Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Arctic Adventures

Here I am with more hard to find and out of print book recommendations.

When Catherine was still a baby I was shopping at a bookstore and notice piles of remaindered books that were part of a series by the God of Canadian history writing, Pierre Berton. Each paperback was a dollar and they dealt with everything from the building of the railway to The War of 1812 to Arctic exploration. And man, they were good. At the time I read the book on William Edward Parry and it sparked an interest an enduring interest in books on arctic and antarctic journeys (As proof, I offer up my knowledge of scurvy and cannibalism).

Monday I pulled out that book on Parry and declared that it was my next read-aloud. Catherine rolled her eyes. History was exciting only when it involved the ancients she thought. I got through chapter one and she wasn't convinced. I got through chapter two and she was saying that I could go on if I wanted. I got to chapter three and she was telling me not to stop. Tonight we finished the second book in the Arctic series (on Robert McClure, discoverer of the Northwest Passage) and tomorrow we'll start the last one. Unfortunately, I'm missing the fourth book, on Franklin. Such a shame because that's easily the saddest and spookiest chapter in the saga of the search for the Northwest Passage. I'll find it somewhere. I'll have to. Catherine's eyes now light up when I mention Inuits or hummocky ice.

The nicest part of this though is that I love the subject, Catherine is wrapped up in it now, Harry will listen and my husband, who also loves history, will find an excuse to come sit with us while I read. It's turning into a real family activity.

The series is called Adventures in Canadian History. I bought individual paperbacks but I think I've seen a collection of all 16 books before. If not, Pierre Berton also has a book, The Arctic Grail, which covers much of the same territory but in, I suspect, more detail.

Another favourite of mine is Barrow's Boys by Fergus Flemming.

It covers much of the same but with a different perspective. In fact, when I worked at a bookstore I once sold a copy of that book to Simon Winchester who really enjoyed it as well (he had to come through a week later and told a co-worker to thank me. I so loved that job).

Ships marooned for years, people dying of scurvy and starvation, the constant threat of crushing ice, the thrill of undiscovered peoples...History doesn't get much better than this.

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