Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska by Seth Kantner, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska

Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska

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by Seth Kantner

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Seth Kantner’s Ordinary Wolves told the story of a white boy raised in a sod igloo on the Arctic tundra. A heartbreaking vision of a vanishing world, it established Kantner as one of the nation’s most original and authentic writers. Here, he returns to the setting of his debut novel with an autobiographical account of his own life in a rapidly


Seth Kantner’s Ordinary Wolves told the story of a white boy raised in a sod igloo on the Arctic tundra. A heartbreaking vision of a vanishing world, it established Kantner as one of the nation’s most original and authentic writers. Here, he returns to the setting of his debut novel with an autobiographical account of his own life in a rapidly changing land. Beginning with his parents’ migration to the Alaskan wilderness in the 1950s and extending to his own attempts to balance hunting with writing, Kantner recalls cold nights wrapped in caribou hides, fur-clad visitors arriving on dog sleds, swimming amidst ice floes for wounded waterfowl, and his longstanding respect for the old Iñupiaq ways. Captured in words and images, these details combine to reveal a singular landscape at a pivotal moment in its history. Both an elegy and a romp, the book illuminates a world few will see as Kantner has.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Suspense and heartache are matched by wry humor and outrage, and all is infused with Kantner’s humility and deep respect for the wild as he decries the practices of high-tech trophy hunters, and maps his own metamorphosis from trapper and hunter to writer and photographer. Crafted with the precision and nerve acquired by living off the land, this is a powerful and important book of remembrance, protest, and warning.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Inspiring stories of an upbringing in the frosty wilderness. Employing a pleasant, conversational tone, novelist and outdoor photographer Kantner fondly relates his life in Alaska.”

“A lovely memoir. [Kantner} documents the wisdom of the disappearing Inuit culture his dad revered, and locates its place in modern life. With a sensitive, graceful voice and his own stunning color images, Kantner proves an appealing and talented artist.”
Publishers Weekly

“In his new memoir, Kantner describes an Alaskan childhood spent trapping wolverines and jigging for grayling with his back-to-the-land parents and, later, on his own.”

“Whatever mental picture you have of life in rural Alaska, these autobiographical essays will make you see something different. Kantner’s pull-no-punches, head-on stories are raw, beautiful, and unnerving.”

“The stories are spell-binding, the writing magnificent.”

“The definition of life in the Bush has changed radically in the days since he was born and while tradition demands one thing, modern living tends to veer in another direction. Kantner is as conflicted as anyone else on this subject but he bravely asks the questions and voices the concerns that usually go unheard. When you couple this with his observations about the changing climate in his “backyard,” the book becomes a powerful exploration of our rapidly evolving world and a primer for understanding the dichotomy between the two strongest versions of Alaskan life.”

Shopping for Porcupine is a book that weaves between worry and worship, to borrow a phrase from its author, Seth Kantner. The autobiographical essays collected here offer a glimpse of Kantner’s life in his native north Alaska, portraying a harsh landscape at once torn by progress and brimming with wild blessings.”
High Country News

“Kantner is a natural (no pun intended) storyteller, and describes the tundra’s immensity and timelessness so completely that you imagine you could look out across it and see mammoth.”
Bloomsbury Review

“One of the most beautiful books you’ll ever read – truthful, raw, and lovely. The photographs make the sparse Arctic Alaskan landscape monumentally visible and profound, while Kantner’s writing imparts heroic dignity to the lives around him. This book is bound to become a classic alongside the works of Loren Eiseley, Edward Abbey, and John McPhee.”
— Jonis Agee, author of The River Wife and Strange Angels

“Full of stunning images, and only some of them are in the photos. Others are in the narrative accounts of traditions colliding, subsistences overlapping, dilemmas mounting. It’s all quite unforgettable.”
— Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy and The End of Nature

“Seth Kantner illuminates an Alaska most of us will never know.”
— Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and The Voyage of the Narwhal

“For all the popularity of the recent bestseller and hit movies about Alaska, Shopping for Porcupine comes from a place you haven’t seen and can hardly imagine.
— Dan O’Neill, author of A Land Gone Lonesome

“Searing honesty, lyric style, and raw emotional power. In Ordinary Wolves, you glimpsed Seth Kantner’s life between the words. Here you meet it head-on.”
— Nick Jans, author of The Last Light Breaking

Kirkus Reviews
Inspiring stories of an upbringing in the frosty wilderness. Employing a pleasant, conversational tone, novelist and outdoor photographer Kantner (Ordinary Wolves, 2004) fondly relates his life in Alaska. His prideful father Howard, an intrepid wanderer, scaled Mount McKinley in the early 1960s. Howard had previously learned the ancient ways of the indigenous I-upiaq people, which he and wife Erna then translated into the upbringing of Seth and his brother Kole. Kantner testifies to the immense challenges of day-to-day survival in a homemade sod igloo, a structure that was regularly buried by sudden snow squalls, in a climate where "frostbite was a way of life." The Kantner family subsisted on animals like porcupine and caribou in its entirety: "pot roast, tongue, tenderloins, lips and leg bones, rendered back and intestine fat." They wore mukluks and wrapped themselves in hides to stay warm as they drank melted snow and welcomed stray visitors to their free-range "bush life." Throughout their youth, Seth and Kole experienced "low stone walls of racism" from nearby Eskimo villagers because of their white skin. As they matured into young men, the brothers hunted, ice-fished and trapped otter together, though the gap between their personal interests eventually pried them apart. Kole went on to study physics; Seth romanced his wife-to-be in their igloo, quit college, then later gravitated to the exacting art of nature photographs, many of which fill this book with breathtaking splendor. Later chapters find the author and spouse Stacey enjoying adventures on the Alaskan tundra, including varied moose dramas and driving daughter China to kindergarten in 30-degree-below-zero weather. Now in hislate 40s, the author advocates for the preservation of the Alaskan tundra, increasingly gentrified by big-fisted politics and "heaped and flippant wealth."A majestic, frozen backdrop beautifully thawed by human life.

Product Details

Milkweed Editions
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First Trade Paper Edition
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6.60(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

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Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I enjoyed Ordinary Wolves, so I waited very anxiously for Mr. Kantner¿s next book. It was well worth the wait! The first thing I did was go through all of the pictures in the book. So THIS was the Alaska Mr, Kantner writes about! Far from the tour buses and sight seeing trains. The pictures themselves told a wonderful story! The written stories were perfect ¿ done in a way that not only entertained me, but made me feel the Alaska Mr. Kantner describes. I felt the cold, I heard the wind and could feel the hide of a bear. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, and at times even envied experiences of a life spent in Alaska¿s Wilderness. The Alaska Mr. Kantner writes about is a world fast slipping away ¿ native ways, unmarred land, plentiful animals. I am so grateful that he wrote about a lifestyle ¿ a world ¿ that I would never have had the chance to experience, had it not been for this book. I plan to buy more copies for gifts and would recommend this book to anyone!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Seth Kantner's book, Shopping For Porcupine, is a viscerally real collection of portraits and recollections of life on northwestern Alaska's Kobuk River, from the late 1950's through to the present day. Kantner's folks were 'outsiders' when they settled on the Kobuk, to be followed by many more. Most have moved on, but Seth - who was born in his family's sod iglu - has remained for over 40 years. His dad's connection to the land, the Inuit culture and unfettered subsistance lifestyle rubbed off on Seth, and he has carried on those traditions while coping with the inescapable intrusions of modern Western life. I especially appreciated the honest and literally wrenching descriptions of the changes in the land, the people, the culture and the climate, that over time serve to remind us of the impermanence of anything in this world. Yet Kantner shows us that not all change is beyond our power to control or at least influence -- although simply living by example is not always enough, and speaking up can be a little like banging a pot to scare a bear away: now he knows where you are. Clearly the conundrum is to decide what change to accept gracefully and what to challenge, vocally and adamantly. Wilderness living is not for everyone, and can be almost unfathomable if you haven't done it. Hudson Stuck once said, of wilderness travel by dog team, that the greatest gift one man could give another was a trail. With his writing, Seth Kanter breaks trail through the heart of the last half-century of life in northwestern Alaska as only someone who lives the life could do. Those who find it and follow will be infinitely richer for the journey.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once again, Seth Kantner has not only shown himself to be a brilliant and honest writer but also very much in touch with the country he has lived in and on since birth. Unlike his previous book, Ordinary Wolves, a novel, this non-fiction work deals more openly with the country and its people than with introspection and is much brighter in perspective. It is a is not only a delight, it tells us about a place few know and understand as well as Mr. Kantner. Many, too many, visit briefly and write profusely. As a professor I was often asked to recommend books to read by people heading into the north, to prepare them. Until Mr. Kantner began his writing there was nothing to recommend, nothing that did more than confuse the issues and misrepresent the country and its people. That is no longer the case. I can strongly recommend this book to anyone heading into the North, to anyone just dreaming to do so and especially to those who may never make the trip. This is real stuff by a real Alaskan.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read many books about Alaska, this is the best, period. The reading becomes an experience beyond mere words. Passages will be re-read to try through Kanner's expeience to absorb the deep love he has for the people and the country. At the same time his sadness for what has already and continues to be lost sounds the alarm as have few others.
Kim_G_from_Big_Lake_AK More than 1 year ago
A lyrical telling of his own life in Bush Alaska, rich with vivid childhood images and information of about the hardships and rewards of living off the land.  He brings his first hand experience to us - of people, places and animal behavior, and of native Eskimo culture, and of his experience of change in Alaska today.  Wonderful photographs.  Great story telling. Yes - Read this book if you want a feel for the real Alaska!