Once in a while I come across a request to think about my top five favorite books, and the list I decide on is always different. That’s because, as most true book lovers know, it’s impossible to pick only five favorites. However, one book that always seems to be on the list is Life of Pi by Yann Martel. And if you asked me to pick my favorite book of all time, this is the book that would come to mind first, before I started remembering other books and getting worried about how to ever pick a favorite favorite. The reason this book soars higher than all others to me is simple: no book has ever moved me as much as this one.
Thursday night I went to an event at the Barnes & Noble on 82nd and Broadway for the new edition of Life of Pi. The new special edition is a hardcover illustrated by Tomislav Torjanac. Both Tomislav and Yann were at the event, and it was an incredible evening. The new edition is spectacular; it includes over 30 full color, full page illustrations, and many additional smaller ones.
Yann spoke for a bit on how the illustrated edition came to be. His American publisher approached him about coming out with a new illustrated edition, because he remembered reading and loving illustrated editions of Robert Louis Stevenson when he was a boy. Yann had similar fond memories of illustrated editions of Jules Vern’s books. Yann mentioned how rare it is to see illustrated books for adults, and what a shame that is. It’s especially strange since we live in such a visual world – TV, internet, movies, etc.
Tomislav won the contest held to find an illustrator for Life of Pi, out of over 1000 entries. Each entrant had to send one full color illustration that showed their interpretation and vision for how the book should be illustrated. Yann told us that one of the reasons Tomislav stood out to him and the selection jury because he was the only one who chose to send in the scene at the end of the book, with the two Japanese men. As you might imagine, they received an enormous amount of entries that were pictures of a boy and a tiger in a lifeboat.
I liked the illustrations before the event, and now I love them. They talked about many of the paintings in the book and displayed them on a large projector screen. They also showed us Yann’s own drawings of the life raft he made while he was writing the book. Tomislav talked about his own creative process, and showed us several examples of his three steps: sketch, painting, and digital retouching/detailing.
During the Q&A, someone asked “Why a tiger?” Yann said he was first planning on having Pi stuck in a lifeboat with an infant Indian elephant. He eventually nixed this idea because it seemed too funny, and not as troublesome of a situation. He then considered a rhino. But rhinos are herbavores, and Yann decided a constant search for algae was not as interesting.
Yann also talked about life after Pi. He’s finished a new book called The Twentieth Century Shirt. It’s a flip book – a two covered book with a novel on one side, and an essay on the other side. He said the novel features a monkey and a donkey having a conversation on the front of a shirt. It’s a book about the Holocaust. I think only Yann could make this work. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until at least fall 2008 (but most likely 2009) to read it.
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