We asked some of Alaska’s most notable authors what they were excited to read this summer — or to perhaps mention what book they recently read that they’re enthusiastic about recommending. The submissions ranged from volumes of poetry to fiction and memoirs and selections by writers from Alaska, and beyond.
Considering adding a few of these books to your summer reading list.
“The Dawn of Everything” by David Graeber and David Wengrow: A 10-year conversation between an anthropologist and an archaeologist evolves into a book that stands the conventional wisdom about human history on its head. I’m taking it slowly, a few pages at a time, because it’s a dense read, albeit with occasional bits of snark thrown in to make sure I’m still awake.
— Dana Stabenow, Anchorage, author of “A Cold Day for Murder”
“Nobody Gets Out Alive” by Leigh Newman: I’m a short story junkie and have no desire to kick that habit. And I’m here to tell you that this collection of spectacularly acclaimed Alaskan stories nails the manic urban zeitgeist of Anchorage in the ‘80s and ‘90s in ways no known novel has ever come close to. Dentists with airplanes and mistresses. A low-rent clairvoyant. The unstoppable mud of a tent city that would one day become Anchorage. It’s an Alaska stripped of all Great North Woods romance. What’s left are eight penetrating human stories for grownups. Hang on for the ride.
— Richard Chiappone, Homer, author of “The Hunger of Crows”
“Beyond Repair” by J.C. Todd: Poetry about war. The current crisis in Ukraine made me want to read this book, and I met the author at the AWP conference in Philadelphia last March.
“Heat and Light” by Jennifer Haigh: The subject of her novel is fracking, set in Pennsylvania. Oil and methods of extraction are always germane to Alaska, and she writes with a sharp and biting wit.
“Cities of Salt” by Abdelrahman Munif: Banned in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, the novel is set in the 1930s and is centered around the discovery of oil in an unnamed Persian Gulf kingdom. It is the first book in a trilogy. I like to explore how fiction writers handle this kind of material.
“Here: Poems for the Planet,” edited by Elizabeth Coleman: I am interested in eco-poetry, and I want to see what some of my fellow poets are writing on this topic.
“Oil, Power, and War: A Dark History” by Matthieu Auzanneau: A nonfiction book that begins with the history of oil as far back as 1859. Once again, the Ukrainian crisis is “fueling” my interest in this subject, particularly since Russia is using oil revenue to continue its bloody campaign.
— Anne Coray, Homer/Lake Clark, author of “Lost Mountain”
“Cold Mountain Path” by Tom Kizzia: In recounting the lives of the variety of adventurous souls who sought a non-urban experience living in and around McCarthy between the closing of the Kennecott Copper mines in 1938 and the senseless shooting of six of them by a deranged loner in 1983, gifted writer Tom Kizzia explores the persistent paradox of Alaskan individualism and self-reliance tempered by the community and cooperation needed to survive in the such a wilderness setting. Kizzia captures the uncertainty of those who tested themselves in the wild, the challenges they faced and the resilience they found, leaving the reader pondering just what it means to be Alaskan.
— Stephen Haycox, Anchorage, author of “Alaska: An American Colony”
“Lessons” by Ian McEwan: I’m looking forward to Ian McEwan’s new novel, “Lessons.” He’s one of the few writers whose works I snap up immediately, for slow sentence-by-sentence delectation. The last book I greeted with such opening-day enthusiasm was George Saunders’ “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain,” his charming and funny treatise on how we can learn from the great Russian authors to be better writers, and better human beings.
— Tom Kizzia, Homer, author of “Pilgrim’s Wilderness”
“The Sentence” by Louise Erdrich: I’m so excited to read this. I think I’m just going to have a Louise Erdrich summer and reread most of her novels. “The Sentence” is set in a small-town bookstore, but takes on racial reckoning in Minneapolis and, I hear, may feature a ghost or two. I love stories that bring to life one particular place in the country, while also opening up a lens to wider national discussions. “Our Country Friends,” by Gary Shteyngart, which I just finished and loved, had a similar approach.
— Leigh Newman, Anchorage, author of “Nobody Gets Out Alive”
“Silences so Deep: Music, Solitude, Alaska” by John Luther Adams: Who can resist a book with blurbs by Iggy Pop and Barry Lopez? In this memoir, Pulitzer and Grammy Award winner Adams takes us through his nearly 40 years living and creating in Fairbanks. Along the way, we learn about his process of creating music based on the natural world around him, including his masterpiece “The Room Where You Go to Listen” at the Museum of the North, and his friendships with other artists including fellow composer Gordon Frank Wright and poet John Haines.
— Daryl Farmer, Fairbanks, author of “Bicycling Beyond the Divide”
[On the hunt for more good reads? Check out our latest Alaska book reviews.]