to read so many short stories - each with their own theme, atmosphere, and directive - and then reflect on them as a whole. And while this is certainly not a new technique, Blood, Sweat, & Tea manages it so flawlessly as to make it seem new.

All-told, Blood, Sweat, & Tea and the blog upon which it draws are perfect examples of a proper blog, as I outlined previously: Reynolds isn't looking to break news or fit into a niche, this is his online diary. But though he is discussing his daily routine, life, and the events and scenarios he faces, that is not to say it isn't informative. Each post tells you that much more about the London Ambulance Service, the work involved, and the author; like all good blogs, it is informative, passionate, and opinionated. You shouldn't be reading the book - or the blog - to learn how to become an EMT for the LAS or find breaking news on medicine, emergency services, or anything else, yet in reading Blood, Sweat, & Tea, you do as a matter of course.

It is hard to review the book without reviewing the blog - it's also hard to discuss it without just pointing you to the latter and saying, "Check it out for yourself!" - so let me just say that both are great reads and I highly recommend them on every level. If you are a blogger, this is how it is done; if you are in the medical field, this is right up your alley; and if you are simply a lover of non-fiction and/or autobiographies, this is a gripping contemporary account.


* I received this book from the publisher as an "advance copy for review," and the PR accompanying it said it would be available in stores this Friday, however I see on Amazon where it has been previously released and apparently the version I am reviewing has been out since the first of this month. Not sure what to tell you as to these points, but maybe someone will clear it up once this is published.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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