In New York City – Reading About Alaska

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I was in New York for about 24 hours (counting sleeping) over the weekend, but there was plenty of time for a few literary adventures!

One of the primary reasons for our visit was to see the new Lincoln Center production of Macbeth with Ethan Hawke. As you might guess, there was lots of blood that no amount of water could wash out.  We also visited the Frick Colleciton to see a very famous young woman – Girl with a Pearl Earring. Vermeer’s most well-known painting is part of an exhibit of Dutch paintings while their permanent home in The Hague is undergoing renovations.

Between our art and theater excursions, there was enough time to visit a bookstore. We went to Rizzoli on West 57th Street, which is a Cathedral of Books. Look at these pictures:

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Rizzoli has more beautiful books than any store I know. At a time when nearly every book can be downloaded and read on a screen, the books in Rizzoli remind me of how beautiful the physical object can be.  I also had a celebrity sighting. Standing at a table looking at the art monographs, I noticed Bill Cunningham, the well-known New York Times fashion photographer, browsing across from me. Cunningham’s “On the Street” column in the Sunday paper is one of my favorite features so it was a memorable New York minute.

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It was definitely getting colder this weekend, but that may have had something to do with what I read during our short trip – Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill. Bo is the spunky heroine of this charming story that takes place in late 1920s Alaska. She is being raised by two gold miners, Arvid and Jack, and their community of friends and neighbors in their Eskimo village. Each chapter focuses on an incident in Bo’s life, which includes things seeing an airplane for the first time, watching the miner’s extract gold from the earth, and visiting friends who live even more remotely than the miner’s in Bo’s community.

The way this young girl comes to live with two men is explained straightforwardly on page 2: “Well, everyone has a mama,” said Jack. But sometimes mamas don’t stick around, you know. Just walk off. Lots of animals like that.”  A direct explanation, but right away Bo is reassured by Jack, one of her papas….”lucky for us, someone giving up babies. Just what me and Arvid needed..”

In an essay about the writing of Bo at Ballard Creek, Kirkpatrick Hill writes on her website:

“Partnerships were ubiquitous back then – all the oldtimers I knew had a partner. Of course most partnerships were formed because looking for gold was never-ending work, too much for one man. For Arvid and Jack the work that was too much for one man was raising a baby. So nothing could have been more natural to the story than giving Bo a team of papas….”

The author has an essay about the writing of Bo at Ballard Creek on her website: http://www.kirkpatrickhill.com

A thought about the cover. This book made me think again about the power of a good book cover. Maybe because I was reading Bo at Ballard Creek while visiting Rizzoli, but sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. It sets the tone – establishes a mood. LeUyen Pham has designed an inviting and festive cover that makes you want to know the characters.

I have been looking through Bo at Ballard Creek to find the perfect passage to convey the warmth of this book. It was a hard choice, but here’s what I settled on:

“The next day, he (Jack) started the doughnuts. When the first two hundred were done, he tossed them in the big bowl with sugar, and that was the doughnuts done for that day. Bo must put them in big tins to keep them fresh, stacking them carefully so they wouldn’t get squashed. The next day, Jack made another batch because there would be a lot of people at the Fourth of July, and doughnuts were what they looked forward to all year. Four hundred doughnuts were not too many.”

Put this one on your holiday shopping list.

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