Wednesday, June 25, 2008

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPLORER

If you're looking for a great summer read, check out Sherry Simpson's latest - The Accidental Explorer: Wayfinding in Alaska.

I'm a big Simpson fan. In Alaska Magazine, she writes with wit and insight about Alaskan adventures. But the essays in this collection are heavier. More serious. Just the word essay brings that out in us, I guess. I had a little trouble adjusting, like when you think you ordered the fruit cup and you end up with bread pudding.

But Simpson's transparent take on adventuring won me over. She skips the sugar-coating, opening with a soggy kayak trip in a chapter called "A Nuisance to Myself and Others." I especially liked "Turning Back," about a solo trip through the White Mountains aborted for the sake of her dog, and "A Man Made Cold by the Universe," about the guy Alaskans love to hate, Chris McCandless.

Interlaced with Simpson's personal narratives is some great historical material, like this understatement from Capt. William Abercrombie about the Copper Valley prospectors he met in 1898: "I noticed in talking to these people that over 70 percent of them were more or less mentally deranged."

All in all, it's a great read, with plenty of moments that stick long after you've turned the final page.

Monday, June 9, 2008

FOLLOWING THE DEAD

A few weeks ago I posted on the Kindle and its potential effect on the publishing industry. A New York Times Op-Ed piece by Paul Krugman - Bits, Bands, and Books - has more to say about how the world is changing for authors and publishers. He points to the Grateful Dead, who proclaimed that merchandising made up for lost revenue from fans who recorded and distributed their music for free.

That keeps pop culture alive. What about literature? Bring on the patrons.