Five Good Reads: Michelle Hale

Five Good Reads: Michelle Hale

This week’s list of Five Good Reads was submitted by Juneau resident Michelle Hale.

My books are regional, of a place. “This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind,” by Ivan Doig, knocked my socks off. I’ve said that to so many people so many times that I just have to say it here. I chanced upon it on the free book shelf at the Downtown Public Library, a couple of decades ago. My picking it out from that scattered collection is testament to a damn good book title.

Reading “This House of Sky,” I fell in love with Montana, with Ivan Doig, with his father, his mother, the rough-edged places he’d lived in as a child. I felt that Doig described my own life growing up in Southeast Alaska better than anyone writing about Alaska ever had. And he wasn’t writing about Alaska. In fact, when I read his “The Sea Runners,” a historical novel about indentured servants escaping Russian Sitka by rowing from Sitka to Oregon, I was keenly disappointed. This place, Southeast Alaska, I know like the back of my hand (another expression that I’ve used perhaps too many times). Ivan Doig missed so much about Southeast Alaska in that book because he didn’t know it like the back of his hand but he knew Montana, by golly, like the back of his hand, and that, I think, is why This House of Sky resonates so with me.

Kim Rich got there, too, in “Johnny’s Girl.” I couldn’t stop crying at the end of the play that Perseverance Theatre did of her book about growing up in her tough Anchorage of the 1960s.

I love the rough edges of life because they are real. I am grateful to my mother for raising me in a real world, while still sheltering me such that I’ve come through strong.

“Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey kicked my butt when I read it in the ‘80s. It reminded me of Prince of Wales Island where I lived my formative teenage years. The tragi-comic death of Joe Ben, pinned by a log in the river, was akin to so many of my friends and acquaintances who drowned or were killed falling trees in the woods or died in small plane crashes in what Colleen Mondor of the Alaska Dispatch News recently described as the “perpetual high accident and fatality” cycle of the Alaska Bush flight. Yet we always got on those small planes when we needed to go to town. They weren’t optional.

A more recent book, with poignancy that is crushing at times, is Dan O’Neill’s “A Land Gone Lonesome: An Inland Voyage Along the Yukon River,” about the locking up of Alaska and the taking away of places that were our homes. I remember the sense of loss I felt when fishing in my 20s at Hole in the Wall down by Noyes Island, when I realized with a jolt that never again would there be a community on the neighboring beaches. It was protected—meaning that it was protected from us humans. We’re no longer part of the story, part of the landscape.

Beyond my Western United States but still decidedly regional is “The Great Game” by Peter Hopkirk. He tells the gripping story of the 19th century competition of Imperialist Russia and expansionist Great Britain for domination of Central Asia – western China, northern India, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey. I am entranced by the stories and the adventures and the great writing. I want to go to Central Asia, I want to drag my husband to these incredible places, and, by the way, not get killed in the process. These are some dangerous places, these days.

I thank my ancestors and my stars, and these wonderful books that have filled my life since early childhood, that I love a little danger.

• To submit your own list of Five Good Reads in any genre, email

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