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Reading the North

Alaska: The Land of M&Ms -- Men and Money

By Joanne Hawkins (Greatland Graphics, $19.95)

The blurb: This memoir chronicles a Midwestern city girl's move to Alaska 40 years ago to make her own money, be her own person and go wherever she wanted.

Excerpt: "Whenever we stopped at any of the roadhouses, we wouldn't go in until I strapped on my accordion. John would hold the door open while I played a polka as we entered. And he did it with a straight face, too.

"Everywhere we went we were welcome. I was told that I was like a breath of fresh air. It didn't take long for me to realize Alaskans were free-spirited people. People were hungry for good old-time music and in some roadhouses you could even find a polka or two on the jukebox. There was music and fun to be had by all."

Forms of Feeling: Poetry in Our Lives

By John Morgan (Salmon Poetry)

The blurb: The 2009 writer-in-residence at Denali National Park investigates the role of poetry in the contemporary world in this book of essays and interviews and explores the poet's development from a raw beginner to a widely recognized teacher and practitioner of the craft.

Excerpt: "Walking is good exercise. And for the poet, it can provide occasion for a meditation that will bring new insights, and a fuller sense of the self in its relationship to the world. Wordsworth sometimes took walks of many days, composing as he went. In a comment on his famous 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,' he said, 'I began it upon leaving Tintern, after crossing the Why, and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol in the evening.'

"The rhythm of walking provides a physical equivalent to meter though 'walk poems' can be written in free verse as well. Either way, the repetitive step after step motion can stimulate the mind to greater awareness, greater intensity. There is the story of Wallace Stevens, deep in thought, composing poems as he walked to the insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut, where he worked. An observer noticed him taking a step to one side, as if avoiding a puddle. But there was no puddle -- no obstruction at all -- except perhaps in Stevens' mind as he deleted an unnecessary adjective and walked on."

The Eskimo and the Oil Men: The Battle at the top of the World for America's Future

By Bob Reiss (Business Plus, $27.99)

The blurb: The story of nation's jockeying for power and influence across the Arctic is told through the eyes of an Inupiat leader on the North Slope and the head of Shell Oil's operations in Alaska.

Excerpt: "Late on the morning of April 29, 2010, as the sun rose above the Arctic Ocean, a worried 64-year-old Inupiat Eskimo whale hunter named Edward Itta stepped from a tent set into solid ice 320 miles above the Arctic Circle. He stood five feet above the Chukchi Sea. Behind him the ice stretched four miles to land. Ahead lay a channel of black water separating him from more pack ice further out. It led 1,200 miles later to the North Pole. His crew of eight had been camped here for days waiting to hunt bowhead whales migrating west from northern Canada, past Alaska.

" 'I did not want to leave,' he would later recall.

"Itta reluctantly climbed aboard his blue Arctic Cat snowmobile and steered the two-stroke machine roughly south along the meandering trail that Eskimo crews had hewn into the ice by hand. The backbreaking labor with picks and axes had taken weeks. The four-foot-wide path was marked by small red plastic flags and Itta's destination was Barrow, Alaska, a city of 4,500, northernmost municipality in the United States, where he had been born and where he had to attend a private meeting that day with three executives from one of the richest corporations on earth. He feared that their plan -- if it went wrong -- could destroy his 4,000-year-old community. Yet he feared that he might have to support it.

" 'I had been losing sleep over this for months.' "

Compiled by Matt Sullivan, Anchorage Daily News