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Nancy Pearl

Nancy Pearl's Book Reviews for 7/25/09

Jeremy Richards

The moments that capture our attention might linger as images, words, or stories — but they're all unified by the way we frame them. Today, librarian Nancy Pearl shares her latest book picks with two ways of sharing a window on experience: The graphic novel and the poetic form. Nancy Pearl talks with KUOW's Jeremy Richards.

"The Photographer: Into War–Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders" (First Second Books, 2009) is the story of photojournalist Didier LeFevre's first assignment: to accompany a team of Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) who were traveling through Pakistan to Afghanistan in 1986, during the long bloody conflict between the invading Soviet Union troops and the Taliban. The book is a collaboration between artist Emmanuel Guibert and LeFevre, assembled by graphic designer Frederic Lemercier. The pictures include both LeFevre's original contact sheets (it's interesting to note that contact sheets of photos are not unlike strips of comics) and Guibert's drawings, while the text is reconstructed from discussions Guibert and LeFevre had about the journey. (LeFevre's journals, mentioned in the book, were lost years before.) The result is a powerful reading and viewing experience. It's a good example of how the graphic novel format can work elegantly for nonfiction; it's also a good example of how inadequate the term "graphic novel" is for a work that make equal use of text and illustrations. And the decision to do this as a graphic novel, however inadequate the phrase is, was exactly right, because we need both the visuals and the text to fully grasp the experiences LeFevre and the MSF team underwent. It began in Peshawar, and ended, three months later, in Afghanistan. Just getting to their destination involved plenty of danger; it required many pack animals and forty armed guards. Straying off the path was not encouraged, as landmines were prevalent, and there was always the fear of snipers or of being attacked by roving soldiers of either side. Their destination was a small village in northern Afghanistan, where they set up a clinic to treat the men, women, and children who were the collateral damage in a brutal war. When the team was returning back to their home base in Pakistan, LeFevre made an unwise choice to travel back to Pakistan by himself – a decision that nearly got him killed. Reading The Photographer is a stunning, unforgettable experience: you somehow emerge from your time spent in Pakistan and Afghanistan with Didier and the members of MSF a better, more humane individual.

Paul B. Janeczko's "A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms" (Candlewick, 2009) should be required reading for literature classes from elementary school through college. It's the best way I know of to discover (and appreciate) the various forms of poetry, including, as it does, memorable examples and joyful – there's no other word for it – illustrations by Chris Raschka. Janeczko covers 29 different forms of poetry, ranging from those likely to be familiar to most readers, such as – couplets, haikus, sonnets, and quatrains, but also those less likely to have been encountered in casual reading, like concrete poetry, villanelles, the found poem, the pantoum, and more. The poets and and their works include a satisfyingly diverse mix of writers, both the famous and the unknown (at least to me). The former includes everyone from Ogden Nash (and his couplet "In the world of mules/There are no rules"), to William Blake (and his quatrain that begins "Tyger! Tyger! burning bright ... "); as well as Edward Lear, followed by what I can only call an "anti–limerick" by Stephen Herrick on the opposite page; Gary Soto (an ode to a pair of sneakers); and an excerpt from one of Robert Service's most famous ballads, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew." Don't miss the examples of epitaphs – I'm still smiling about the one for Pinocchio.

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