Monday, January 11, 2010

American Buffalo

American Buffalo is such a great read that I am surprised I haven't heard of it sooner (presumptuous of me, I know). The book is part memoir, part meditation on the American relationship with nature, part social commentary and part outdoor adventure tale. It takes quite a writer to weave that many strands together in a short book without derailing the narrative, but Steven Rinella makes it look easy.

Rinella's tone is that of a self deprecating conversationalist. He hops from topic to topic with ease, which lets him bring in a number of interesting asides about the buffalo. When it really won't quite fit, he isn't afraid to break out a half page footnote (which you should read, as they are uniformly excellent.) Many writers of adventure books puff up the exploits of the author. Rinella's excursions into wildest Alaska are amazing and would probably kill me, but rather than brag, he talks about the difficulty and the mental challenge of it. This also helps bring the reader deeper into the story.

Rinella's encounter with the buffalo began when he found a buffalo skull in Montana. His research into the animals leads him to a lab in Oxford, museums in the United States and eventually to a park in Alaska where he hunts buffalo. This part may shock readers to whom hunting is completely alien, but the care he takes in the hunt and his discussion of the history should assuage everyone who lacks a PETA membership.

This is just a fabulous read which I recommend to everyone.


Citizen Reader said...

So glad you found this one! I liked it okay but I had really high expectations--Rinella's "The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine" was so, so awesome. Have you seen that one yet?

Tripp said...

No, but I will be seeking it out. Now I am even more excited to read it, if you think that one is even better.

Citizen Reader said...

Well, it's more personal, and the focus is on food, so it was a bit more in my line of interests than buffalo and the West. I do think he's a great writer, though.