BOOK CORNER: Vale Club reads up on Heather Lende’s Alaska

Books on the Vale Book Club’s reading list can be checked out at the Vale Library. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

“If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News From Small-Town Alaska,” by Heather Lende, chronicles the various lives and deaths of the people of Haines, Alaska, an almost inaccessible hamlet 90 miles north of Juneau.

The Vale Book Club will discuss this non-fiction selection this Thursday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. at the home of Carol Spears, 683 Cottage St. S., Vale. Brandi Lund will act as facilitator.

In writing her social and obituary columns for Haines’ Chilkat Valley News, the author blends reportage and humor. Lende deftly incorporates local color: the sewer plant manager who rides a motorcycle and sports a ZZ top beard, the high school principal who moonlights as a Roy Orbison impersonator, and the one-legged female gold miner.

Lende covers death in her community in all its forms –accidental, intentional and inevitable – and notes, “writing about the dead helps me celebrate the living.” 

While comic, the book also has some sensitive, insightful anecdotes. For example, Lende, a contributor to NPR’s Morning Edition, portrays the building of a coffin for a beloved mother by the youngest daughter of the deceased; the sinking of a family boat with a tender farewell for a fearless fisherman; the mourning of a quirky, civic-minded “aging hippie;” and the goodbye to a Texas woman who hosted an annual Mississippi blues party.

Like Bailey White’s tales of Southern life or Garrison Keillor’s reports from the Midwest, Lende’s take on her offbeat Alaskan hometown celebrates life in a dangerous and breathtakingly beautiful place. She subtly reminds readers to embrace each day, each opportunity, each life that touches our own and to note the beauty each one offers – a possibility for dealing with uncertainty and stress in any community and in any country.

For information about the book club, call Lucy Hutchens, 208-739-6954, or Marge Mitchell, 208 739-6777.

Review information from Goodreads, Amazon, and Publisher’s Weekly.

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