Book Club and Northern Favorites

Our readers have spoken. Actually, it was only a fraction of our readership, but we appreciate the input. The 49 writers book club will continue as it began, discussing one book per quarter, over the span of a weekend.

Now to choose the book. Five great Alaskan titles were nominated. If we promise this will be the last for awhile, will you humor us with another poll? To the right, please take a second or two to tell us which book you’d like to read this quarter. No obligation. No commitment. Isn’t it great to be online? You can vote on a book but decide not to read it. You can read and participate without voting on the book. Or any other creative combinations of participating or not.

I’ve made a new shelf in the sidebar for our book club selections. Moving your cursor over each book, you can read a summary and reader reviews. The links will take you to Amazon to order if you like. Or visit the great folks at Title Wave in Anchorage – most likely they have these titles in stock. The poll closes in a week, and we’re looking at March 7 and 8 as the book club discussion days.

At the risk of sounding like one of those “but wait!” commercials, we’ve got another great deal for you. Scanning the sidebar, you’ll notice only one lonely book sits on the Northern Favorites shelf. Mine. Not just my selection, but a book I wrote. Can you believe this shameless self-promotion?

That’s our intent. We want the Northern Favorites shelf to overflow with books placed by our readers. Books they love. Books they recommend. Yes, even books they’ve written themselves.

From now till February 14, it’s open season at Northern Favorites. All you have to do is leave a comment on any post, and you get to put one book on the shelf – any title you want, as long as it’s either by a Northern writer or at least partially set in the North. If you’ve already commented, that counts too.

If we were Bill Allen and you were lawmakers, this might be considered a bribe. We prefer to call it positive reinforcement, sort of like what I use to get my boxer puppy to sit and stay. We’re encouraging comments because they infuse this blog with a real sense of community. So post and recommend a book for the shelf. You can either embed the title in your post, as in “Loved your post, Cinthia, and please add XOXOX to the Northern Favorites shelf,” or you can use the contact form (in the sidebar to the right) to send a message, as in “I’ve left a comment at 49 writers; please add XOXOX to the Northern Favorites shelf.” We’ll update the shelf whenever we get around to it or on Fridays – whichever comes first.

To leave a comment, click the pencil icon at the bottom of any post. If you don’t have a Google account, pick the Open ID option. Type your comment, type the CAPTCHA (the Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart, i.e. those crazy letters in the box), and choose whether you’d like an email if someone comments on your comment. Don’t navigate away from the page till you see a message that your comment has been posted.

22 thoughts on “Book Club and Northern Favorites”

  1. Deb,

    Are we talking American / Canadian North, or are we including the Eurasian North? One of my favorite books ever — and the Kurosawa film based on it — is Dersu Usala by Vladimir Arsenjew.

    Aren’t our concerns and perhaps even literary tastes (as Alaskans) closer to Siberians and Scandinavians than to New Yorkers? (Which doesn’t preclude reading the occasional Knopf novel.)

  2. I’m in favor of including everything North. It seems to me that we straddle both sets of concerns – not certain about literary tastes.

  3. Michael, I hope I got the right edition. Shelfari only had a couple to choose from, and one appeared to be a German edition with no tag for blurbing the book.

  4. Awesome, Deb — thanks. Having been labeled a “regional” writer (by agents and publishers), I ‘ve often wondered what distinguishes one regional literature from another (apart from mere geography)and how we define “the North” as a region. Conversely, I’ve wondered how literature that doesn’t have a strong sense of place can be “authentic.” This may sound hairy-chested or parochial, but I feel with ethnobotanist and writer Gary Nabhan, who once quipped that “there’s literature, and there’s urban dysfunctional literature.” (A case could be made, however, that “urban literature” is a regional literature in itself.)

  5. Is it too late to nominate another book? I suggest Blond Indian by Ernestine Hayes. I love that book.

    Thanks and keep up the good work here.

  6. Got it, Amanda. And we’ve got “open season” on the shelf till Feb. 14, so keep the nominations coming.

    Though I tend to write with a strong sense of place myself, I do think there is authentic literature without a sense of place. Much poetry, for starters. My favorite novels (no surprise) have a strong sense of place, but my good friend and well-pubbed YA novelist Gail Giles wrote a couple of great novels in which the setting is more or less irrelevant. Okay, maybe one, since the society of high school is pretty crucial to the other.

    Labels are another issue altogether. Regional mysteries are marketed to a broad market. But my regional kids’ books are marketed mostly to tourists (who BTW buy lots of books), though they get picked up in school and other markets the longer they’re out there, which is why I like my regional publisher – they keep books in print.

    Then there are those agents and publishers who contrast regional with universal, thinking more of market and appeal than a strong sense of place. Here we return to questions of hierarchy posed in one of last weeks posts. In other professions, specializing is a smart career move. In writing, the big rewards fall to work that’s less specialized.

  7. Deb, I’d like to add “Consumption” to the northern favorites. This is a 2008 adult literary novel by Kevin Patterson of Baffin Island, and one of the more unusual (and authentic) modern Arctic tales around, dealing with cultural change and cross cultural conflict (like your story “A Distant Enemy”, and like my “Flight of the Goose”).
    Patterson is a medical doctor who has worked in the Far North rural villages for decades and has a beautiful literary style.
    (I wish I could also post “A Dream in Polar Fog” by our neighboring Chukotka author Yuri Rytkheu; this award-winning historical novel of 2005 is Russian but has more to do with Alaska than New York. Why, my mom can see the headlands of Chukotka from her house…!
    By the way, I just finished “Legend of a Suicide” by Alaskan (born and raised in AK) award-winning author David Vann, and I am still shocked to my core. It takes a lot for a book to do that to me. He is well-deserving of all the critical acclaim, and should be added to your corps of Alaskan writers. The Southeast AK scenes are so true, I can vouch, having also grown up on a fishing boat in the wilds there. His writing made me ponder a question frequently asked at my events: as someone who came from Alaska (and had no say in my origins or choice of habitat) how is my writing different from a writer who moved to Alaska from his or her own volition, usually on some kind of quest – either monetary or idealistic, or in some kind of escape?
    I think a big difference is our general lack of romanticizing.
    More on that later.

  8. Good choices, Amanda and Lesley. Are these blog comments linking up with others? Ernestine Hayes’ is one of those much-needed Alaska Native perspectives, and Kevin Patterson is Canadian, proving, perhaps, that larger thematic circles (and many cross-border readers) exist. (And, isn’t Rytkheu a Siberian Native?)

    As far as Leseley’s comment regarding the Native / native perspective goes, I don’t quite agree — and not just because I’m a Johnny-come-lately. The switching of perspective (by relocating from one place to another)can make you see things that somebody fully immersed in a place, or culture, often cannot, or not to the same degree. (The same argument has been made about cultural anthropologists.) I don’t quite believe that romanticism is the hallmark of only the outsider — there’s enough superficiality and delusion here in the state that is homegrown.

  9. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Hey, thanks for recommending the Vann book, Lesley. I posted about it, then forgot. I find that if I read about a book or hear a recommendation three or four times, then it sticks and I buy the book. I’ll add his website to our blogroll.

  10. Michael, oh yeah, for sure, lots of delusion and superficiality among the homegrown. I didn’t mean by my statement to offend “Outsiders” or imply they all romanticized Alaska. Some do. (In many communities it is nigh impossible to become a non-Outsider anyway, even if you are born/raised in Alaska – a typical child-of-immigrant experience).

    I agree that the outsider offers a valuable, clear-eyed Witness perspective, which is why I love the I-Ching’s constant advice (to me) to be the Wanderer whose center is “from a far place”, to watch the collective activity with that objectivity and not try to fit in.
    And I am not sure I think romanticizing equals superficiality or delusion – to be fair to it, it is a state of mind that in some ways is elevated or spiritual, if you will, in the way Sufis romanticize the connection with God, Wordsworth romanticized the landscape/Nature. It is a passionate perspective I wish I could enjoy more often. The “down to earth” sensibility is so…gritty. Some would say jaundiced or cynical. One set of my parents were Romantics in that old sense of the word, and is the reason they came North. Another set of parents were Native. Maybe my writing springs from that union…or cognitive dissonance.

  11. Hey, you’re right: romanticism is an honorable European tradition — even if, as you point out, other cultures have similar traditions. (There might be differences in tone and practice between mysticism and romanticism, but a discussion of those would lead too far.)

    I absolutely agree about dissonance as a writerly prerequisite; I always think that my raw nerve endings are my most important tool.

    Re: the Vann book. All this talk got me interested, too. Being poor, I looked for it at the Fairbanks libraries (both public and university) and neither had a copy. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in none of the local bookstores either. But the guy got a blurb from Stewart O’Nan (one of my favorites), so there must be something to him. How can somebody fall through the cracks like that in the state about which he writes???

  12. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    How do we miss someone like Vann, with all the Outside awards and publicity he has received? Because we have so little book coverage in this state! Someone should start a blog! 😉

    (And P.S., I’ll add him to my interview list.)

  13. Returning late to this lively discussion…I’ll blame the tree that landed on my roof at 2 a.m. this morning as the major distraction of the day.

    Not to beat the proverbial horse, but the issue of romanticism in both its positive and negative connotations is yet another reason why readers might want to see these books reviewed from a Northern/arctic/Alaskan perspective. Outside reviewers aren’t as likely to pick up on this and other perspectives (though some will).

    I, too, had read Andromeda’s post about Vann’s book and forgotten it. So many books, so little time.

    I’m not sure if I understand your question, Michael, about comments being linked. They show up as separate threads. Andromeda and I check in on them as we can, not wanting to miss any of the dialogue. Of course they’re indexed, if that helps. And we do keep a master list of authors – I’ve added several from this comment thread – to whom we’ll extend periodic email invitations to join in the fun.

    Added the Patterson book, Lesley. Hold that thought on Yuri’s, as we’ll open more slots on the favorites shelf in weeks to come.

  14. Some more venerable recommendations for your Northern Favorites section:

    This Flying North by Jean Potter. Still the best history of early Bush pilots.

    The Klondike Fever by Pierre Berton. No one is ever going to out-research or out-write (or out-entertain) Berton on the Klondike Gold Rush.

    Many Battles by Ernest Gruening. An eyewitness history of the years leading to and just after statehood.

    Two Old Women by Velma Wallis. A clear-eyed look at Athabascan culture through Alaska Native eyes.

    Confederate Raider by Murray Morgan. The last shot fired in the War Between the States was fired in the Aleutians.

    The Thousand-Mile War by Brian Garfield. You-are-there history of World War II in the Aleutians.

    Watch for a Tall White Sail by Margaret E. Bell. Yeah, I know. I read it when I was a kid, what do you want from me?

  15. Great selections! I have to choose one (rules, rules, rules), so I’ll run with the Potter book first. Glad you mentioned them all, though, as more discussion fodder. Someone told me – but to be honest I haven’t checked into it – that some have a beef with Berton. Anyone know about that?

  16. Deb — I wasn’t being literal; just commenting on how many of these stream-of-consciousness posts recirculate and intersect…

  17. Ah, yes, Michael. We’ve been nuts-and-boltsing so much with the blog meld that I’ve got a literal take on everything. Yes, we have great stream-of-consciousness linking. Plus a lot of writers. I’ve been up to my non-literal eyeballs in compiling, with Andromeda’s help, a mailing list of authors. Astounding how many our state has fostered out of a small population.

  18. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Hi Dana, Nice to see you here (and as I’ve mentioned before, you have a great website). Your list of recommended favorites is extremely helpful — thanks!

    Ann C.

  20. Well, I think we have so many writers here because there’s so much time to read and write and think in the winters…

  21. Down time in winter has to help. There are all those studies correlating depression with writing, so maybe SAD even plays into it. Surely someone has studied writers per capita in non-urban areas?

    Good to hear from you, Ann, and adding Two Old Women to the shelf. Thanks for the other recommendations, as well. We’re compiling an impressive list of favorites. I’m tempted to break my own rule and allow multiple submissions to the shelf, but there’s a benefit to the broad range of books we get by limiting to one per author.

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