This summer our extended family is going on an Alaskan cruise! There will be 20 of us and we will be celebrating some important milestones on this trip, from birthdays (80 and 90 years old) to a big 60th wedding anniversary! Many hours of effort by other members of the family have been devoted to the planning of this trip, from T-shirts to dinner configurations and many other details that will all contribute to making this an eventful and memorable trip.
So in honor of our trip to Alaska I am offering the following suggestions for our reading pleasure. Although I have not read all of these books, I have carefully chosen them because they were either award winners, their authors are known to be good writers, or they were recommended by trusted sources. So let’s begin.
Evidently you cannot go on a trip to Alaska without having read Call of the Wild (1903) or White Fang (1906) by Jack London (1876-1916) which are both set in the Yukon Territories during the Alskan gold rush. Both of these classic books were on every list I consulted in trying to come up with my own.
As a young girl my dad read an abridged version of Call of the Wild to me. It was the most excruciatingly sad and intense story I had ever encountered. I was both driven to learn what happened next to this amazing dog named Buck, who after being abducted from a safe and loving home must learn how to fend for himself in the wilds of Alaska, and terrified that it might be too painful to find out. I remember tears rolling down my face and my dad asking me if I wanted him to stop reading, and sobbing, “No, don’t stop!” London’s themes of survival of the fittest, and descriptions of life outside the rules and niceties of civilized society are not sugar coated but presented in all their raw, shocking, honesty.
For the younger members of the family Julie of the Wolves, a Newbery Medal Award winner by Jean Craighead George is a more nuanced story which also talks about animals and their relationship to people. It is child’s classic about an Eskimo girl lost on the Alaskan tundra and her friendship with a pack of wolves based on George’s own experiences in Alaska with a wolf researcher. I know my daughters read and enjoyed this book when they were in elementary school. Julie and Julie’s Wolf Pack continue the story.
More recently, Nick Jans wrote a book called A Wolf Named Romeo, about the true life experiences of a large wild wolf who began to periodically visit the people of suburban Juneau, Alaska over the course of six years. Based on his own initial encounter with this wolf in 2004, Jans an award winning writer and photographer narrates the story of this unique wolf who defied the norms of wolf behavior and befriended first the dogs and then the people on the outskirts of Juneau. Jans intersperses the story of Romeo with his vast knowledge of wolves and the natural environment of Alaska which gives us added insight into how rare and special this encounter with a wolf was to the people and dogs of Juneau.
Finally, here are two books that actually talk about what it is like to live in Alaska. The first is Winds of Skilak, a first hand account of a young couple who moved from the suburbs of Ohio to Skilak Lake, Alaska. There they must learn how to survive the cold and isolation and learn to cope without electricity or running water. Winner of the 2014 Indie Award in the memoir category and a finalist for USA’s Book of the Year for 2014, this book tells what it is really like to live day to day in the Alaskan wilderness.
The second book by NPR contributor and author, Heather Lende is entitled If You Lived Here I Would Know Your Name. Lende lives in Tiny Haines Alaska, 90 miles north of Juneau which is accessible mainly by water or air-when the weather is good. Lende writes the social column and the obituaries for the local newspaper and thus can be counted on to know everything that is going on in the town. Chatty and insightful, Lende gives us glimpses into what life is like in a small town in the middle of no where, from the high school principle who moonlights as Roy Orbison or the the community’s mourning the life of a civic minded “aging hippie,” who gave so much, we are reminded how relationships and connections are the glue that holds us all together.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog, when I will offer some more award winning fiction set in Alaska! Hope you are getting excited about our trip, like I am!