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Reading the north

Sideways Rain

By Nancy Elliott Sydnam, M.D. (Hardscratch Press, $20)

The blurb: In journal entries, letters, poems and commentary, the doctor recounts 20 years of medical work in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands.

Excerpt: "The more often I flew the 800 miles out to my new 'office,' the more respect I had for Reeve Aleutian Airways. It was founded in 1932 by Bob Reeve, who said, 'I had to fly to eat and I'd finally found out how I could eat regular -- by doing the kind of flying that no one else wanted.' I always felt safe in a Reeve plane, even the one that had a sign over the exit that read 'Escape Rope.' The pilots seemed to have excellent judgment, knowing when to fly and when to turn around.

"Almost all of my journal entries mention weather because it was a major factor in getting out there or getting home. Winds frequently gusted to 90 miles per hour, blowing down antennas and causing loss of communication between the island and the mainland where all our support lay. The World War II-era runway -- there is only one -- is closely adjacent to Mt. Ballyhoo, with the result that winds on opposite ends of the runway are often from opposite directions. In addition, the runway is fairly short, only 4,000 feet, and the ends frequently surrender to the sea during violent storms, which of course shortens it even more. The trick was to land as close to the near end of the runway as possible without catching the landing gear on the edge of the cliff on approach. Then immediately after the wheels touched down the brakes had to go on or the tailwind on the opposite end would hit, and off the plane would go into the bay on that end. It was always exciting. One newcomer airline once dragged a wingtip on the strip during landing and crashed, breaking the engine off the wing."

Into Great Silence

By Eva Saulitis (Beacon Press, $32)

The blurb: Eva Saulitis had been researching a family of transient orca whales in Prince Williams Sound when the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened. This book intertwines stories of that unique group of endangered whales, the devastation from the spill and the author's quest to understand her place in the natural world.

Excerpt: "Alaska. As a college student, a dream for me of blue-white tundra, wolves, caribou, moose, indigenous hunters: wilderness. A dream of emptiness, silence. Growing up south of Buffalo on the flat, populated, polluted Lake Erie floodplain, I knew nothing of silence in nature, nothing of the sea, nothing of wilderness, of predators besides raptors and owls. As a teenager, I developed an owl obsession. I painted them, wrote science papers about them, drew an owl cartoon strip, collected owls: carved, molded, printed, stuffed. I didn't imagine the stab of a beak into the meat of a vole's shoulder, blood spattered on a snow owl's breast. Predation didn't figure into my imagination. I loved all animals and birds, foxes, deer, rabbits, garter snakes, hawks; I didn't imagine how they killed to stay alive."

The Origin of the Wind

By C.S Anderson (C.S Anderson)

The blurb: A young Native American girl argues with her mother about having to attend Heritage Night and is then given a copy her grandmother's diary. The grandmother had been sent to a duration camp during World War II, camps in which many Native Americans died without seeing their homes again.

Excerpt: " 'Yes, Anna, it is true. The Japanese did attack Dutch Harbor. It was on June 7, 1942.' Mr. James told her.

"She had stopped by his desk after class and asked him about what she had read in her grandmother's diary.

" 'Then, why haven't we ever talked about it in class?'

" 'Well, one reason is that while the battle was certainly terrible for whoever was here then it really wasn't a very important battle compared to some during the war. Strategically it didn't accomplish much, it was actually more of a skirmish. How did you happen to hear about it?'

"She explained to him about the diary and what she had read in it. Then she dug it out of her book bag and showed it to him. He handled it respectfully, his big hands turning the pages carefully."

Compiled by Matt Sullivan, Anchorage Daily News