Saturday, May 31, 2008

Book Review and a reminiscence

At the PLA National Conference, I picked up an advance reading copy of a new book from Milkweed Press. It is Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska by Seth Kanter. It is Seth's second book, the first was a novel. He is a photographer and writer whose work has appeared in many publications.

It is partly a memoir, and partly a reflection on how life on America's last frontier is changing. His parents moved to rural Alaska and lived in an earthen igloo when he was born. There are great stories about his growing up years and his adventures. There are some very touching stories of the native people, and the values and skills he learned from them. There are great photos in the book, many of which he took. [In the ARC, the photos are in black and white, I can only imagine how great they will look in color. The publicist for the book has told me that they are in color in the final copy.

Reading the book brought back a poignant memory for me. When I was about 12 or 13, I met a young man who was growing up in Alaska. His grandparents lived down the street from my family (in Central Massachusetts), and their son came back with his wife and kid for an extended visit. Remember that in the 1960s, it was a very big deal and long trip to go from central Alaska to Central Massachusetts. I don't remember his name. What I do remember is part of what Seth reflects on his his book. This kids was socially pretty awkward. (Yes, even compared to me.) He was easily overwhelmed if there were more than a couple other kids around. (I have seven younger brothers and sisters and grew up in a suburban neighborhood during the Baby Boom. There were *always* lots of kids around.) It has also made me reflect on the differences between how I grew up and how my kids grew up. Besides a difference in environment, the sheer difference in demographics is incredible. On the street I lived on with my kids, they were among the few young ones for most of the time. There were one or two other children, but the neighborhood had not changed yet from the older owners to the younger ones who are there today.

Anyway, I recommend the book. It is a fascinating read and offers insight into a far corner of our country.

1 comment:

  1. While I don't have children, my younger brother is 20 years younger than me. I've often reflected on how different our lives have been. I was born just at the beginning of the 1960s. Every family on our street had 2 or three children, mostly close to the same age. I also had many cousins, as close to me as siblings. By the time my brother was born, this was no longer the norm. While his childhood wasn't lonely by any means, it was filled with adults, rather than with children. This must have shaped him in many ways, ways that I can't even imagine. That's one thing I love in NYC: that you see large groups of children running and playing and enjoying each other, much as was common when I was a child. But I don't see that so much in small towns or in the countryside (where my mother lives and where my brother grew up), where there are simply fewer people than when I was growing up.