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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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Author One-on-One: Karen Russell and Leigh 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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Newman’s silent cry for love and acceptance from her divorced parents had a haunting effect on me, perhaps because I, too, am a product of divorce and the back-and-forth routine. That said, her story is incredibly unique, and her experiences in Alaska, at times life-threatening, make you open your eyes wide and hold your breath.
In addition to her beautiful writing and the delicacy with which she portrays human nature, Newman lands with a solid and satisfying ending. Still Points North is a worthy and entertaining read!
Leigh tells her story in three parts. Part 1 focuses on her upbringing in Alaska and Baltimore and how she handles the divorce. I loved hearing about her life in Alaska - her Dad builds himself a smoker out of an old refrigerator and smokes their "mountains of salmon" in their driveway! The Top Chef judges would be very impressed.
Part 2 starts out when Leigh is 26 and beginning her writing career (initially for a travel magazine). I liked this part a bit less than the first one - it's more about her struggle with what to make of her life and her commitment issues and focuses less on her Alaskan upbringing, which I think is the truly unique part of this book.
Part 3 turned things back around - she meets a guy! And, of course, struggles with how to navigate that relationship. I got completely sucked into the Leigh/Lawrence story and stayed up very late at night to see how it would end. Don't Google her before reading the book if you want to enjoy the suspense of this plot line! She writes about the relationship in a totally unique way (i.e.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Simply put this is a fun read and hard to put down. As a reader, I found myself rooting for Leigh to make her way thru the wilderness of life and find her way home. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Raven
It was interesting, though depressing. I was not expecting it to me mostly about a dysfunctional family.Published 4 months ago by Photo gal
Not my favorite. I kept waiting for the story to go somewhere but it was rather flat line for me.Published 7 months ago by Alaska Mom
Interesting story about family dynamics, and how it affected and shaped the author's life from a young age. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Seconde Nimenya
Tender, heartbreaking and true grit perseverance ! Alaska serves as the literal and metaphoric heart of this quietly powerful story of true love, read it NOWPublished 14 months ago by Amazon Customer
I read this book in my English class and I absolutely loved it. Leigh Newman's honest, humorous, and easy-to-read style will captivate you from the beginning to the end. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Amazon Customer