Thursday, September 22, 2005

Newsweek Books

Updated: 8:21 p.m. PT Oct 27, 2006

Oct. 27, 2006 - Just one of the frightening things about Iraq is how fast the publishing industry has responded with a ballooning shelf of books on the war and related subjects. To help you cut through the chaff and get to the truly essential books on the subject, here’s a selection suggested by NEWSWEEK staffers.

My War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell (Putnam) A first-person account from a young soldier (and self admitted skate punk and wise ass) who was based in Mosul with a Stryker brigade. This book pulls together dispatches from Buzzell's blog, also called My War, which got him into a lot of trouble with Army superiors. A gritty, obnoxious and often hilarious account of what many soldiers go through on a daily basis in Iraq
Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Soldiers Weigh In on Iraq

September 17, 2005; Page P4

The Iraq War is coming to your local bookstore.

Readers who scooped up political fare last year are now being offered
accounts of the Iraq conflict by soldiers who were recently on the

Their memoirs offer a range of experience and perspective on the war, from
reformed slacker Colby Buzzell, who worries there's no end in sight, to
Dartmouth alumnus Nathaniel C. Fick, who sees peace on the horizon if more
troops are mobilized.

The tone in each is blunt. "The world hears war stories told by reporters
and retired generals who keep extensive notebooks and journals," writes
former National Guardsman John Crawford. "They carry pens as they walk,
whereas I carried a machine gun."

Publishers say these soldier memoirs complement books penned by journalists
about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They put you further inside the
soldier's head and tell you what it's like to shoot at somebody, what it's
like to be shot at, and how they got there," says Ivan Held, president of
G.P. Putnam's Sons. "These books take you into Iraq and give you a
first-hand look."

Part of the appeal of the new battlefield memoirs is that they feature
ordinary people performing in extraordinary ways under pressure. "There are
significant numbers of readers out there who want to know what the
experience is really like," says David Steinberger, CEO of Perseus Books
LLC, a unit of Washington private-equity firm Perseus LLC.

These authors are little-known, but their stories are extraordinary. Below,
culled from interviews with five new writers, are descriptions of their
books and a taste of what they contain.


THE BOOK: "My War: Killing Time in Iraq," publishing in October.
The Author: A 26-year-old slacker feeling that life was passing him by,
Colby Buzzell was rejected by the Marines. He waited a couple of weeks to
ensure that he could pass an Army drug test.
The Plot: The inside story as told by Everyman. Mr. Buzzell arrived in Iraq
November 2003 and left the following October.
Behind the Scenes: In his eighth month in Iraq, Mr. Buzzell, now 29, started
Worst Moment: Getting his first leave canceled.
Take on the War: Mr. Buzzell is concerned that there is no end in sight.
"What is winning? Is it winning the global war on terrorism? Eliminating all
the insurgents in Iraq?"
Sunday, September 18, 2005

Library Journal Review

At age 25, Buzzell had already led a life that embraced alcohol, drugs, a minor criminal record, and a series of dead-end jobs. Enlisting in the U.S. Army, he set his focus on "Being All That You Can Be" as an infantryman, spending most of 2003 in Iraq assigned to the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He began sharing his experiences through a blog, thus providing more truth than CNN or the army could or would. Here, Buzzell cleverly prepares a text that is part memoir, part diary entries, and part email messages. War veterans will understand the episodic nature of his narrative, the confusion of described battle, the brutality of his life, and the rawness of his prose. With Buzzell's return to the States and the close of an effective soldier's life, neither he nor the reader is sure that he has not come full circle and returned to his civilian life of loss. Recommended for public libraries.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005


US soldiers' Iraq books show humor, horror and anger
Sep 22, 2005 — By Claudia Parsons

Exerts from article:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Journalists, generals, historians, Iraqis and a former hostage have told their stories about Iraq, but now more than two years after American troops invaded, the flood of books by U.S. soldiers has arrived.

From Roman emperor Julius Caesar to World War I poets, soldiers have written books, poems, diaries and letters home

Colby Buzzell recalls in "My War: Killing Time in Iraq" (published on October 20 by Putnam) how a recruiter gave him tips on passing a drugs test to enter the military.

...he is candid about soldiers' reactions to war: "I've developed that really disturbing, warped, sick war humor about everything," he writes in an August 2004 blog entry which appears in his book, describing how a gruesome photograph of a dead Iraqi prompted laughter.


His book also juxtaposes his own confused account of a dramatic clash with insurgents in Mosul with a CNN report and a military statement about the same event —the latter both dry and with no hint of the severity and extent of the fighting.

"It kinda made me wonder what else goes on here in Iraq that never gets reported to the people back home," he writes.

Buzzell said he was never punished for what he wrote, though he was "counseled" several times, and he made a point of changing names and details to avoid endangering other U.S. forces by giving away their tactics or location.

"A lot of my chain of command had never even heard of a blog," Buzzell told Reuters. "They were a little nervous about it … they didn't know quite how to handle it."

Buzzell said going to Iraq was the best thing he had ever done. "I do believe we were doing a lot of good but ... I have a lot of questions about what we're doing," he said.

'My War' -- a soldier's wild ride

by C.W. Nevius
San Francisco Chronicle

To say that Colby Buzzell was at loose ends when he left high school is an affront to the concept of loose ends.

At 26, he sat down and wrote out a list of the jobs he'd held: "flower delivery guy, valet guy, cash register at Orchard Supply guy, car washer guy, gift shop sales guy, telemarketing guy, 7-Eleven guy, record store guy, towel guy at the gym guy, and I worked seasonally at Toys 'R' Us."

"And that's not even a complete list," he said in a phone interview last week.

So it will be a bit of a surprise to his high school buddies to learn that he has a book -- "My War: Killing Time in Iraq" -- coming out Oct. 20. Even bigger if you add that he's working with a major publisher (Putnam) and that literary lion Kurt Vonnegut calls the book "... nothing less than the soul of an extremely interesting human being at war ..."

Good luck trying to figure it all out. Buzzell is still trying to decide if he is thrilled or mystified.

"I don't know what to make out of all of it," Buzzell says. "It just sort of happened. I'm just going to jump on the ride for a while."

The simple explanation is that one day Buzzell was sitting on a bar stool and the next he was behind an M240 Bravo machine gun in Iraq. Somewhere along the way he went over to the Internet café at his Army base camp in Mosul and posted his experiences on a blog.

And then all hell broke loose.

Buzzell's blog was discovered, and word spread. His blog began to get as many as 10,000 hits a day. His Army commanding officers began to take an interest, unable to decide if he was telling it like it was or undermining the American effort.
But by then, he was a sensation, and controlling his blog was proving to be very difficult. Interview requests began to come in from PBS and the Wall Street Journal. Pretty impressive for someone who wasn't clear on exactly where his words went when he shipped them out on the World Wide Web.

"I had never even heard the word, blog, before," he says now. "I didn't tell my parents about it because I was swearing and cussing and stuff and I didn't want them to trip out."

Buzzell's entries, which form the basis for his book, have moments that are too surreal to be anything but true. When his platoon drives up to a mosque in Mosul and they start to take fire, everyone opens up with automatic weapons -- except for the guys who pull out their new digital cameras for some authentic photos of combat. With the mosque covered in a cloud of dust kicked up from hundreds of rounds of fire, Buzzell looks over to see a machine-gunner "hysterically throwing up the heavy-metal devil horn hand signal like it was an Ozzy Osbourne concert."

But the centerpiece, called "Men in Black," is vivid enough to make you smell the gunpowder -- and the fear. Buzzell starts with a copy of the three paragraph wire service account of a "clash" between American troops and Iraqi insurgents. Then he says, "Now here's what really happened."

The account of the firefight that follows has become an Internet cult classic, linked and passed from reader to reader. It was eventually published in Esquire magazine and turned out to be the perfect pitch for a book deal. Not that he had anything like that in mind when he came back from the patrol, still amped.
"I didn't even think what I was doing," Buzzell says. "I remember I sat down and I closed my eyes for a second and then I thought, 'just go from the beginning.' The words just poured out. I couldn't type fast enough. I finished, posted up the blog, walked out, lit up a cigarette and had no idea what I had done."

Again the Army had conflicted feelings. Some of his commanding officers thought he'd captured the events to perfection and was providing a service. Some, even higher up, were uneasy.

His battalion commander, Lt. Col. Buck James, wrote in an e-mail that is quoted in the book that there was an inquiry "to determine if there was a breach of operational security anywhere in his blog."

Buzzell, no fool, got the message and eventually took down the blog and the "Men in Black" entry on his own.

"It was getting really crazy," he says now. "I was getting hammered with hundreds and hundreds of e-mails. It was a little overwhelming. I didn't join the Army to cause problems."

"My War" has bits like "Men in Black," but it isn't a print version of TV's "Over There." (Buzzell, by the way, watched one episode of the FX channel's show and hated it.) Beneath the layer of bravado and dust is the story of a young guy who was lost and looking for something to change his life.

"They say war is the great adventure," Buzzell says. "I just wanted to go on the great adventure. I thought I'll join the Army and if nothing else I can say I did something."

You have to wonder how many Colby Buzzell's there are, a lost generation of kids who don't buy into the route to college and no longer see the honor in a blue-collar job. Buzzell was a lost soul, waiting for a thunderbolt to blast him out of his dead-end existence. To his astonishment, it happened.

Today, he is well aware of how many writers struggle to get their work published and are unable to find an outlet. And here he is thinking about a book tour and a national release of his first effort.

"I guess," he shrugs, "the trick is not to try."