Sunday, January 17, 2010

Comic sacrilege?

Being the big fan of Pride and Prejudice that I am, I couldn't pass up the Marvel Comics version, adapted by Nancy Butler and illustrated by Hugo Petrus. The five-part comic is collected in one volume. Nancy Butler's introduction explains her interest in making comic books that appeal specifically to girls. In tackling Jane Austen's beloved novel, she ultimately decided to use much of the language from the book, rather than adapting it. Once that was settled, I imagine her biggest task was to decide how to trim the story to fit this project. I think she succeeded in abridging it.

The cover is charming in its artwork and how it is made to look like a women's magazine with its catchy tag lines. The cover art is not done by the same person as the comic inside. I prefer the cover art to the rest of the artwork, but that is not much of a complaint.

Comic sacrilege? No, this is comfortingly faithful to the original overall. I was pleased to find that Butler included the best lines that I remember from Austen's text. Fans of the original will probably like this adaptation, and more importantly it should attract younger readers of graphic novels to Austen's book.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Review of K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain

Ed Viesturs reteams with David Roberts, coauthors of '06's No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks, for this study of the perilous climbing history of K2. Located in the Karakoram Range in northern Pakistan, it is the second-highest mountain in the world and a harder climb than Everest. K2's death rate is nearly four times that of Everest. Most recently, in a single expedition in 2008, eleven people died.

Viesturs himself summited K2 in 1992, but he does not write about that experience at much length here. The 2008 tragedy is covered in the first part of the book, and then the author goes on to discuss the earliest attempts on the mountain; the 1938, 1939, 1953, and 1954 expeditions; and the deadly summer of 1986 during which a record thirteen people died on K2.

The dangers of K2 include a huge serac (overhanging ice ridge), crevasses hidden by the snow, whiteouts, and avalanches. Says Viesturs: "Everything depends on the weather, the snow conditions, and the relative strengths of different climbers, so up high you always have to be flexible and ready to improvise to meet the challenge thrown at you" (241). And while he would always sooner save someone's life than try to forge ahead in a summit attempt, he cautions: "It's an eternal and inevitable fact in mountaineering, as in most dangerous pursuits, that you can get sucked into exceeding the boundaries of your own best judgment of acceptable risk when you go to the rescue of someone else in trouble" (60). It must be an agonizing decision, but individuals have to look after themselves in that environment because it is all too easy to be claimed by the mountain.

Viesturs has never fallen into a crevasse in any of his climbs. He has fallen through to his waist before, but that is the extent. He notes: "The absence of crevasse falls on my mountaineering résumé is partly just sheer luck, but I like to think it's mainly the result of my healthy respect for those hidden death traps" (288). He admits that luck is a factor in his being alive today, gravely citing situations in which some of the best mountaineers met their deaths and saying that it could have been him had he been at the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is well worthwhile to read the perceptions of one of the greatest mountaineers. Viesturs does not shy away from expressing his admiration of some of his fellow climbers and his unfavorable opinions of others. This is a fascinating, spellbinding book and well-written as well. It is one of the best mountaineering books that I have read.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Thoughts on How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

French scholar Pierre Bayard wrote this provocative book (translated by Jeffrey Mehlman; 2007). It does not have a readers' advisory standpoint nor is it light instruction for social situations in which people are discussing books. Don't let its slim size fool you: this isn't a breeze to get through. The book is divided into three parts: the different modes of "non-reading," a few scenarios of discussing unread books, and ways to get out of doing so. Works of literature are referenced throughout, most of which Bayard says he has either skimmed or not read.

It is easy to get annoyed with the author at times. There were parts, however, I found quite interesting, the first being the outlandish notion of not reading any individual books and instead developing one's cultural literacy through placing all books in context. Bayard argues that culture is really "a theater charged with concealing individual ignorance and the fragmentation of knowledge" (126). He says: "The trick is to define the book's place in [the collective] library, which gives it meaning" (117). Another intriguing idea Bayard explores is literary criticism being an art form in itself. He argues that reviewing a work is most importantly an act of creativity and self-discovery.

He prefaces his book with the following quote attributed to Oscar Wilde: "I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so." Bayard is a psychoanalyst as well as a professor of literature, and he veers into that sort of territory in the book. Take, for instance, his notion of "phantom books that surface where the unrealized possibilities of each book meet our unconscious. These phantom books fuel our daydreams and conversations far more than the real objects that are theoretically their source" (160). There are parts of the book well worth reading for the enlightening tidbits, so I would recommend skipping over some sections to get to the good parts.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The e-book revolution

E-books were surprisingly slow to catch on initially, but now with a range of e-readers out there, they are relatively widespread. Various libraries circulate the devices. MA prep school Cushing Academy got rid of its print collection in favor of e-sources.

I wonder about public vs. academic libraries regarding this issue. It does make more sense for an academic library to go that route than it does a public library.

Public libraries serve children and the elderly, both groups less likely to use e-readers. I believe that public libraries will adapt, albeit a bit slower than consumer culture. But that's because public libraries have a number of considerations: what is the purpose of circulating a Kindle or like product? Is it for people to try it out or to read a couple of publications? What content should be loaded onto it? What should be the loaning period? What quantity should be purchased? Seems like a guessing game at this point.

Of course there is also the option of offering e-books to library members without the e-readers. The books can then be read either on the computer or on the person's own e-reader, similar to a downloadable audiobook service which many people use with ease. And the Publishers Weekly "Outlook 2010" (Jan. 4, 2010) points out the uncertainty of "whether consumers will continue to go for dedicated reading devices. Already, more and more consumers are choosing to read using apps designed for smart phones, like the iPhone/iPod Touch and the new Android OS phones."