Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Response to Falcon

I don't want to waste another post on this topic but some comments left by an editor at Falcon on this blog require an answer. John Burbidge wrote the following:

Hi Peter,

Max forwarded to me the review you e-mailed him. I'd like to address a few of the points you made in that e-mail, and a few others I've seen floating around on the Web.

1. You criticize is the omission of significant boulders in important areas, and the fact that some areas are shown on the maps but not written up. Throughout the process of making this book, we had to go back several times to cut material that we wanted to include. It's likely some of these areas you refer to fell victim to this publishing reality. In some cases, I left an area or boulder on the map even though we cut the text because I thought it might at least be a reference that could help people locate the boulders and do their own exploring. You said you were concerned this would lead people to cross private land to get to the boulders. I would say that if land is posted private, STAY OFF. That's the law. If land is private but not posted as such, then I would suggest that the landowner post it private if he/she doesn't want people mistaking it for public land.

2. You mention that the photos of Bob bouldering are disrespectful toward local boulderers. I'm sorry if that is the case, but there is a very good reason Bob puts himself in the picture, and that is to provide some perspective on the size of the boulder. One of the things we don't like about other bouldering guides we've used is that the photos often show the boulder but no climber. This makes it hard to tell if the boulder is five feet tall or fifteen feet tall. Having a climber in the picture adds perspective. It's not realistic for Bob to bring along a group of models while doing research, or hunt up local boulderers to pose for him. You might not like this, but that's the reason for it.

3. I'm not sure if you addressed this next point anywhere, but there has been some discussion about whether the material in the book was reviewed by land managers. Our policy is to always have national park material reviewed by the park authorities. When it comes to national forest, BLM, wilderness, and other public lands, the fact is that we publish hundreds of guidebooks a year to activities on these lands, and it's just not feasible to have it all reviewed. We encourage our authors to work with land managers, and in the case of Mt Evans there is some dispute as to whether Bob did, but I do know that the letter from the rangers came to Bob long after the book went to the printer. (In fact, to clear up some misinformation I've seen floating around about exactly when the book went to the printer: This book did indeed go to the printer last spring. We have our color books printed in China, and it takes 3 or 4 months.)

The bottom line is that there are some people out there who will never like this book no matter what we do or what I say. But as I said before, if anybody wants to contribute updated information, then simply photocopy the page in the book, write your correction on it, and send it to me at the address below. If you do that, I extend my personal thanks. If you are one of the book-bashers but you don't share what you know, then I'm afraid your complaints will forever ring hollow to me.

My final comment here will be directed at anybody who might be considering buying the book. It is a beautiful guidebook. I believe that the VAST majority of the information is correct, especially when you get beyond some of the more hardcore concerns like names of problems and boulders. If you want a book that will guide you to new bouldering areas not covered in other books, and take you to some exceptional settings where you can do your own exploring--not to mention a cool book to just sit on the couch and page through while you wait for the weather to turn nice--then I think you will really like this book.

Below is my response:

Thanks for your comments John. I would stand by my review and repeat that the inaccuracies and inventions in the book present an unacceptable dilemma for readers as to what to trust. Even if I accept that the book is not a historical record, the thought that it could be eventually accepted as such is disturbing. Frankly the phrase, "when you get beyond some of the more hardcore concerns like names of problems and boulders", makes me wonder exactly what the purpose of a guidebook is, as far as Falcon is concerned.

The mention you make of private property issues is surprisingly dismissive of both the rights of the readers of the book to be directed to appropriate areas and the rights of property owners not to be disturbed.

"If land is private but not posted as such, then I would suggest that the landowner post it private if he/she doesn't want people mistaking it for public land."

I think that the authors and publishers of guidebooks should take extraordinary measures to ensure accurate information in this instance.

Regarding the photos, most newer guidebooks include quality action photos of local climbers, not the author posing in sneakers. There is no pressing need for readers to know the scale of boulders.They are typically smaller rocks. Bouldering Colorado is the only book that I have seen where this was made a priority.

I didn't address the land management issues in my review but I would trust the word of local climbers who are working on access issues such as Cameron Cross. In this case what's done is done.

To sum up, I am surprised that Falcon is unwilling to acknowledge that a simple step of sending out proofs to selected reviewers would have solved a lot of these problems. To insist further that:

"If you are one of the book-bashers but you don't share what you know, then I'm afraid your complaints will forever ring hollow to me."

is incredibly heavy-handed. Bob Horan and Falcon didn't share what they were doing before this guidebook was released. To imply that local climbers are hypocrites if they don't volunteer to fix Falcon's mistakes is baffling.

I charge a standard rate of 25 dollars an hour for editing and revision work. "Personal thanks" is great, but I have many other demands on my time and even commenting further on this issue is looking like a waste of it, given the response I received. I gave Falcon an honest, unbiased, and fact-based summary of the problems with the book and received a lecture instead. Again to any readers of this blog, I would ask you to weigh very carefully the merits and the flaws of the book before paying your 50 dollars for it.


Anonymous said...

if we agree bouldering areas (to include names, grades, fa's) are really just a network of stone made 'rockclimby' through repetition (both physical and discursive) amongst a network of climbers, then bob's book has great potential to (re)write the front range landscape in pretty profound ways. many will just assume the guidebook is an unassailable source for climbing data, regurgitate amongst friends sessioning at the gym, and viola! - X problem is now Y problem, there is an impossible Z problem, and bouldering conversations are forever marred by 'horan's front range or the 'front range' front range'?

it does seem crazy falcon content to wait for consensus to catch up to their landscape vision rather than just publish data reflecting the consensus. history-making is such a ghastly affair when done under the auspices of a 'guide book'. /sigh

Peter N. Jones said...

The one thing I found funny about all this banter over Horan's guide is that it is 90% old stuff. I looked it over extensively, and yes the grades are off, the maps are poorly done, and pictures of Horan in his sneakers demonstrating his "ability" to climb the route are quite laughable. But I was surprised at how similar this guide was to Colorado Bouldering I and II. In fact, if you have Horan's five other guides (which I do) and Colorado Bouldering I and II, you actually have more stuff then was included in this guide.

You can get more information and find more problems and "secret" areas by simply looking at these seven other guides. Beyond putting in RMNP and Evens, I think I found two other areas with a handful of problems that have not already been published. And those are on the web.

No need to spend money on this. I already know every area listed in there, and have actually been to all of them plus many others that thankfully did not get listed.

This is typical of many of Falcon's and other publishing companies new products - simply repackaging old stuff to make money. Oh well, I'm sure it will benefit someone...

Peter Beal said...

Good comments both. Tissue tendons brings up an interesting paradox, reflective of the postmodern predicament, namely that of the publisher issuing a blatantly fictive text and defending it as factual or at least not too unfactual. "Not excessively untruthy" may be a good descriptor.

Peter, I noticed the same thing as well. The production values are up, the scrawled maps are gone, but it's much the same stew in a different carton.