February 2015


Ten More Books: 14 to 23 (and a look at 24)

I’ve been busy reading – this time Alaskan themed.

Wow—last time I mentioned the number of books that I’d read this year, I was up to 13. Since then, I’ve lost count — although it turns out to be ten more books!

Alaskan Children's Books

Rather than present these in order read – I am going to start with the two paperbound books that I’ve read and then work my way through the rest.

While at the Top of the World Hotel, in Barrow, I picked up two children’s books: (book 14) Kumak’s Fish: A Tall Tale from the Far North and (book 15) Charlie and the Blanket Toss. These are both charming books that are clearly products of the Alaskan experience – and possibly not books I would probably give to children in Germany – or even many other parts of the United States.

That said, Kumak’s Fish is benign: it’s a story about a community coming together around ice fishing. It is, as the title admits, a “tall tale.”

Charlie and the Blanket Toss, on the other hand, gets into trouble with German values on page 1:


Charlie heard his father’s happy shout. He knew what it meant: a whale had given itself to the people.

Page 2 really causes headaches: “Every family in the village would enjoy some fresh boiled whale meat and maktak, the skin and blubber.”

While I’m not a whale hunter (or a hunter in general), I personally don’t have any issues with what the Iñupiat do: it’s a way of life that has happened for thousands of years, and the number of whales they take is few – and the meat is shared across the community, with everything used for something.

The book tells a very nice story with a very nice ending and is well written for a book that targets the youth of northern Alaska.

On the Kindle I tackled two other books based on Alaska, (16) My Name Is Not Easy and (17) “the Alaska Sampler 2014.”

My Name Is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson, is a fine piece of literature, aimed at high school kids. When I say literature, I mean literature. Without a doubt this is the finest book that I am talking about in this blog post – and probably the best book I’ve read so far this year. The book tackles the timeless themes of what happens when white man takes native peoples under their wings to “educate” them. In this case, native Alaskans sent to boarding school where they were forbidden from speaking their native language.

I was caught off guard when I realized Project Chariot was a focal point of the book. This actually relates back to book number 4 of the year, Proving Grounds: Project Plowshare and the Unrealized Dream of Nuclear Earthmoving, and one I read last summer, Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America. (And, I might note, ties directly into my Master’s Thesis on Project Wagon Wheel in Wyoming.)

The book tackles a number of aspects of this cultural clash in a powerful and engaging way, including the unauthorized adoption out of an Alaskan boy to a family in Texas.

My Name Is Not Easy is excellent.

The other Alaskan book, Alaskan Sampler 2014, was a mixed bag. None of the work in the book really spoke to me – at least as far as I can remember right now. That said, the price was right: free. And one can barely object to free books.

I also read (18) Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries – as promised in my last reading update. This book started well, but as it reached material I knew, I started detecting inconsistencies in information and started doubting the quality of the underlying research and writing. Unless you’re reading this for a book club, I probably wouldn’t bother.

Among the other books I read (19) Double Header: My Life with Two Penises, (20) Hold The Line: Inked 1, and (21) Off Campus (Bend or Break). These appealed to my prurient side. Double Header started out fine – due to luck in the womb, Diphallic Dude has two penises – and he has an active sex life. Unfortunately the book is repetitive in the last third, repeating material from the first parts. Glad I read it, no need to re-read it. The other two prurient novels are trashy gay romances. Hold The Line features a marine (I think) who takes a road trip with a friend of his brother; it’s adequate for what it is. Also adequate is Off Campus – not great writing, but not awful either.

I read (22) Safety Tips for Living Alone (part of Electric Literature) after one of my friends mentioned that he was reading it. This is part of a broader discussion about governments that think they know best but forget the laws of nature – in this case, Cold War worries and a tall tower off the coast of Long Island. It’s a well-written, short, book that I would recommend to anybody who blindly trusts authority. Authorities don’t always know what they are doing.

Blindness (book 23) got put on my stack at the recommendation of a colleague. Apparently the book has won some awards. I think it’s trash – it has a very negative view of how people behave and how people learn – if they learn. The societal collapse proposed in the novel seems farfetched at best.

My current book (number 24) is the XYZ Affair – this is a romance novel that I picked up for some reason – probably because it is set in Wyoming, and I am a sucker for anything set in Wyoming. I’m a couple chapters in and it’s not that bad.

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