I was born and raised in Alaska. My day job is flying a medivac helicopter so I get to view Alaska’s awe-inspiring landscape on a daily basis. Even with all my familiarity with the state, I still love reading regional literature. Why?
Regional literature gives us an opportunity to better understand ourselves. We get a glimpse at our way of being but also a glimpse at the contrast between our unique subculture from those of other parts of the world.
Regional literature also allows us to go beyond generalizations. Are we as Alaskan’s stubbornly independent? Sure, but we’re more than that. We’re gracious and helpful and friendly. We’re curious and attune to our natural surroundings.
Sure, we’ve got our fair share of big name “Outsiders” that attempt to write what Alaska is all about even though they’ve only lived here for brief periods of time. Occasionally we have some authors that haven’t lived here long or recently that give us an insightful look at ourselves. David Vann (Legend of a Suicide, Caribou Island) does this very well.
My favorite go-to picks are the authors who still live in Alaska and the ones that weave their setting into the story, rather than forcing it upon the reader in an, “I’m going to teach you about this place,” kind of way. These books have a great story and the place, albeit integral, doesn’t dominate.
Eowyn Ivey’s, The Snow Child is a perfect example. It tells the story of Jack and Mabel, two homesteaders in the early 1920’s as they work the land and long for the child they never had.
For mystery lovers, Mike Doogan and Dana Stabenow are great. I’d love to be as bad-ass as Stabenow’s detective Kate Shugak.
Even non-fiction can tell a story about a place without directly focusing on it. Nick Jans (The Last Light Breaking) and Heather Lende (If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name and Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs) do this well. Heather writes about small town life in Haines, Alaska. She is an obituary writer, which sounds totally morbid, but Heather brings humanization and joy to death and grieving.
Ned Rozell (Walking My Dog, Jane), gives us words to explain to our friends and family from the Lower 48 why Alaska captivates us.
Even better is that with Alaska’s small population, these authors are approachable and it isn’t uncommon to see them at local events. I even shared a teary moment with Heather Lende about my Dad’s passing in a bathroom in Homer. This summer, if I'm not outside enjoying Alaska, I'll be reading about it.
Your turn: What are some regional titles from your area that give a glimpse at life in your part of the world?