Thursday, November 7, 2019

Adventure Series Part I: The Summer I Became Alaskan (even if only in my own mind)

Sixmile Canyon Whitewater
Packrafting First Canyon on Sixmile Creek
Awhile back, when I was quite a bit more, ahem, active with my blog, I pondered what it meant to be 'Alaskan'. At the time I had lived in this massive and complicated state for seven months. Now, almost two years after penning that post, I sit today in the same place, pondering the same basic question.

"Alaskan," Strictly Speaking

People are proud in Alaska. Proud of the incredible landscape and unique local color. Proud that, though to nearly everyone else Alaska is a wonderland of superlatives and extremes, to them it is simply home.

Legally, a person becomes a resident of Alaska after living in the state for a calendar year. However, a friend (a fourth-generation Sewardite I should add) recently voiced that she would never accept someone's claim of being "Alaskan," strictly speaking, until they had lived here longer than all other places combined. By that rubric, since I moved here in 2017 at age 33, I wont qualify until 2050.

So no... I'm not Alaskan.

But What is Alaska anyway?

The word "Alaska" for most conjures images of muscled brown bears wrangling salmon from alpine streams a glacier-capped summits lanced skyward in the background, or ethereal aurora borealis dancing over pale snow blankets and frozen lakes. There is a global sense that Alaska has become the western hemisphere's superlative for nature at its most raw and rugged. In short, what makes Alaska Alaska, are mountains, wildlife, and the wilderness.

A Kafka Moment

One day recently, I woke up transformed. The place I'd lived for two and a half years felt different. I no longer felt like a traveler. All of the wondrous extremes a person could witness here were no longer new and novel. They were simply home. Alaska had become a part of me in a essential way, like my body had absorbed it via osmosis. But when exactly had this metamorphosis taken place? And how?
Cake picnic overlooking Godwin Glacier 7/29/19

A Blog Series!

Enter the summer of 2019. For five months I was immersed in the Alaskan landscape as a deckhand and sea kayak guide. I logged fifty sea days bumping through the rugged North Alaska Gulf seeking the most speculator places to sea kayak on Earth. Days off saw me scurrying to the summits of rugged local mountains or hurling my packraft down frothing rivers. When fall fell over the landscape, I could finally relax and digest the collective experience of this summer and what it meant.

To explore this insight, I'm endeavoring on a four-part blog series (the "Adventure" series) to revisit key moments, places and features of my summer that made it so transformative. In other words, I am attempting to capture in words a snapshot of how I transitioned from tourist to traveler, and finally, after over two years, from traveler to resident, even if I'm still not, and perhaps never will be, officially Alaskan ;-P 
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If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. When not fixating on definitions of being "Alaskan" (and when I wrestle a little time/motivation from my day), I blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts (if there are any) and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 



Sunday, January 6, 2019

2018: A Year in Books

Noon during an Alaska winter. Hard to tell if it's a sunset or
sunrise as the former tends to start immediately upon the
conclusion of the latter
Ah yes, I'm back. You thought you were rid of me. You forgot you signed up for my mailing list. You scratched your head and wondered "who the hell is Brian Donald Wright" when I popped up in your inbox this morning.

Not so, my friends. I am alive and well, still stomping around in the Last Frontier. Still plonking away at the keys of my increasingly battered and outdated laptop. And I'm here to talk about, well, books!

But first....

A quick explanation of my long absence. I promise to keep it brief and get back to the action. 2017 was a great year for me and my blog, together we plopped out somewhere around 50 blog posts, nearly one a week. Me, my computer and my scattered readers (daring brave souls) whirled about the worlds of my imagination, exploring everything from Mayan ruins, writing pedantry, books, medieval shippery, and more.

2018, well, not so much. This is post number two.

So what happened? Well, in short, I got burned out. I poured so much into my author platform in 2017 that I found myself not having time for the actual thing...writing itself. And, because I hate excuses, I just got lazy.

Well, I'm back. And though I don't expect to return to hammering out a blog post every week, I will try to improve. Blog posts take a great deal of time. Perhaps I need to shorten them? Well, anyways, let's get back on topic.

Did I tell you I missed you?

A Journey in Words

When I wrote this same post last year, I said "Each book not only carries me away into a fictional dimension but also fixes my mind in the time and space where I read it....My year comes back to me, each book a signpost on the adventure that was 2017." Although I did not read as many books in 2018, this holds just as true as before.

When I remember Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, for example, I am taken back to the backcountry cabin where my loving wife, Ella, and I huddled through a chilly pair of January nights. It was here that I read that book's final 100 pages, enthralled right to the end. The second night of this trip I experienced my first earthquake, a 7.9 magnitude shaker that would have made for a great blogpost.... Another Ishiguro novel, The Buried Giant, was the book I lugged to Hawaii in April, so imagining that novel puts me back on those sandy beaches and at the toe of those verdant mountains. And so it goes, a story of my year in the form of the books that followed me everywhere I went. 

The Tomes 

As it were, I read 16 books this year, which I am sad to admit is eight less than last year. Not my best effort, though the sheer number is always what counts and several of these books were quite long. Without further ado, here is a brief look at each of them....

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
A literary classic in the dystopia genre. A group of children who grow up at a peculiar boarding school learn the horrifying reality about their culture and themselves. As usual with Ishiguro's works, Never Let Me Go places the focus on the power of subtle-but-crucial interpersonal moments. This is a unique and poignant piece of literary fiction from the 2017 winner of the Nobel Prize or Literature. 

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Scott Lynch)
Part fantasy epic, part heist tale, The Lies of Locke Lamora is a clever and unique fantasy romp in a gritty, gory setting. Despite its long length Lamora was a page turner and one of the better fantasy books I read in 2018.

Master Assassins (Robert V.S. Redick)
The first installment of an upcoming series by a less-known author, Master Assassins is a well-crafted fantasy epic set in some sort of alternate middle east setting. Engagingly written and with highly developed characters, this is a worthy new fantasy series, though for me it lacked something to take it over the top.

New York 2140 (Kim Stanley Robinson)
Just over a century into the future and part of New York City is underwater after sea level rose 50 feet. A complex and lengthy bit of science fiction that works to be as much a tale of finance and politics than a dystopia thriller. I found this book to be slow and tedious despite it being nominated for several major awards.

Red Seas Under Red Skies (Sott Lynch)
The sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora and continues right along the path of its predecessor. Though perhaps not as fresh as Book 1 of the series, Red Skies does its job as a sequel. I went out and bought book three almost as soon as I was finished.

Sing, Unburied, Sing (Jesmyn Ward)
A National Book Award winner, Sing, Unburied, Sing picks up where novels of the civil rights era leave off. A look at the modern south, and the work still in front of us in race relations in America, with a spice of the literary paranormal akin to the Toni Morrison's classic, Beloved. Despite its well-written prose, I found this book difficult to stagger through.

The Gunslinger (Stephen King)
An outloud re-reading of this classic of speculative fiction. Part fantasy epic, part dystopia sci-fi, part horror, Stephen King's Dark Tower series was what he called his Jupiter in the solar system of his imagination. Although The Gunslinger is perhaps the worst of the seven books in the series, this is where it all begins.

The Buried Giant (Kazuo Ishiguro)
The most recent of Ishiguro novels. Set in post Arthurian Britain, an elderly couple sets out on a quest to uncover an important piece of their history as a strange fog robs them of their memory. Ishiguro straddles the line between fantasy and literary in this book. Though I was largely unimpressed, the ending was one of the most powerful and though-provoking of any novel I have ever read and that is not hyperbole.

To the Bright Edge of the World (Eowyn Ivey)
This brilliant epistolary novel tells the story of a fictionalized version of a post-Alaska Purchase expedition in which the U.S. government was eager to learn just what it was they had acquired in "Seward's Folley" (the pejorative critics used for the Alaska Purchase which was brokered by William Seward). In Ivey's Alaska, the native myths are real and the struggles of the brave explorers and their families back home are visceral. 

Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka)
A mega classic of literature, Metamorphosis was an "eat your vegetables" read for me. Every year I try to swallow at least one or two major classics and this year Metamorphosis was my selection. A short novel, Metamorphosis is an interesting albeit a bit dry read. It tells the story of a man who awakes one morning having been transformed into an insect and the repercussions that follow.

The Sword of Shanarra (Terry Brooks)
A 1970s fantasy epic, many people regard The Sword of Shanarra as a re-telling of The Lord of the Rings. I found the parallels to be a little too similar and the book a little too breathy so I did not finish.

A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K Le Guinn)
An absolute classic in the fantasy genre, A Wizard of Earthsea is a story who is can be spotted at the roots of major contemporary tales, such as Harry Potter, The Name of the Wind and others. Succinct but original, this book drew me in and pulled me through to its final pages.

Less (Andrew Sean Greer)
A hilarious, poignant and brilliantly written literary romp about a gay novelist who embarks on a world tour to avoid having to either accept or reject an invite to the wedding of a former lover. The winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this novel proved that not all winners of this great award have to be violent or depressing.

Heroes, Gods and Monsters (Bernard Evslin)
This book of mythology covers the major gods of the Greek canon with brief, easy-to-read and remember treatments. For someone like me who enjoys the mythologies and detects their still resonating impacts on modern culture, this book is a great way to familiarize with the basics of the stories without getting bogged down in details.

The Goldfinch (Donna Tart)
A Pulitzer Prize winning novel about the repercussions of a terrorist attack inside a popular art museum and the far-reaching fallout. For me this book was tedious, overly detailed and a massive struggle. I was highly disappointed and didn't finish it.

The Raven's Gift (Don Reardon)
Reminiscent of some of my favorite post apocalyptic novels, The Raven's Gift unfolds the story of rural arctic Alaska in wake of a horrific plague that has wiped out most of the population. Facing isolation and winter, a man and his blind companion struggle to find their way out.

2018 Awards

Best Fantasy
From The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Wizard of Earthsea, and even The Buried Giant, I read quite a few fantasy novels this year. It is difficult for me to select a single one as being the best not because I read so many good ones, but because none of them jump out as being particularly impressive. If I pull back, however, and just go on instinct, the book that feels like it had all the trappings I value in a fantasy novel was Master Assassins by Robert V.S. Redick, a narrow victor over The Lies of Locke Lamora

Best Sci Fi
Looking back over my list for 2018, I see a gaping hole in the science fiction genre. In fact, the only two books that might fall in the category would be Never Let Me Go, which I have already listed under "literary," and New York 2140, a book that bogged me down for a month and I was so glad when it was over I made a "yuck" sound when I shelved it. So unfortunately this year, there will be no Sci Fi winner.

Best Literary
Although several of the books on this year's list straddled the line between literary and genre fiction, I ultimately considered five of the books I read this year to be literary. Of these, the one that had the biggest impact on me was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This strange but engaging book showcases the significance of the small events in life, and the poignancy of our everyday interpersonal connections.

Grand Prize
As with last year when I gave my "grand prize" to the winner of the Literary category, I am going to do that again. From this year's books there is none that have stuck with me and none that I find myself talking about or recommending more than Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. As mentioned previously, this book is so poignant, original and strange it has "stuck with me" even though it was one of the first books I read this year. If I were to give out a runner up award it would have to go to To the Bright Edge of the World, another brilliant piece of literary fiction that to me is a perfect example of what great writing is capable of at its highest level.
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If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. When not reading as many books as I can get my hands on, I blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions