Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our First review on amazon.comuk !

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars A deeply moving and affecting book, 28 Dec 2011
This review is from: Shade It Black (Hardcover)

I really wasnt sure what to expect with this book, but after a few pages the honesty and clarity with which Jessica Goodell recounts her experiences and thoughts hooked me. Some aspects of the book are horrific, but done in a factual and objective way which help you understand the emerging themes of the book about the institutionalisation of the US Marines (and there is some excellent commentary in the book around the perception of female marines) and the impact of the mortuary affairs work that Jessica Goodell undertook. The genius of the book for me is that it deals with the development of traumatic stress but without painting the author as a 'victim' throughout - the style of writing and the emotional intelligence of Jessica Goodell is jaw-dropping.

This is the last book i'll read in 2011 and one that will stay with me long into the future.

A Note of Thanks From Afghanistan

I want to thank Jessica for writing all her experiences down. As a member of a parachute infantry unit in Canada I have often had negative views of the fact that we allow females in our combat arms. After reading the book ( I am in Afghanistan as I write this and couldnt put it down once I started, so it took about 10 hours) I have a completely new outlook on the female side of things, and how tough it must be to be singled out.

Jess, as someone who has been in combat situations, and seen friends blown into pieces, I dont know how you were able to find the strength to do the job you did, and to come back and be able to dig yourself out of that hole and start a positive change. The memories we have from Iraq, and Afghanistan will stay with us forever, but the writing of people like you make it easier for people to find others to relate to. Thank you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Writing Reminds This Reader of the Desert

Here is a brief review that appeared two weeks ago on

Like the desert

Shade it Black, Death and After in Iraq by Jess Goodell with John Hearn; 2011; $24.95; 191 pages; Casemate Publishers, Havertown, PA; 978-1-61200-001-5; Checked out from Multnomah County Library, Central; 11/16-11/19
Why did I pick this up? My dad recommended it and I am always trying to understand what we are asking our soldiers to do and how it affects them.  I do not want to be one of the old men sending the young people off to war without knowing how it will affect them and us.  I am about to get up on my soapbox.  Why is it old people who send the young to war when they are the ones instigating things.  Why not have the leaders have a boxing match?  And while I am up here, why are the rich able to buy their childrens way out of conflict.  Now you got me started, but I am going to climb off the soap box and review the book.
What is the story? Jess Goodell is part of a platoon that is tasked with gathering, identifying and preparing the remains of Marines killed in Iraq.  She recounts her experiences as a Marine of a minority gender, as a member of a unit that is tasked with a gruesome mission.   She speaks of the mental trauma that she encountered through her tour in Iraq and how it has affected her life after the Corps.  She does so in an engaging yet very terse style.  She communicates well with a minimum of words.    One thing that really struck a chord was in her thinking of esprit de corp, that what is a cohesive unit when all it’s member share a goal, dissolves once the goal is no longer shared.  It is something that I think anyone who has been in the military or a member of a sports team has experienced.  I think that dissolution of the group would be hard to deal with due to the tightness encountered by those in traumatic situations such as combat.
Did I like it? Yes, I was moved by the authors ability to convey intense emotion with a brevity.  I was moved by her ability to share what she was going through and to convey that well enough that others could understand a small part of what she went through.
What is with the title of the review? Jess Goodell writes like the desert she writes of.  Stark and desolate but capable of eliciting strong emotion.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Student's Take on the Book

This is from Andi, a student at Jamestown Community College, where John, the book's co-author, works:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shade it Black

For my autobiography/memoir I'm reading Shade it Black by Jess Goodell. I learned about this book last year in my sociology class with John Hearn. We were discussing the effects on war on people, specifically the soldiers, and the subject of suicide. He brought up the website in class and played the song on the site which was depressing. I don't think everyone caught on, but his name was on the website too... he helped Goodell write this book. She was one of his former students.

Goodell writes about what it was like to be a Marine in the Mortuary Affairs. The MA troops had volunteered to go on this mission to collect the bodies of fellow American soldiers. Sometimes in the case of explosions, body parts would be missing. This is where the title Shade it Black comes from. The MA Marines had a piece of paper with an outline of a person's front perspective and the outline of a person's back perspective. The areas of the body that were missing were shaded black. It was a gruesome task and took it's toll on all of the Marines that were involved with this job. They'd smell like the bodies they collected. Whenever it was time to eat the "chow" smelled like the bodies... burnt meat... so meals were either skipped or thrown back up. During high body count periods of time the MA Marines lost weight and during lower body count times the MA Marines would gain a little bit back. Other Marines of different platoons didn't want anything to do with them either. They didn't like the smell and thought that the MA platoon was bad luck.

The author also writes how being a female effects how you're viewed in the Corps, as well. If you can't do something, it isn't because you're weak or out of shape like some of the male troops are. It's because you're female and you just aren't able to do it because you don't have the right "parts" or so to speak. You also can't hang out with any of the male troops alone or agree to workout with any of them or go to lunch with them on base. If you are, everyone starts talking about how you're sleeping with them. Whether you really are or not doesn't matter. You're just automatically labelled a slut. The female Marine lives a lonely, lonely life at camp.

Goodell's tone and style are easy to read. It's not your typical history book explaining life on the war front or anything like that. She's laidback for the most part but serious through out the whole thing. Sometimes she doesn't agree with certain "rituals" or routines the Marines do to fellow Marines but her thoughts are always passionate about issues and her feelings are heartfelt on what it means to be a Marine.

Here are a couple passages that I thought showed her style well:

"The women were assigned nicknames by the men who reminded them of how they were perceived, what they were seen as, names like Legs and Dolly, names that were unshakable and became what the women were called, at least behind their backs. Gender impacted how we referred to one another in a second way: if several of us were discussing a fellow Marine with whom one of us may not be familiar, we'd refer to him by his last name or by his nickname or by his job or unit. But if that person was a woman, we'd identify her as the 'female' this or that. He's, 'Benson, the mechanic.' She's, 'Anderson, the female mechanic.' She's always a female first and a Marine second. That's just the way it was" (25).

"Pineda and I pulled a burnt upper torso from the truck and then removed a leg. Pineda climbed into the cab to collect the rest. He picked up or peeled off every single on of several pieces covering the vehicle's interior... Some of the remains had to be scooped up by putting our hands together as though were were cupping water... When we finished, the contents --the clumps and chunks and pieces and parts -- didn't resemble a human body" (52).

"I believe that every Marine thinks that they are going to die, that it will be a heroic death, one that saves the lives of others. That, however, is a glorified notion, an abstract idea, a vague picture in the mind, a blurry image from a half-remembered movie. We want to save lives, but we haven't grasped what that will entail, and we don't want to grasp it because it may keep us from doing what we have to do. Knowing exactly what our dream involves will make doing it even harder. Well, we, the Marines of the Mortuary Affairs platoon, are the reality to that collective hallucination. While other Marines continue to carry around the dream, we clean up its reality" (60).