If You Lived Here, I’d know Your Name
Best for: People about to visit or who have just visited rural Alaska; people who like short slice-of-life stories.
In a nutshell: Obituary writer and Haines resident shares stories of life in a rural Alaskan town.
Line that sticks with me: “Following an old Haines rule, we dressed for the weather, not the vehicle.” p 19
Why I chose it: Two weeks ago I was on a cruise in Southeast Alaska, and took an excursion through Haines. It was a gorgeous part of the country, and when I saw this book in a store at our next stop, I decided to pick it up.
Review: Author Heather Lende is a journalist for one of the two local papers in Haines, population 2,400. About 15% of the residents are Tlingit, and pretty much everyone participates in some form of hunting, subsistence fishing, or dramatic outdoor activity like snowshoe hiking.
As you might expect from this book, there is a lot of talk about how Haines is the best place on earth, and how the people who live there are a different type, but Ms. Lende is also honest in examining some of the downfalls and challenges of choosing such a life. If someone is seriously injured during a snowstorm, they might not be able to get evacuated out. Their closest level one trauma center is in Seattle. Because of the types of jobs one can find in town, there are deaths from fishing accidents, or small aircraft crashes.
Many — but not all — of the stories relate to a death, which makes sense, since Ms. Lende is an obituary writer. But some are just about other components of life, whether adopting a daughter from overseas, or working with a political opponent on a fundraiser for medical bills.
This book is well written, but there are some parts that I found questionable. The first is the chapter when Ms. Lende goes to adopt her daughter. She repeatedly uses the term G*psy instead of Roma to refer to her daughter’s birth family. Not cool.
There’s also a chapter about political disagreements that is meant to come across as teaching the reader a lesson about how you can still come together and have pleasant times with people you disagree with. Unfortunately, the disagreement she and this man in the story had was essentially over the humanity of members of the LGBTQ community, so I had a hard time with the ‘let’s all get along’ nature of brushing that very real issue under the rug.
I enjoyed reading this, but I wouldn’t really say I recommend it.