Friday Reads: Ada Blackjack
What a rollicking time we had today in the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club. The laughter probably rolled all the way down the library hall. No, we weren’t discussing a Bill Bryson or a Sarah Vowell book, we were waist-deep in Ada Blackjack: a true story of survival in the arctic by Jennifer Niven, published in 2003.
I don’t mean to mislead you. This wonderfully written account of a tragic expedition to Wrangel Island, north of Siberia in the early 1920s, did not contain a shred of humor. It was about the ability of a woman with little preparation and skill to overcome her fears and deficiencies and survive alone in the arctic and how that experience affected the rest of her life.
So, why were we laughing? I suppose it was because we were all sharing our personal reactions to what we read. We contemplated how we identified with Ada, the Eskimo woman … (She was referred to as Eskimo in the book, rather than Inuit, because that was the term used then, as the author explained.) … and how we would have dealt with a diet of raw seal blubber and the threat of polar bears. The issues of gender, maturity, romanticism and charlatanism came up as well, and they all got us questioning our own knowledge, values and abilities to cope under extreme pressure. In revealing ourselves and our shortcomings, we couldn’t help but laugh heartily and rib each other a bit.
Yes, we were laughing. No, dying in the arctic is not a laughing matter. I feel, however, that a discussion of any book that delves deep into the story and deep into the reader is a good discussion and laughing is a good thing. We kept the door open today so the laughter could roll down the hallway. We’ll keep it open on September 1 too, when we discuss Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich. If you’d like to join us, pick up a copy of the book at the reference desk. This one is supposed to be amusing.