REVIEW - ALASKA READER
Hanley, Anne and Carolyn Kremers, editors. The Alaska Reader: Voices From the North. Fulcrum Publishing. Softbound. 284 pages. $18.95.
Here’s the plan. You want to make a compilation of the best writing about Alaska. These will have to be short essays or excerpts from books, or you will have at least a 40 volume set.
The editors, both from Fairbanks, decided to set up categories that describe Alaska and pick selections that express each one. They start with “Children of Dreamers”, move on to “Taking Risks, Confronting Consequences” (that’s an excellent subject), “Transformations” and “Naming and Unaming”, then the obligatory “Finding Self and Spirit” and “Feminine and Masculine Unbound”and winding up with “Alaska as a Parable for the Future”.
There’s a mix of white and Native voices, writers long dead like John Muir and James Wickersham, and current authors; Velma Wallis rubs elbows with Charles Wohlforth. There are poets such as Sheila Nickerson and Nora Marks Dauenhauer. The editors try to be geographically diverse, although Fairbanks and the Interior seem slightly the most worthy. Oddly, the town that has half the population of the state is ignored, other than the bitter elegy Howard Weaver, lifelong Anchoragite and longtime newspaperman wrote about the entire state he left. That either shows ignorance or that the rest of the state is right about the identity of Anchorage.
This type of book is great fun for those interested in Alaska writing. First a scan of the contributors, looking for your favorites. Not finding one is as entertaining as seeing some you like; you form a letter of protest to the editors as you hunt. If your personal preferred authors are included, there are still the selections. Another snort of happy dismissal if a piece you consider inferior to your pick was chosen.
If the editors are smart, of course, they will write diplomatically (or perhaps not, depending on the day and time) that you are welcome to put together your own anthology.
Of the authors and selections in this book, this reviewer has to admit some personal favorites, some surprises, a few writers she would not have chosen, some charming essays she didn’t know. In other words, no letters of protest from here.
The price is fine, the layout good, and the editing excellent. Buy a copy and form your own conclusions.