alaska: books i read before and after

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Race Across Alaska: First Woman to Win the Iditarod Tells Her Story – Libby Riddles: this is, of course, a classic read, set in a really interesting type style – Riddles tells her story in wide columns on the outside edges of the print book, and her co-writer provides technical information about the race in general and in specific in this year in smaller type and narrower columns set against the spine. Want to know more about mushing? This is the read. Riddles is interesting without being overly sentimental, and I devoured this on the plane to Minneapolis. (We got to meet her on the cruise ship and I was an embarrassing fangirl. She was lovely. When I asked, she named at least half a dozen women who could be the next to win the Iditarod, and it made me happy in an of-course-women-can-do-this feminist way.)

The Sun Is A Compass: A 4000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds – Carolina Van Hemert: another travelogue, this is a tale of a marriage and a voyage – Van Hemert and her husband make their way, under their own power whether it by rowing or hiking, across, well, 4000 miles of Alaska. Van Hemert is a biologist whose work slots nicely into the story of their trip.

Tip of the Iceberg: My 3000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier – Mark Adams: I legitimately bought this in the airport before we flew to Minneapolis on our first leg of travel to Seattle, because it was there and it said Alaska and I was afraid I didn’t have enough books to read. (Spoiler alert: I had too many.) Adams follows the path of the 1899 Harriman expedition (you might know it because John Muir traveled with him and later wrote about it, see below) to see what’s the same, what’s changed, and what Alaska might face in the future. This was a wonderful read, with a great balance between history and Adams’ own escapades. And it had a wonderful reading list in the back, which means I am going to read about Alaska forever.

If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name – Heather Lende: a series of essays about Lende’s life in Haines, the town at the top of the Inside Passage; her conversational tone and the sheer beauty and weirdness and sadness of small, small town Alaska life shines through. She doesn’t shy away from death and loss just as she doesn’t shy away from what makes this life so great. Also it has a moose on the cover.

And She Was – Cindy Dyson: A strange and lovely novel about a young white woman who follows a man to the Aleutian Islands, and how her life intersects with the lives of the Alaska Native women who have lived on the islands for hundreds of years. Some magical realism and some lovely writing.

My Name Is Not Easy – Debby Dahl Edwardson: an award-nominated juvenile fiction book about Alaska Native children taken from their villages and educated at Catholic boarding schools. Spanning several years and a number of events, including the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, this isn’t perfect but it is interesting and worth reading. Edwardson based the story on the experiences of her husband and his siblings, and the emotional beats ring true even when the writing is a bit stilted.

Coming In The Country – John McPhee: I haven’t gotten all the way through this, but it’s the one that every Alaska native (different from Alaska Native) says is the best book about Alaska written by a non-Alaskan. I’m about a quarter of the way in – I’m fond of McPhee anyway – and it’s as good as they say.

I have a ton more on my to-read list, but these are the ones I can offer opinions on to date.

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