Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sled Dog Trails

Sled Dog Trails

by Mary Shields

Illustrations by Nancy van Veenen

ISBN: 0882402587

127 pages

paperback - $8.95

Mike found this book at our local Friends of the Library bookstore. We were looking through the traveling section, and he found this on the shelf above where I was looking. An unexpected bonus of having a tall boyfriend! Immediately, I could tell I was going to like this book. Her pigtail braids, her frank smile, and the cool illustrations on the bottom of the cover all signaled that this is a person whose life stories will interest me.

Then I look at the inside cover and see this:

And it's signed by the author!

The book is in great shape. The pages aren't yellowed and the spine is sturdy. There is a small black smudge on the back cover, but it would probably come off with some Goo Gone. The bookstore is usually pretty pricey for my standards - a paperback in ok condition is at least $1.00 and usually more. So I was surprised to see that this perfect condition, signed paperback was only 50 cents!! Woot!

The writing in this book is excellent. Here is a taste from the Introduction:

There is comfort in having a piece of home with you, one hundred miles from the nearest cabin in the middle of a February snowstorm in Alaska. The wood of this sled once stood as the straightest-growing birch tree, down by the creek near the home cabin. For 50 years the sapling reached toward the sun and listened to the wind, but swayed only a few feet from where its roots took hold. Fancy that wooden spirit enjoying all this exploring, all this traveling, taking in the sights and sounds of foreign forests. Perhaps at night, long after you are asleep, your vagabond sled creaks tales to the eager seedlings encircling your camp.

Yes. I like this book very much. The first half of this book is my favorite. Mary talks about discovering her love of Alaska and dog sledding. She also talks about how she became the first woman to complete the Iditarod. The last half has some interesting sled dog trips, but for me the excitement was in the first half. Maybe I will enjoy the second half more once I have spent some time in Alaska.

Another wonderful suprise about this book is the illustrations by Nancy van Veenen.

They too, are not as present in the later half of the book. But I enjoyed them very much wherever they appeared.

Overall: Worth 50 cents and worth the cover price. A book to buy and love, and maybe someday follow the trails Mary made.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Alaska 24/7

Alaska 24/7: Amazing Photographs of an Extraordinary State
Created by Rick Smolan and David Elliot Cohen
ISBN: 0756600413
192 pages
Cover price: $24.95

I've passed by the 24/7 state books at the bookstore, but they never appealed to me. The Elementary School cover design, the phrase "24/7", and the disproportionate size to number of pages all put me off. But there aren't many books on Alaska at the Huntsville Public Library, so I decided to give this one a try.

The photographs, especially in the first half, are interesting and fun. The captions are informative and concise. My only complaint is the format. Thumbnails span the top margin of the pages, with large photographs completing the rest of the page. So, on each page I would pull the book closer to my face to try and discern the thumbnails, then pull the book back to see the larger pictures, then pull the book closer again to read the caption for the main photos. That is a lot of movement for a large, hardbound book. On some of the photos, it is great to see them so enlarged as to cover an entire page, or even two pages. But there are so many pictures that are only small thumbnails at the top of the pages. I would have traded in the giant photos for more medium-sized ones.

Overall: Good to check-out from the library, but I wouldn't pay for a copy of my own.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Braving Alaska

braving alaska

Braving Alaska: Experience Life in America's Last Frontier
by The National Geographic Society
ISBN: 0800137752
Length: 60 minutes
Published: 1992

This is the first good non-fiction video I've seen of Alaska. Narrated by Martin Sheen, we get a brief glimpse of the lives of several families living in the Bush.

Some awesome moments:
  • Kick Ass Beaver Trap - I wish they had gone into more detail on how this is done. A man pushes some snow and squares of what looks like cardboard away, reaches in a dark hole by the frozen river, and pulls out a beaver. He quickly rubs snow over the beaver's wet fur, and suddenly the fur is dry and lovely in the wind.
  • Self-Sufficient 15 year old girl - Traveling with her sled team, checking her traps, staying overnight miles away from her family's cabin - I admire her and feel so inept in comparison.
  • Last Moments of a Caribou and a Moose - Cleanly shot and moments later the fur is off and enormous legs are being laid on a sheet of canvas. It is jarring, but real. There is no comparison between this and travel vids of Skagway & Co.

Overall: Definitely worth checking out from your local library. There's no dearth of beautiful scenery, but the humans of this environment are the most interesting aspect.

And Onward: I want to read the book that continues the story of one of these families, The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in the Arctic Wilderness by James Campbell.