Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review: Seize the Day

I found Seize The Day! How to wring more satisfaction from your Civil War reenacting events by Wm. J. Watson while adding a different book to my Amazon wish list. That darn website knows so much about my reading habits, when this book was suggested I added it to my wish list as well. I was given a copy as a gift not long after. It is such a small book that I sat down right away to read it, then carried it around for a few weeks (it fit in my purse!) and finally dug it out to write the review.

How-to books for the beginning reenactor are actually quite common, but vary in quality and concentration. I promise I'll review some of those soon. This book is not for the beginner. It is for the folks who already have a basic kit, are already attending Civil War events, who feel like they've got the basics under control and want to take the next step.

The style of Seize is based loosely on the works of a 19th century author who was writing how-to manuals for 19th century soldiers, but the author is speaking directly to the 21st century reenactor to the purpose of increasing the reader's authenticity, enjoyment, and immersion. Watson sets his chapters out by military rank and manages to cover a lot of ground very quickly. He does not tell you how to drill or cook or guard, he talks about the importance of all the different military tasks, about the expectations of each rank, and about how to be the best in any rank. This could come off as ridiculous or preachy, but I found the advice in this book was well thought out and delivered in a friendly and not at all condescending way. At the end of each chapter I found myself wanting to be a great civil war corporal (or whatever chapter I happened to be reading) even though I have absolutely no desire to reenact the life of a civil war solider. Some chapters are meatier than others. The Clerk chapter includes role-playing scenarios and character types. In chapter 13 the author addresses reenacting recruitment and what is missing from current big events.

There was a lot of useful advice for any era military reenactment: those in charge need to keep an eye out for those folks who may be struggling etc. and it is your job to make sure tasks get done, not necessarily to do them all yourself. There is limited but good advice for those attending reenactment events that are not necessarily military in nature about sharing tasks and keeping camp tidy. The author goes quite in depth on work details and how important they are since setting up and tearing down is something the reenactor must do as well. He is very clear that there are people in charge of making sure this stuff gets done, people who are responsible, people who do their share of work, and consequences in the chain of command for slackers. What a boon for the reenactors as well as being period correct. This removes some of the modern ego from the work detail. The book seems to say: if you are not willing to work, find another hobby with quotes like "we are trying to take everything good that has been done by a lot of hard-working, thoughtful people and take it a step further... It operates like a regiment, not like a reenacting club."

The most exciting part for me came at the very end when Watson recommends that the reader document those methods that work for their group because, "documenting the methods used to achieve success is what this little book is all about, by the way."

1 comment:

  1. I think I read some of this book as part of the Amazon preview option they have. It seemed to be a very interesting way to write a book for re-enactors.

    I'd be interested to learn more about chapter 13. It seems like that would apply to all eras of re-enacting. Additionally, I'd be curious to learn what the author finds missing from large events. Perhaps that could be helpful for other groups than just ACW.