This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland

Book cover: This Cold Heaven by Gretel EhrlichIt was only during the last century or so that any outsider truly set out to record the culture and traditions of native Greenlanders. The person who gets (and deserves) most of the credit is Knud Rasmussen, who was determined to record as many oral histories, songs, and stories as he could; he and his polar exploration team set out during the early 1900s and, over the course of seven different expeditions, made their way across Greenland and over to Alaska. His notes and journals are now treasured sources that researchers utilize to this day.

From 1993 to 1999, Gretel Ehrlich traveled solo to Greenland, traveling paths few outsiders ever take, oftentimes traveling the same lonely paths that Rasmussen and his crew took. She was there so long that she got to experience the country during every season, from the sunless days to the sun-filled nights. She traveled by dogsled with experienced hunters, tagging along for hunts — everything from seals to polar bears — and experienced the same threats they did: falling through thin ice, snowblindess, hunger, blizzards. Like Rasmussen, she collected people’s stories and recorded their modern-day struggles.

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Véra: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov

Book cover: Véra (Mrs.Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacy SchiffStacy Schiff’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography has been sitting on my shelves for the better part of a decade now. I picked up a battered used copy ages ago, dipped into a few pages, loved it…and then put it aside because life. Now, having finally returned to it, it’s been one of the bookish highlights of my summer.

Véra and Vladimir Nabokov’s relationship is legendary. Though Vladimir had dalliances with other women and was undoubtedly a difficult person to live with, the two seemed destined to be together: both were intellectual giants — Véra supposedly read War and Peace at age 3; Vladimir at age 6 — were multilingual and worldly, and were even born with the same neurological phenomenon of synesthesia. Vladimir was poised for greatness early on, and Véra understood and accepted that her role was to do everything to make that happen.

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The Call of the Wild

6992375Jack London’s The Call of the Wild has been on my radar for as long as I can remember, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been hesitant to read it because of the whole animal cruelty thing. But I’ve been quilting up a storm over the summer while listening to audiobooks, and I discovered that Jeff Daniels narrated one of the many versions of this novel that exist, so I finally dove in.

The book is told from the perspective of Buck, a loyal dog in a wealthy Santa Clara family. He’s obedient in his role as the family’s protector, and he has never known cruelty. But it’s the turn of the century and the gold rush is exploding in Alaska. Large dog breeds are in high demand and Buck is kidnapped and sold up north as a sled dog. There, he faces the brutality of being broken in and learning his place within his new pack.

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