Bulletin from the Last Frontier

Blogging from Alaska? That can be done. Blogging from Denali? Well, that turns out to be a bit trickier – us east coasters are not used to seeing the words “No Service” pop up on our phones so frequently. And hotels without wifi service – well I never! But, in truth, it’s been refreshing to unplug for a while. Between grizzly sightings (from the safety of the shuttle bus!) and amazing, solitary hikes surrounded by the quiet of millions of acres of Denali wilderness, I also managed to finish several books from my library.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven, The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (a favorite author of mine), and Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers all got consumed in quick succession on this trip. I’ve also been making my way through Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat (how wonderful she is! I never knew).

And my father lent me a little nonfiction book called Great Plains Literature by Linda Ray Pratt, which is a survey of, well, literature of the great plains (if you couldn’t guess). She mentions a lot of writers that I now mean to check out when I get back home.

I was a little ambitious on this trip and also packed Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehman, but I expect I’ll have to wait until I get home to dive into that one, since Krik? Krak! will probably not be completed until the final plane ride home.

While standing in the Denali Bookstore today, I wondered – could there be any 20th century women’s fiction available here? And indeed there was. Under the section People of Denali, a book called Two Old Women, “an Alaskan legend of betrayal, courage, and survival” by Velma Wallis was waiting for me to find it!

Velma Wallis is not unknown to me, as my father had bought me her memoir Raising Ourselves of her childhood growing up in Fort Yukon. So I was excited to find an Alaskan fiction author to add to my library.

In fact, it started me thinking – could it be possible to have all 50 states (and the district) represented in the women’s library, while still maintaining a high level of quality? That’s always something I think about when building up this library – I want the books represented to be great books that people would want to read, and not just be any old books just thrown in there.

That always, of course, begs the question (or rather questions) – who decides what is good? Who decides what is great? What criteria should I use for deciding what I put in my library? Does a book have to be “literature”? It seems we’ve had enough snooty book lists to last several lifetimes, and we don’t need any more; but then again, if the books aren’t great, why bother collecting them?

But back to the question of representing all the states – I still think it’s a compelling idea. While this library is not a purely American collection, I like the idea of ensuring that writers from all over are represented and not just writers from California, New York, and England. So I’m going to keep a particular eye on place and see if I can ensure that all areas of the U.S. are represented over time.

Something I didn’t add to my FAQs but I’ve been asked before is actually a question about place, which is the question of will I collect international women writers as well. The answer is yes! But I wish I were more of an expert on the subject.

I am familiar with a few international writers – I’ve read Clarice Lispector, Simone de Beauvoir, Anais Nin, Marguerite Yourcenar and Marguerite Duras, all in translation though – I unfortunately can’t enjoy any of them in their native languages. I own Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel as well, and hope to read them soon. But I hope that this project will introduce me to more international women fiction writers that I wasn’t familiar with before. Suggestions always welcome.

In the meantime, I’ll be finishing up the Alaska trip with some more reliable internet service and then with a long plane ride for more reading catch-up – blissful!

4 thoughts on “Bulletin from the Last Frontier

  1. Off the top of my head, what comes to mind is some post-colonial literature from French classes in college. Check out Maryse Condé from Guadeloupe and Mariama Bâ from Senegal!

    Hope you’ve enjoyed your time in Alaska!

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  2. Your idea of collecting women writers from all 50 states, as well as internationally, reminded me of Ann Morgan and her quest to “read the world”. You might find some interesting international writers on her blog: A year of reading the world. Will you publish your list?

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    1. I need to check out Ann Morgan’s blog – thank you for the tip, Karen! I want to publish my list somewhere on the blog soon, just looking for an elegant, organized way to do it that’s not just a link to a Google doc spreadsheet :).

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