Dispatches | September 10, 2010

At the university where I teach, all the freshmen are reading the book Three Cups of Tea, the New York Times bestselling account of a mountain climber who, after failing to summit K2, dedicated his life to building schools in a remote region of Pakistan. After learing that I’d be giving a talk on the book at the library here in town, I thought it would be wise to, you know, read it.

I’m glad I did. It’s actually quite a gripping story. And if Greg Mortenson is half, or even a quarter, the man he appears to be in the book, then he’s obviously a pretty special guy.

Unless I’m missing something, however, Mortenson isn’t the author. Rather, David Oliver Relin, the second name on the book’s cover, seems to be clearly and unapologetically writing Mortenson’s biography. The book is written in the third person. Nothing is hidden; there’s no ghost-writer here. In the book’s Introduction, Relin, explains just how he came to be interested in Mortenson’s story.

So it puzzles me that Mortenson is listed on the cover as co-author, and I have to admit to feeling a little bothered when I keep hearing that “the author” is coming to campus later this month. Now, I very much look forward to Mortenson’s visit. And I don’t wish to take anything away from somebody who’s lived a life of hardship and sacrifice to promote peace halfway across the globe. But to be fair, the book’s author isn’t coming. The book’s subject is.

A petty distinction?

Not, I’m guessing, if you’re the author.

Michael Kardos is the author of the story collection One Last Good Time, forthcoming in February 2011 from Press 53. While earning his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, he served as Contest Editor for The Missouri Review. He currently co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University. His website is michaelkardos.com.