A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor
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The mere brute pleasure of reading—
the sort of pleasure a cow must have in grazing.
~ G. K. Chesterton ~

Reading Recommendations from:

The English major down the street
Your cruise naturalists: Natalie Springuel, Rich and Rob MacDonald
Robin's List, for Kids
Alaska State and Public Librarian's List

The English major down the street

Fiction, poetry, nonfiction - take your pick. Make yourself some buttered popcorn and a cup of something warm, and read on into the night:

The Last Light Breaking, by Nick Jans.
Wonderful book. He is from the "outside", which is what Alaskans call anywhere but Alaska. He was a teacher in some remote village, and decided to stay in Alaska. This well-written book will give you a lot of insight into the region.

Alaska, by James Michener.
An epic, historical novel. It should be right up there on your list. It is long -- the longest book you may ever read -- but it is one of those books you'll have a heck of a time putting down.

Chilkoot Pass, by Archie Satterfield.
Not as well written as the Jans book, it tells the story of Chilkoot Pass, the trail used by gold seekers along the Klondike. It deals with a pretty significant period in Alaska history.

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London.
This is the story of Buck, a sled dog in the Klondike, and his journey of transformation. You've probably read this one. If not, do. If so, read up on London's life. He said, "I'd rather be ashes than dust" and when he died at age 40, he'd written over fifty books.

One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey, by Sam Keith.
From the journals and photographs of Richard Proenneke - who gave up the grind of working overtime for a life in the woods. This book was out of print for a while, but it's back. I haven't gotten all the way through it yet, but it was big when it debuted in 1973 and it's pretty good so far.

Alaska Women Write, by Dana Stabenow.
This a collection of true stories about life in Alaska written by women who live there, including "If You Ain't Scared You Ain't Having Fun" and "Fishing: A Love Story" and "The Blizzard" and "My One-Night Stand with the Air."

Rhymes of a Rolling Stone, by Robert W. Service.
This book was written in a little cabin in the Yukon after Service moved from New York City where he published The Trail of '98 and before he became a war correspondent in the Balkan War. Some good poems in here.

If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska, by Heather Lende.
This book is just plain charming. Lende is a reporter in the small, small town of Haines, Alaska. For real. Think Spoon River Anthology, only most of the people are alive and there are weddings and baptisms and not a stoplight in town.

Sheila Nickerson is a former Poet Laureate of Alaska and has written a bunch of books, poems, and essays about Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. She was young when she began to write, and has been a poet all of her adult life. She is author of the acclaimed works, Feast of the Animals: An Alaska Bestiary and Disappearance: A Map. I would suggest one of her newer books, Grrrr — an anthology of bear poems.

Poet and nature essayist John Haines wrote a memoir called, The Stars, the Snow, the Fire: Twenty-Five Years in the Northern Wilderness. This book is made up of already published essays on life in the Alaskan wilderness where Haines spent more than twenty years homesteading. Each essay stands on its own, but they all include thoughts on change in the wilderness.

Your cruise naturalists

Natalie Springuel, Rich MacDonald, and Rob MacDonald, your cruise naturalists, have a few ideas for those with passions for both literature and natural history:


Travels in Alaska, by John Muir.

Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land, by Walter R. Borneman.
From Russian fur traders to the Gold Rush, extraordinary railroads, World War II, the oil boom, and the fight over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, this is an excellent history of Alaska, the 49th state, Seward's Folly.

The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, by Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard I. Chapelle.

Baidarka, by George Dyson.
Long before the first Europeans came to North America, the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and Subarctic perfected a method of efficient water travel: the kayak. These two books explore the rich history of the kayak.

Coming into the Country, by John McPhee.
Classic McPhee (and one of Rich's favorites), this book explores the people and places of Seward's Folly.

Frigid Embrace: Politics, Economics and Environment in Alaska, by Stephen Haycox.
This historical commentary explores how the Alaskan settlers' view of their environment has shaped their relationship with native people and the last frontier. Haycox's probes into the mindset of pioneer Alaska, the effect of major federal land protection legislation, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, timber management in the Southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest and the ongoing debacle over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Natalie couldn't put this one down).

Of Wolves and Men, by Barry Lopez.
Two animals personify Alaska: the Grizzly (or Brown) Bear and the wolf. This is some of the best prose on the wolf.

Where the Sea Breaks Its Back, by Corey Ford.
The epic story of early naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709-1742) and the Russian exploration of Alaska. Steller was the first naturalist to document the wildlife of Alaska's coast. Several species are named after him, including the Steller's sea lion, which occurs along our cruise route.

Passage to Juneau, A Sea and Its Meanings, by Jonathan Raban.
The author takes his 35-foot sailboat 1,000 miles along the Inside Passage from Seattle to Juneau and dives into the region's history, environment and culture. A good read.

Travelers' Tales Alaska, Edited by Sherwonit, Romano-Lax, and Bielawski.
A collection of Alaska stories by some of the best contemporary adventure writers including John Krakauer, Tim Cahill, and Pam Houston.

Bear Encounter Survival Guide, by James Gary Shelton, and Bear Attacks, Their Causes and Avoidance, by Stephen Herrero.
A big part of Rob's love of Alaska is seeing bears frequently. These two books give good background information of bear behavior and bear safety to prepare anyone for their bear experiences.

Ravens in Winter, by Bernd Heinrich.
Although Bernd's work takes place in Maine, this is a good reference for Rob's favorite bird, the Common Raven.

Track of the Kodiak and Pinnell and Talifson: Last of the great Brown Bear Men, both by Marvin Clark, Jr.
These two books give great accounts of the old days hunting brown bears on Kodiak Island (Rob's favorite books in the world).

Bush Pilot, by Pierre Rivest.
A book with extensive tips and techniques for remote flying on wheels, skis, or floats.

Natural History

A Birder's Guide to Alaska, by George C. West.
If you want to add birds to your life-list, you have two choices: stay close to cruise naturalist brothers Rich and Rob MacDonald, or get this book. This weighty tome is the definitive guide on where to find birds in Alaska.

Guide to the Birds of Alaska, by Robert H. Armstrong.

The Nature of Southeast Alaska, by Rita M. O'Clair, Robert H. Armstrong, and Richard Carstensen.
This book offers a broad view of the landscape ecology, zoology-mammals, birds, fish, and invertebrates-botany, and fungi and lichens. One of our few criticisms of this book is its emphasis on a Clementsian view of ecological succession, a theory not entirely subscribed to by cruise naturalists Rich and Natalie.

Guide to Marine Mammals of Alaska, by Kate Wynne.
This is the best and most comprehensive of the Alaska-specific marine mammal guides. It is also field-friendly with a spiral binding.

Whales and other Marine Mammals of British Columbia and Alaska, by Tamara Eder.
A good introduction to the marine mammals of the region.

Guide to Marine Mammals of the World, National Audubon Society.
This is Natalie's favorite marine mammal field guide. This fat tome covers the seals, otters and whales of the world (including that marine carnivore: the polar bear, which does not occur in our cruise region) with excellent maps, photos and species comparison diagrams to help you zero in on what we might see during the cruise.

Walker's Mammals of the World, Volumes I and II, by Ronald Nowak.
This two-volume set contains species accounts for over 1,100 genera of mammals. Roger Tory Peterson is quoted as calling these volumes "An absolute treasure trove. A must for the working naturalist as well as for any person who has curiosity about the world's mammals."

Pacific Salmon Life Histories, edited by C. Groot and L. Margolis.
This book gives detailed descriptions of the seven Pacific salmon life histories and is a wealth of biological information.

Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories, A Manual of the Vascular Plants, by Eric Hulten.
This book is for the serious botanist and will be well-used over the years.

Life in the Cold, An Introduction to Winter Ecology, by Peter Marchand.
A good text describing the forces of winter and how plants and animals survive.

A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic, by E.C. Pielou.
Although written for the natural world of the arctic, many biological facets carry over to any cold climate.

A few Periodicals, maps, CDs and videos just for the heck of it.

Alaska Geographic, a quarterly publication of the Alaska Geographic Society.
Each issue is dedicated entirely to one topic. Some that are particularly relevant for our cruise include: Admiralty…Island in Contention, and Exploring Alaska's Birds.

Alaska and Canada's Inside Passage Cruise Tour Guide, by Coastal Cruise Tour Guides.
For anyone who likes to trace his or her travels along a map, this in-depth brochure includes a beautiful 6-foot fold-out map of the island-dotted waters from Seattle to Glacier Bay, including cruise routes and city maps for Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan and Victoria.

Alone in the Wilderness (DVD, VHS) produced by Bob Swerer Productions.
This video, based on a book of the same name, recount the intriguing story of Richard Proenneke, a man who forwent his life of 50-hour workweeks for the simplicity of living off the land.

Bird Songs of Alaska, by Leonard Peyton.
This 2-CD set will help anyone learn the birds of Alaska by sound alone. It has been instrumental in Rob's bird studies and presentations over the past 14 years in Alaska.

Robin's list, for kids

Rob MacDonald has a wife. E-I-E-I-O. It was her idea to include children's books. E-I-E-I-O. With a dog book here and a salmon book there, here a wolf, there a goose, everywhere a kid's book. Her name is Robin and we agreed, here at Prairie Home:

The Eyes of the Gray Wolf, by Jonathan London.
A kid's book that is the story of a wolf in winter illustrated by the famous Alaskan artist Jon Van Zyle.

The Alaska Mother Goose, by Shelley Gill.
A kid's book that has pages and pages of north country nursery rhymes.

The True Story of Balto, the Bravest Dog Ever, by Natalie Standiford.
A kid's book that shows the story of the lead sled dog who helped save all the people in Nome's diphtheria outbreak in 1925 that is now famous as the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Flight of the Golden Plover - The Amazing Migration Between Hawaii and Alaska, by Debbie Miller.
A kid's book that is a fun way to learn the migration of this plover species.

Salmon Stream, by Carol Reed-Jones.
A kid's book that depicts the life cycle of salmon in an easy to read format.

One Wing's Gift, by Joan Harris.
A kid's book that is a tribute to bird rehabilitation at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage.

Alaska State and Public Librarian's List

Well, there are a lot of libraries in Alaska, for sure. And there is a plethora of librarians, too, who all read when they get a minute, and who have generously listed for you their own recommendations of books on Alaska. The Alaskan Public Librarians sent the first ten, all non-fiction. (And for great information about places in Alaska, they recommend issues of Alaska Geographic.) Our friends at the Alaska State Library came up with the second list. Enjoy!

Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land by Walter Borneman

Arctic Dance: The Mardy Murie Story by Charles Craighead

Treasures of Alaska by Jeff Rennicke

Our Alaska: Personal Stories about Living in the North by Mike Doogan

Hard Rock Gold: the Story of the Great Mines that were the heart of Juneau by David Stone

Tracks of the Unseen by Nick Jans

In the Shadow of Eagles: from barnstormer to Alaska bush pilot by Rudy Billberg

Tales from the Edge: True Adventures in Alaska by Larry Kaniut

The Only Kayak by Kim Heacock

The Klondike Fever by Pierre Berton

The Thousand Mile War by Brian Garfield

State of Alaska by Ernest Gruening

On the Edge of Nowhere by Jimmy Huntington

Arctic Village by Robert Marshall

Coming into the Country by John McPhee

Two in the Far North by Margaret Murie

Journal of an Aleutian Year by Ethel Ross Oliver

Tisha: the Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness by Anne Purdy

Cruelest Miles by Gay and Laney Salisbury

Ten Thousand Miles With a Dog Sled by Hudson Stuck

Old Yukon: Tales, Trails, Trials by James V. Wickersham
A Prairie Home Companion Cruise is produced by Prairie Home Productions, presented by American Public Media Group. Ship's registry: the Netherlands.

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