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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Prize In Multiple Formats

I recently finished reading Neil Peart's new book from ECW Press called Far and Away: A Prize Every Time.

Like every single other one of Peart's travel-biographies, it goes straight up the "must recommend" list, but unlike his previous works, this one is the most interesting in that most of the content has already been accessible via Peart's blog.

You see, Far and Away is a collection of blog posts gathered from Peart's blog, something he started tentatively, back in 2005 (the same year this blog started). Using the title "News, Weather and Sports" he made some updates about his professional life, talking about completion of the book Roadshow as well as an instructional DVD called Anatomy of a Drum Solo and then ended up with a joke about weather and sports.

His next tentative post came in April 2006, the form of a "story" actually taking place. Shortly after, the next story came more easily, this time with pictures. By 2007, Peart had evolved his blog posts into a template he was comfortable with, and the words started to flow "with passion and precision." (Sorry, couldn't resist making reference to one of his lyrics)

And once he was in the swing of things, satisfied with the process of publishing online, the stories, the pictures, the wonder continued to flow. And, they eventually found their way into this gorgeous book by ECW Press, who also published Traveling Music and Ghost Rider.

I originally received a pre-production galley of the book via NetGalley, a great service for publishers and professional readers. Instead of costly, printed ARCs and galleys, often sent to bookstore buyers and reviewers, NetGalley offers digital secure gallies to be sent out.

I had the choice to read the digital galley of the book in multiple different ways, but opted to move it to my Sony Reader with the e-ink black and white screen. While reading in that format took away from the experience meant to be produced by the accompanying photos and original layout of the book, I was quite pleased with the experience, it being extremely portable and convenient. (It has also been over a year since I'd read any book on that electronic ink screen - most of the ebooks I'd read had been via the KoboBooks app on my iPhone)

One thing I knew for sure, however, was that I was going to want to own the hardcover when it came out. (And I did - the day it was available on bookstore shelves, there I stood at the cash register, proudly holding the hardcover, eager to bring it home, despite the fact I had already read most of it) And as I continued to read through the sequence of articles, adventures (which are, as Peart continually states in an ongoing ode to Hemmingway "no fun when you're having them") and retrospective commentary, I was blown away with the fact that there is, indeed, a prize in each and every tale collected in this book.

Peart seems most at home when he is not spotlit on a stage, but rather, blending into the crowd and absorbing the abundance of what each day's adventure has to offer.  He's not one for the fuss and bother of being fawned over by fans, and amazingly humble in the overwhelming "cheers" for his multiple creative outlets. His stories reveal that attitude as well as his thirst for perfection in his personal accomplishments and the sheer joy in the act of sharing these tales.

The blog posts are reminiscent of the personal hand-written letters that appear in Ghost Rider, in that they are the result of Peart's desire to put into words the things he sees in the world around him, capturing interesting moments and singular activities that become timeless and enduring.

After all, who would have thought that reading somebody's blog posts from 2009 about the strange personal quest for two neighbours to find the base of a "phantom tower" that suddenly appeared on the horizon in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec or the tranquil reflections of watching a hummingbird family in the backyard bougainvillea vines could be fascinating for strangers to read.

But they are. And amazingly so.

Peart deftly brings the reader right along for each one of his adventures and observations. The experience is less like reading a book and more akin to sitting across from a dear friend on a warm summer night and listening to them recount the fascinating day they just had.

Photo of interior spread from Andrew Wolson's The AndyO Experience

It find it interesting that I could have read most of the content of the book for free via Peart's blog, or could have just left it at reading the free digital NetGalley copy I received. But if I had done that, I would be missing out on a truly glorious experience of holding the 10 1/2 " X 8 1/2 " hardcover in my hands, of flipping through the pages, seeing photos and then being drawn back into the tales that accompany them. Simply, the hardcover is gorgeous. It beautifully crossed the boundary between text prose and coffee-table picture book, offering much of the best of both worlds in a single bound edition.

The physical manifestation of the book itself is evidence of how a tried and true format of the print book simply can't be replaced. But even putting that "collectible" and "displayable" artefact aside, the compilation of these posts into a single package with a defined beginning and end give it something special, and I applaud Peart, his travel companions (who are also photographers), his editors and ECW Press for putting the proper time and effort into producing this fine book.

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