This Week's Reads

THE 8,000-METER MAN He's the ichiro of high-altitude mountaineeringquiet, no-nonsense, self-effacing; just get the job done in the purest possible style and let the accomplishments speak for themselves. But while he's not one to brag, he'll show you where he's been. West Seattle resident Ed Viesturs has lugged along his camera while scaling 12 of the world's 14 peaks over 8,000 meters high (including the Big E, Everest)all without the aid of supplemental bottled oxygen. In Himalayan Quest (National Geographic Books, $20), he offers the striking results: photographs taken in the thinnest of thin air, where the Himalayan blues and whites of sky and ice make colorful prayer flags and down parkas seem almost freakishly out of place. It's like those brightly hued worms at the bottom of the oceanyou can't believe that life exists there. Presenting his exploits chronologically, Viesturs provides some accompanying text co-written with longtime local climbing writer and MountainZone.com founder Peter Potterfield, but the pictures are the thing. Here's Ed's climbing buddy Veikka Gustafsson literally straddling the knife-edge ridge of Shishapanga in '01; it's as awkward and tedious as crossing a wet, mossy log across Ingalls Creekonly at 26,000 feet. There's a jumble of spent oxygen bottles at Everest's South Col, the world's highest and most shameful junkyard. On the trek to Manaslu in '99, a Tibetan refugee boy clutches a prayer flag covered with Sanskrit; the only sign of modernity is the rubber galoshes on his feet. This season, Viesturs has his sights set on Pakistan's remote, seldom-climbed Nanga Parbat, where Hermann Buhl nearly perished on his legendary 1953 solo ascent. It's a killer of a mountain, with horrible weather and few safe, clean lines not bombarded by ice- and rockfall; Viesturs turned back in '01 owing to poor conditions. This time, of course, he's determined to make it. I can't wait to see the pictures. Brian Miller Ed Viesturs will be at the Pacific Science Center Imax Cinemas (200 Second Ave. N., 206-443-4629), 7 p.m. Wed., April 16. The 1998 documentary Everestin which he appearswill be screened, followed by a slide show and signing (tickets: $10). You can keep track of his next expedition at www.edviesturs.com. MOM KNOWS BEST Mothers: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Ginger Lee couldn't live without her mother if she triedand she tries hard till her mom makes a surprise move from Milwaukee to Ginger's tiny Manhattan studio. It's time, her first-generation Korean American mom decides, to find Ginger a husbanda successful Korean American hubby. Feminist fashion-mag careerist (oxymoron?) Ginger wants nothing to do with a husband, especially if he's Korean. She groans in protest, and the rest of Caroline Hwang's first novel, In Full Bloom (Dutton, $23.95), is an amusing 291-page whine-a-thon. Naturally she learns various clich餠lessons about life, love, her heritage, and her career from her mother, who's depicted as a pushy, conniving, hard-edged woman. But Mrs. Lee has her pluses: She buys expensive furniture and designer clothes for her reclusive daughter, cleans her apartment, and even cooks. Hwang's strong point is dialogue, particularly Ginger's exchanges with her mom, whose broken English and frequent slips of the tongue barely veil her underlying wit and wisdom. Luckily, there's a lot of dialogue in Bloom; the rest of the novel is less interestingand, in many cases, skimmable. The only other interesting aspect of Bloom is Ginger's struggle to work her way up the fashion-mag career ladder. Life in the fictitious la Mode editorial office is brutal and, in some respects, dead-on. Her co-workers are catty, jaded, and competitive. In time, naive Ginger learns how to keep from being shit on: Join 'em in the shitting and dissing. Bloom was previously excerpted on MediaBistro.com, a publishing-industry forum, to mixed reviews. But most of the industry folk who posted comments agreed it was an accurate portrayal of fashion-mag politics. It's a world that Hwang, an editor who's written for Glamour, Redbook, Mademoiselle, CosmoGirl, and YM, knows all too well. Katie Millbauer LIFE 101 This gen-y self-help book reads like a cross between The Communist Manifesto and a Judy Blume-style diary. Roadtrip Nation (Ballantine, $13.95) began with its two co-authors' frustration with the zombie-drone job prospects that loomed after college. Somehow, they ended up with a book deal, a Web site, and a documentary. Nation aims to inspire other young bloods about to enter the workforce: Nathan Gebhard and Mike Marriner want them to know that they've got many paths availablenot just the most traveled, expected, or conventional one. In Nation, the authors earnestly recall their initial planto roadtrip across the country and interview successful people, to learn from their success. Their journey extends from Maine to California, from New Orleans to Seattle, where they interview Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Redhook co-founder Paul Shipman. Sometimes the three- to four-page interviews are inspiring. The only advice Geoffrey Frost, vice president at Motorola, gives to young people is, "Poof, you're 50. So, what have you done? Did you have fun? Did you have adventures?" But there are others that seem vague and rambling, like our very own Schultzy: "I always knew that I was going to try to do something myself. I didn't know what, but when I was traveling in Europe, I discovered the romance of the Italian espresso bar in Italy. It was an epiphany for me. It was something I just felt intuitively." From this we get a $2.6 billion corporation? Although Nation's profiles are diverse and interesting, they don't ever go into real depth about what must have been a long, hard voyage for most of the interviewees. The book also offers a simplistic guide on how to undertake your own career-finding roadtrip: Cold call CEOs and set up meetings or pitch your idea in a letter. It might be a good starting pointassuming any of those calls are returnedin today's scary economy, but only a starting point. Rosie Bowker Nathan Gebhard and Mike Marriner will appear at University Book Store (4326 University Way N.E., 206-634-3400), 7 p.m. Thurs., April 17. THE I AND THE EYE Like Gilbert Adair's The Death of the Author, John Banville's Shroud (Knopf, $25) is about Paul de Man, the Yale patriarch of deconstruction who dazzlingly argued for the severing of text and authorsomething he surely yearned to do himself. (After his death, a grad student unearthed his youthful essay in a Nazi-collaborationist newspaper advocating expelling Jews from Europe as a good "solution.") Like de Man, Shroud's Axel Vander is an Antwerp twerp with a Holocaust secret who becomes a big poobah professor "fashioning a new methodology of thinking [that] there is no essential, singular self." The 70-ish widower leaves Arcady (a sunny West Coast university town, maybe Berkeley) for Turin, home of the famous shroud supposed to bear the imprint of Christ's face, ostensibly for a conference on Nietzsche, but actually because a young scholar, Cassandra Cleave, has summoned him with a letter bearing on his "largely fabricated" past. Shroud is all about doubles and sundered selves. "Now I was cloven in two. . . . I who was always more than myself," says Axel. "On the one side there was the I I had been before the letter arrived, and now there was this new I, a singular capital standing at a tilt to all the known things that had suddenly become unfamiliar." (Banville tries to be Nabokov's double.) Unlike de Man, Axel just pretends to have written the pro-Nazi articles. Actually, he is a Jewhe never gives his real namewho impersonated a pal, the real Axel Vander, after Vander's violent, mysterious death. When Axel meets Cass, "the vile beast in me . . . lifted up its questing snout," and the old Humbert cleaves her, thinking of her doubles: his late wife and a former girlfriend who first seduced him by saying, "Come on, break me in two, and make a wish." Cass and Axel try to view the Shroud of Turin but fail to find more than a cheap replicaCass says it's Axel's spitting image. Axel has portentous encounters with a Dr. Zoroaster (who's resonant because Nietzsche, who went terminally insane in Turin, wrote about Zoroaster, and de Man wrote about Nietzsche). It's all enough to make Axel go cross-eyedexcept that, with symbolic significance, he's one-eyed. Readers who expect a conventional story will go nutty as Nietzsche. Axel lives in his remarkably allusive literary head; Cass is even crazier than he is, and they don't clash so much as fuzzily merge, like embracing shades. The de Man parallel is more of a gimmick than a subject Banville extensively explores. But almost every one of his gorgeous sentences has the brooding, propulsive power of the heavens above his narrator's lost Belgian home ("skies of tumultuous cloud endlessly unscrolling eastward"), and Banville weaves a haunting, lingering tale of a soul forever severed from its own identity. Tim Appelo SKETCHBOOK "The personal is the political" once made an effective slogan for the blossoming women's movement, but it can be a dangerous jumping-off point for fiction, as demonstrated in Loot: And Other Stories (Farrar Straus, $24). In these eight stories and two short novellas from Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer, she focuses almost exclusively on the wobbly, uncertain world of post-apartheid South Africa. There, it seems, the personal and the political are inseparably bound together. A certain didactic heaviness sometimes creeps into Loot, especially in Gordimer's more allegorical entries. "Look-Alikes" is a strange, science-fictiony throwaway, but "Mission Statement" spreads itself out beautifully over the story of a middle-aged aid worker's doomed affair with a government minister. On the lighter side is "Generation Gap," in which the adult children of a man who has left his wife for a young musician are brought together by their general moral outrage, incensed by their mother's lack of response and their father's unseemly happiness. "L, U, C, I, E" follows a severe young lawyer who accompanies her recently widowed dad on a journey back to his Italian homeland, even though she asserts straight off, "The so-called search for identity bores me. . . . You know well enough who you are: Every ridge in a toe-nail, every thought you keep private, every opinion you express is your form of life and your responsibility." Some stories, like "Diamond Mine," about a young girl's sexual awakening, or "Homage," in which a stateless assassin visits the grave of a South African leader he was paid to kill, are wispy but carefully drawn. The heavier "Karma" fits an epic series of characters into an ambitious final 80-page sweep. Much of Loot reads like a sketchbook, but it's the sketchbook of someone who has the ability to create flashes of beauty and resonance even in the margins. Leah Greenblatt info@seattleweekly.com

 
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