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Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-up World, One Long Journey Home Hardcover – March 19, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (March 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069246
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069248
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Author One-on-One: Karen Russell and Leigh Newman

Karen RussellLeigh Newman

Leigh and I first met working on a piece of mine about a dog named Waffles. Today we got to sit down and talk about her astonishing new memoir, Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-Up World, One Long Journey Home—Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Swamplandia.

Karen Russell: I’m always interested in what happens when kids escape the big people in charge. You were left to your own devices on the tundra as child. How you think that affected you?

Leigh Newman: Knowing how to take care of yourself in the wilderness was the biggest lesson my dad ever taught me—and one he taught me over and over. He wanted me to know what to do if I ran into a grizzly or if I needed to make a fire or if I fell into a river (float downstream, feet first). I don’t think he was alone in this. Self-reliance is the greatest Alaskan quality. You see it in just about every Alaskan you meet, whether they happened to be hunting for food for the winter or figuring out how to build an outhouse. For me it was a crucial skill after my parent’s divorce, when I began commuting between my mother and father at age seven, flying 5,000 miles between Anchorage and Baltimore, Maryland.

KR: You tell a lot of survival stories about bears in your tent and airplanes falling out of the sky, but there's a lot of family stuff too, about your parent's divorce. How do the two subjects relate?

LN: Well, I’m never going to say that not dying isn’t wonderful. It is! None of us wants to die. But I do think surviving takes a lot of out of you. Once the Super Cub has restarted or the bear has wandered off and it appears that you will get to live a little more, the impulse is to keep going—not to stop and talk and share your feelings. And when it came to my parent’s divorce and my mom’s depression and breakdowns, I think we may have approached these events as if they were plane crash. We got out of the wreck of our family, stunned, and just kept marching on. Our situation took place, for the most part, in the wilderness, so in that sense it was extreme, but I think there are many, many people out there in the world who have used this same approach in more domesticated settings. It leads to competency—you are marching after all—but I’m not sure if it leads to happiness.

KR: You write a lot of short fiction, why did you write a memoir instead of novel?

LN: A memoir was probably the last thing on earth I’d ever want to do. But generally speaking, those are probably the things that you most need to do.

KR: One of the biggest surprises in the Still Points North is the love story between you and your husband. How did that get in a book about Alaska?

LN: The book, to me, was always meant as a love letter to Alaska and to my family, despite our many struggles. I was lucky enough to grow up in place I not just adored but revered. And when I left home, I look all those lessons from the wilderness with me—not just on my travels around the world, but in my relationships. So poor Lawrence not only had deal with my semi-feral sense of independence and all consuming, gut-knotting terror of marriage, but also various wacko Alaskan “tests” I created. Like eating rare mallard. Or finishing a 13k cross-country ski in the pitch black at 10 below zero.

From Booklist

As a child of divorce, Newman was raised on two coasts: fishing and camping with her father in Anchorage, and navigating museums and private school in Baltimore with her mother. Although she relishes sharing details of her wilderness adventures, it is the emotional turmoil wrought by the demise of her parent’s marriage that dominates the book. Newman has crafted a vivid exploration of a broken family, recording episodes of hurt feelings, miscommunication, and more than a few emotional outbursts by a mother who struggled with her own history of parental trauma and a father whose choices did not always include the child from his first marriage. To be certain, there is more than one side to this story, and Newman’s is steadfastly her own, full of the pathos all children endure when their lives are upturned. Her pain will resonate strongly with readers, and she vividly brings both Alaska and Maryland to life. She spares herself no mercy, making it clear that wounds from childhood take decades, and deep understanding, to heal. A natural for book clubs. --Colleen Mondor

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Customer Reviews

This book is a joy to read and reread.
Dennis Cardiff
Found this book to be a bit long--character depth of heroine was VERY deep.
Michelle
The author has a sparkling sense of humor and sense of language.
Clarke Oler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Robert on March 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Leigh Newman's memoir Still Points North is a beautifully written book about a girl struggling to find a true home in the midst of a tumultuous childhood, and the woman she grows up to be. After her parent's divorce she splits her time between her father in her native Alaska -- fishing, hunting, camping -- and her mother in Baltimore -- trying to keep her head above water in a world she doesn't quite understand. I find very few people can write from the prospective of children (especially themselves as a child) well, off the top of my head Alexandra Fuller's amazing book Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight springs to mind, but Newman perfectly walks the line between childlike naivete and mature introspection, allowing the reader to really sink into her life. The prose is clean and interesting, and each chapter is full of fantastic lines and observations you'll want to bookmark to find again.

Anyone looking for an incredibly well written and thoughtful memoir that is harrowing (there are several near-death experiences in the Alaskan bush), and moving would be remiss not to pick up a copy of Still Points North. I've been reading it at a breakneck pace and can't recommend it enough.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer O Cain on March 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Liegh Newman has the Saturday pancake smile and twinkle-in-the-eye of a tomboy who grew into her own unique version of womanhood. I feel like she wrote this book for me, for us - her peers who grew up loving the outdoors with our dads, then moved away in pursuit of professional dreams and complicated, urban lives. The story made me nostalgic and long for a simpler time of community and connectedness, to our families, to our friends and to the earth. Thank you Leigh for reminding me that the journey that starts from home can help me find my way back to who I really am. Pick up a copy today and dive into the delicious nostalgia!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Susan Shapiro on March 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I was completely engaged by Leigh Newman's New York Times Modern Love essay a few years back. So I couldn't wait to read the memoir elucidating her whole rugged, complicated upbringing in Alaska. Some short pieces are not meant to be expanded but "Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-Up World, One Long Journey" did not disappoint. In fact I was even more fascinated by the idiosyncratic, rich details of Newman's entire back story. "Still Points North" is an intriguing mix of wilderness travel adventure, old-fashioned domestic drama from a child's innocent eye, and contemporary urban love poetry -with a happy though realistic ending for grown-ups. It's all blended together so beautifully that it winds up being a page-turner too. Newman's voice is so well-drawn and compelling it's hard to believe it's her first book. An impressive, masterful debut.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jan Noble Hitchcock on April 24, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This isn't the type of book I would recommend to anyone depressed. It has some funny parts, but most of it is sad. I felt sorry for Leigh; the way she grew up and how it effected her adult life. It is well written and allows the reader a chance to get to know the author.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Linda C. Wright on April 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I've been reading alot of memoirs lately. I'm studying the genre in hopes of writing my own memoir someday. A story about a girl growing up in Alaska peaked my interest.

Leigh Newman is a child growing up in Alaska, fishing for salmon with her father, in their secret spots only accessible in his float plane. A milestone for a kid in Alaska is catching her first king, a momentous occasion. But when her parents divorce and she has to spend her time between Anchorage where all is familiar and Baltimore where all is a mystery. Leigh struggles to fit in.

I loved the first part of this book told through the eyes of a little girl. Quite abruptly the story moved into adulthood, falling in love, getting married. Yes, all those things happen in a girl's life. The telling of the story however, suffered. To me it was as if a different writer stepped in to finish. I felt the story lacked direction. By the end of the book, I was left wondering what was the thread that was supposed to hold it all together.

Many things drew me to this story, Alaska, memoirs, the title. The author has a strong voice and a very easy writing style. But at the end I was left wondering what still pointed north.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Devich on April 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read a short synopsis of this book in Marie Clair magazine and was so taken with her description of Alaska and her childhood that I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle. Once her parents divorced, the fun of the book disappeared. I did like the book, don't get me wrong, but she's such a confused and troubled woman that I felt bad for her and wished for a happy ending. It did end well, thank heavens...but it wasn't the kind of book I was expecting from the snip-it I first read. I hope she's doing well now.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mary Alice on May 14, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One of the most tedious books I have ever read. Read it only because it was a book group book. I couldn't wait for the torture to be over.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Young on March 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
When Leigh's parents' divorce, she is torn between two worlds, Baltimore and Alaska. Summers are spent in the wilderness of Alaska, fishing and hiking. The school year is spent in Baltimore, where she struggles to fit in with her peers.

I was very interested in the book when the author was talking about her childhood and her wildly different experiences. The author jumped around a lot in time, which I found extremely distracting. Sadly, I grew bored when she began talking about her adult life. The book quickly devolved into a therapy exercise rather than a readable story. I think this book had a lot of potential, but fell short.
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More About the Author

Leigh Newman's memoir Still Points North is forthcoming from Dial Press in spring 2013. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in One Story, Tin House, The New York Times Modern Love and City sections, Fiction, New York Tyrant, O The Oprah Magazine, Oprah.com, Condé Nast Brides, Condé Nast Concierge, Travel Holiday, Ski, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, and Bookforum. She is the Deputy Editor of Oprah.com where she writes about books, life, happiness, survival, and--on rare, lucky days--food. Her work has been anthologized in My Parents Were Awesome (Villard, 2011) and she currently serves as an editor-at-large for indie press wonderkin Black Balloon Publishing.

http://www.leigh-newman.com/

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