Some of these books were the first steps I took on my “traveling” journey to Alaska.
The Dreamy Land of Alaska
Pack of wolves roams through snow-dusted tundra, desperately sniffing the air in an attempt to catch the smell of a now white hare or swift mouse. But the air is crisp. A fresh gust that cuts to the bones doesn’t reveal any odor of the potential prey. At this time of the year, the frozen tundra of Canada reminds of a laboratory where every tool needed for survival – air, land, soil – is “sterilized”. Even footprints get wiped out by a new layer of snow in minutes.
Yet there is something strange in the air this time. Something strong and weak at the same time. Something that promises a “feast” to the haft-wasted wolves…
Interestingly, a short story that started my journey to Alaska through books was set in the depth of the Canadian tundra, not the northernmost state of the USA. Love of Life by Jack London wasn’t even my preferred choice for the literary genre. It landed in my hands as a mandatory reading at school.
Yet in the mind of an avid fan of Alaska, the winter scenes so vividly depicted in the novel were inevitably linked to the vast wilderness of the Last Frontier.
A Long Journey to Alaska Through Books
Within the next few weeks, I read every novel by Jack London I could find in our home library. Exposing human strengths and weaknesses, loyalty and betrayal, some of these books did transport me to Alaska. With every new read, my dream of traveling to this mysterious land grew stronger.
Over the years, many more books have fueled my yearning for Alaska. Yet it took some twenty years until an airplane I had boarded in Los Angeles touched the ground of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
Finally Alaska I had known for so long from a myriad of classics, memoirs, tales, and mostly fiction presented itself in all its glory.
If you gravitate toward a “safer” way of travel, similar to what I’ve had for years, check out my list of books one should read before planning a trip to Alaska. Pick a book or two from this reading list even if you’re just pondering if the Last Frontier, a still mostly unsettled state, is the right place to visit for you.
THE BEST BOOKS TO READ BEFORE TRAVELING TO ALASKA
1. Two Old Women
An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis
Alaska doesn’t favor the weak and old. Its partiality is especially apparent in winter when the survival of the entire tribe depends on vigor and robustness.
Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’, two of the oldest members, don’t show either of these qualities. Their contributions to the tribe are also minimal. But complaints, the two women feel entitled to because of their advanced years, are endless.
The women can’t be more different. Their old age and belonging to the same tribe are the closest things they have in common.
When another harsh winter, colder than the tribe has ever seen, rolls around, the elders decide to leave the old women behind. Once depended entirely on the tribe, Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’ are on their own now. They must summon all their wisdom and remaining strengths to survive or die trying.
The book Two Old Women is based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed down from mothers to daughters of the Yukon River Valley in Alaska. Short and rather shocking, it’s a great read to learn more about the Alaskan Native communities and their cultures.
2. North to Alaska
A book set in Alaska by Debbie Macomber
The book North to Alaska includes two fiction stories. For a change, the state is portrayed in spring, when greenery spans miles upon miles and warmer air invigorates every cell of the main characters.
In That Wintry Feeling, Cathy Thompson flees to Alaska after her fiancé marries her sister. Shortly after the wedding, a teaching job that Cathy had applied for a while ago is offered. The woman accepts the position as a ticket to her new life, away from people she loves and places that still remind her of the betrayal. The Last Frontier surprises the main heroine with both its vast landscapes and new friendships that change her life.
Similar to Cathy Thompson, Carly Grieves in Borrowed Dreams moves to Alaska for a job, motivated by a promise of adventure, rather than an escape. On the first day at work, she meets Brand St. Clair, a widower with two children. Carly finds the man attractive, but can’t stop thinking that he is still deeply in love with his late wife
3. A Place Beyond: Finding Home in Arctic Alaska
A book about Alaskan vast wilderness by Nick Jans
A Place Beyond is a collection of 28 essays about life in Alaska’s Arctic region. In his adopted way of describing Northwestern Alaska, Nick Jans gravitates toward “words not big enough, but small enough for a landscape and a place without end.”
Each essay talks about daily life in Arctic Alaska. A life that is nothing short of one big, continuous adventure, sprinkled with Iñupiaq traditions, unexpected wildlife encounters, and irresistible beauty of the Last Frontier.
4. Call of the Wild
A classic book set in Alaska by Jack London
Jack London’s affection for Alaska is embedded in his books. London’s novels are intertwined with complicated relationships between his characters, their desires and impulses that inevitably subordinate to the calling of nature.
In his true fashion, London devotes the whole book, Call of the Wild, to the vast Alaskan wilderness and “residents” that are a large part of it.
The husky named Buck is, however, not a native. The dog is stolen from his home in California and sent north to serve as a sled dog. In his new home, Buck learns how to survive cold winter nights, live as a member of a pack, and eventually leads his team along the arduous Yukon Trail.
The brutality and beauty of Alaska are undeniable. Challenges it presents seem often insurmountable. But there is something that both alerts and beckons Buck. Something that pulls him deeper into the Alaska wilderness. Eventually, the call is so loud that Buck can’t ignore it any longer and joins the pack of wild wolves.
The book Call of the Wild is a pure illustration of a pioneer’s spirit that is eager to conquer Alaska, but in the end gets conquered by it.
5. The Snow Child
A book about struggles and loneliness in isolated Alaska by Eowyn Ivey
Jack and Mabel are a homesteading couple, just recently arrived in Alaska. A new place is supposed to bring some comfort and enjoyment to the family. Instead, the couple is drifting apart. Jack can barely handle the load of the work. Isolation and loneliness of Alaska slowly strangle Mabel.
Life in the Alaskan wilderness takes an unexpected turn when a little girl, Faina, steps into the family’s life.
Vividly describing isolation and struggles brought by long winters in Alaska, the book The Snow Child draws inspiration from a Russian fairy tale Snegurochka. The author found this little paperback in a children’s book section and instantly knew it was a perfect story for her to tell. A story that would include the dreamy landscapes of her Alaska along with a magical spark Eowyn had always been drawn to.
6. Lonesome for Bears: A Woman’s Journey In The Tracks of the Wilderness
A book from the Alaskan expert and guide Linda Jo Hunter
Bears… Such fascinating and frightening members of Alaskan wildlife. You long to see and maybe even take a picture of them, but are scared to face them in real life.
The fear of bears holds a tight grip on the author of the book Lonesome for Bears for a long while. Like a massive mountain, it barricades too many trails Linda Hunter wants to take as a solo adventurer.
Once the lure of the great outdoors overpowers the fear, the woman begins to study behavior of bears in the wild and safety around them. She ends us becoming a guide and expert on black bears.
Whether you love or loathe to meet these awfully misunderstood creatures in Alaska, Linda Hunter’s book will show you how to stay safe around the bears and keep the animals safe as well.
7. The Great Alone
A fiction book set in Alaska by Kristin Hannah
Even if it spares a man from death, the Vietnam War changes him in the way one can’t fathom. Ernt Allbright comes home as a stranger, a volatile man his wife is yet to know. After a series of setbacks, Ernt makes a hasty decision to move his family to Alaska.
Cora can endure anything with the man she loves by her side. Their 13-year old daughter, Leni, has no other choice but to go along.
The life in a remote corner of Alaska pleasantly surprises the family. Long summer days and the generosity of locals gives hope. But the newly-found happiness shatters into small pieces when the seasons change. Eighteen-hour nights dim the light not only outside, but also inside. As Ernt’s mental state deteriorates, Leni and her mother find themselves “alone”.
The Great Alone is a book that forces you to look into the face of the harsh Alaskan winter and learn to live through it.