Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Blum wins the “More Accessible and Successful” Prize

I found Blum’s Annapurna to be significantly more accessible to the armchair climber than Herzog’s. While Herzog’s edition had a glossary in the back, I found Blum’s in-text parenthetical explanations to be way more useful and less intrusive to my reading-groove. I actually read the whole thing in just a few days, and I enjoyed it much more than Herzog’s. Blum’s self-reporting was very conscientious, and I never found myself doubting or questioning the validity or accuracy of what I was reading. Blum bluntly gave her side of the story and offered other perspectives only through quoted conversation and excerpts from the other climbers’ journals. These excerpts, especially, gave Blum’s Annapurna an authentication that really drew me into the adventure. Instead of the more straightforward reporting style of Herzog’s book, this one gave a much more private look into the inner workings of a Himalayan expedition, particularly with regard to the women’s fears and struggles with the preparations, decisions, and the climb itself. I feel I learned much more about the world of climbing than I did from Herzog because of how honest and comprehensive Blum’s writing was, in addition to the more accessible style.

Blum’s book was certainly more emotionally charged and exposed the weaknesses that plagued the expedition. Although I don’t argue that this necessarily made Blum’s a better read, I do think that it served its purpose in correlation with the all-women climb of Annapurna. Blum was not afraid to expose those weaknesses and emotions in her retelling of the adventure with which women were (are?) stereotyped and which the expedition wanted to fight against. The women on Blum’s trip wanted to prove to the world the capability, courage, and heroism of women in the climbing sport – that they rivaled men and should not be prejudged for weakness and emotional / psychological frailty. Not only did their summiting Annapurna contribute to this cause, but I think that the continuation of many of the women’s climbing careers despite their difficulties and the loss of life on Annapurna also supports the antithesis. And Blum’s frankness about how the women were feeling and the gender issues they were dealing with showed courage in the face of the criticism and exposed the climbers’ growth as strong women. The fact that many were emotional and sometimes very upset or sick did not affect the ultimate (summit) success of the expedition, and so in some ways it was important for Blum to tell the expedition in a way that included the stereotypes they were fighting, because even if those stereotypes remained, the knee-jerk conclusion that they made women weak climbers was effectively disproved. 

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