Alaska Vacation Reading List
I have been a bookworm since the 1st grade. Maybe that’s why I like it here so much; we get plenty of time to read during Southeast Alaska’s long, dark, rainy winters. It was images that drew me to Alaska: pictures of snow-capped mountains, rainforest islands and colorful fishing villages on the edge of nowhere. After I moved to Ketchikan I discovered that Alaska was also rich in story and storytellers. Any evening with friends here includes tall tales of bush pilots, big bears and adventures on the high seas. There are hundreds of books written about Alaska, and reading is important for guides, but to be perfectly honest I don’t have a great tolerance for non-fiction. It’s a bit like salad: I know that it’s good for me and I really like it when I do eat it, but when given a choice I usually go for the chocolate cake of fiction. Over the years I have set aside my novels and read many Alaska books. This list includes the most fun and interesting Alaska books that appealed to me as a lover of fiction as well as some recommendations from my husband, Greg (a lover of non-fiction,) and a couple from Charlotte Glover, the owner of Ketchikan’s Parnassus Books (thanks Charlotte!)
We did not include books about Native Culture here because they are worthy of their own list. There are also many excellent field and nature guides for Alaska but this is designed as a list of fun reading. If you are planning an Alaska vacation, or live here and it's too dark, cold or rainy to go outside, then there is no better way to get into the spirit of the Last Frontier than immersing yourself in one of these books.
Listening to Whales: What the Orcas have Taught Us by Alexandra Morton
One of our all-time favorite books. The setting is actually British Columbia but we share the resident pods of Orcas and Alexandra Morton’s love of these magnificent animals.
Steller's Island: Adventures of a Pioneer Naturalist in Alaska by Dean Littlepage
George Steller is a key figure in Alaska’s history and the challenges the first Russian expeditions to Alaska faced are incredible. Dean Littlepage’s book about Steller’s journey to Alaska with Vitus Bering is fascinating reading.
The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed by John Valliant
The story of the Golden Spruce begins in the Haida Gwaii and ends here, on Mary Island, just south of Ketchikan (or does it?) John Valliant shares a wealth of information about the temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia and the logging industry as well as a mystery that makes the book hard to put down.
Working on the Edge by Spike Walker
This book was written well before the Deadliest Catch brought the excitement of the Bering Sea Fisheries into our living rooms so it is not an attempt to cash in on the series popularity. Working on the Edge is a genuine account of the difficult and dangerous life of a Bering Sea Fisherman during the time when the fishery was at its most deadly and most lucrative. If you enjoy Spike Walker’s writing try Nights of Ice, his compendium of stories about coastguard rescues in Alaskan waters.
Four Thousand Hooks: A True Story of Fishing and Coming of Age on the High Seas of Alaska by Dean Adams
Charlotte Glover recommends Four Thousand Hooks as one of the best books about commercial fishing in Alaska. The author began long-lining for halibut at age fifteen and went on to captain his own vessel: it is a great book for anyone interested in life on a commercial fishing vessel.
A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles by Boot, Raft and Ski by Erin McKittrick
One of Greg’s favorites and one of Charlotte’s recommendations. This is a truly inspiring modern adventure in Alaska with great insights into the diverse terrain and communities found along Alaska’s coast. If you enjoy A Long Trek Home or outdoor adventures with kids check out McKittrick’s Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home and Family on the Edge of Alaska which is the story of their adventures with their two small children.
The Island Within by Richard Nelson
The Island Within is one of Greg’s favorite books. Richard Nelson’s writing is filled with adjectives and description almost as dense as Alaska's old growth forest. I appreciate how well he describes the experience of spending time in the wilderness of Southeast Alaska. A great book for people planning to fish or hunt in Southeast Alaska, anyone who enjoys nature writing and those who dream of surfing in Alaska.
The Glacier Wolf: True Stories of Life in Southeast Alaska by Nick Jans
Charlotte Glover picks Nick Jans as one of Alaska’s finest writers and recommends all his books. He has several other books telling of life in the Arctic, we picked The Glacier Wolf because it is quite rare to find books specific to Southeast Alaska.
Handloggers by W.H. Jackson with Ethel Dassow
Sadly, Handloggers is out of print but we are putting it on the list because it is such a great read for people who live or plan to spend some time in Ketchikan. The writing is fun and filled with humor and Jackson’s stories of handlogging and trapping in the Ketchikan area between 1907 and the 1960s are truly amazing. It is available at the Ketchikan Public Library and secondhand copies can be found online.
What Did We Miss?
There are so many great Alaska books! Please leave your recommendations in the comments.