Coming Into the Country
by John McPhee
Cover Price: $15.00 (Trade Paperback)
My Price: $1.00 (Huntsville Friends of the Library Bookstore)
My library's copy has yellowed pages and the spine is broken in several places. In the small used bookstore at the entrance to the library, I found a gently used copy for $1.00. It is paperback, has a small mushed area on the bottom of the spine, but is full of crisp and clean pages.
Before I began reading, I made a decision. This was going to be an interactive book. Most of my books are still in their original, great condition. But every now and then, I find a book that pulls me to highlight passages, print notes or definitions in the margins, and bookmark pages with brightly colored tabs. There were several benefits to taking this approach with Coming Into the Country. Interacting with the text kept me alert during long night readings. And if I happen to use this book in a class, I will already have key passages pinpointed. This is a book I will definitely read again, so I can use a different color pen for future readings and compare future notes with the passages that resonated with me before I ever entered Alaska.
The language is wonderful. It is so fun to read. Never having been to Alaska before, I have no idea how closely these observations mirror reality. But the words are lovely either way. Some samples:
pg. 54-55. They (game trails) were highways, share and share alike, for caribou, moose, bears, wolves - whose tracks, antlers, and feces were strewn along the right-of-way like beer cans at the edge of a road.
pg. 212 When you drive along an old back road in the Lower Forty-eight and come upon a yard full of manufactured debris, where auto engines hang from oak limbs over dark tarry spots on the ground and fuel drums lean up against iron bathtubs near vine-covered glassless automobiles that are rusting down into the soil, you have come upon a fragment of Alaska. The people inside are Alaskans who have not yet left for the north.
pg. 409 I profoundly wish it were winter. The country has seemed more friendly to me then, all the bears staring up at the ceilings of their dens. The landscape is softened, in illusion less rough and severe - the frozen rivers flat and quiet where the waves of rapids had been.
This one is going in my suitcase.