Part adventure story, part love story, part homecoming, Still Points North is a page-turning memoir that explores the extremes of belonging and exile, and the difference between how to survive and knowing how to truly live.
Growing up in the wilds of Alaska, seven-year-old Leigh Newman spent her time landing silver salmon, hiking glaciers, and flying in a single-prop plane. But her life split in two when her parents unexpectedly divorced, requiring her to spend summers on the tundra with her “Great Alaskan” father and the school year in Baltimore with her more urbane mother.
Navigating the fraught terrain of her family’s unraveling, Newman did what any outdoorsman would do: She adapted. With her father she fished remote rivers, hunted caribou, and packed her own shotgun shells. With her mother she memorized the names of antique furniture, composed proper bread-and-butter notes, and studied Latin poetry at a private girl’s school. Charting her way through these two very different worlds, Newman learned to never get attached to people or places, and to leave others before they left her. As an adult, she explored the most distant reaches of the globe as a travel writer, yet had difficulty navigating the far more foreign landscape of love and marriage.
In vivid, astonishing prose, Newman reveals how a child torn between two homes becomes a woman who both fears and idealizes connection, how a need for independence can morph into isolation, and how even the most guarded heart can still long for understanding. Still Points North is a love letter to an unconventional Alaskan childhood of endurance and affection, one that teaches us that no matter where you go in life, the truest tests of courage are the chances you take, not with bears and blizzards, but with other people.
Praise for Still Points North
“Newman has crafted a vivid exploration of a broken family. . . . Her pain will resonate strongly with readers, and she vividly brings both Alaska and Maryland to life. . . . A natural for book clubs.”—Booklist
“Newman’s adult search for her own true home is riveting, as are her worldwide adventures; it’s a joy to be in on the ride.”—Reader’s Digest
“What really sets this fearless memoir apart is the heartfelt, riotously funning writing, which will have you reading passages aloud, and rooting for Newman all the way.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Newman writes so lucidly about bewilderment, so honestly about self-deception, so courageously about fear, so compassionately about insensitivity, so hilariously about suffering and loss. Still Points North is a remarkable book: a travel memoir of the mapless, dangerous seas and territories between childhood and adulthood.”—Karen Russell, Pulitzer Prize finalist for Swamplandia!
“A wise, refreshing and enjoyable read.”—New York Daily News
“[Newman is] at her best bringing to life the chapters on her near-feral Alaskan upbringing. You can practically smell the freshly killed game.”—Entertainment Weekly
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.44(w) x 9.22(h) x 0.95(d)|
About the Author
Leigh Newman is the deputy editor and head of books coverage for Oprah.com. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, Tin House, and The New York Times’s Modern Love and City sections.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from "Still Points North"
Copyright © 2013 Leigh Newman.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I Forget Me Not
Chapter 1 The Great Alaskan 3
Chapter 2 Can't Lives on Won't Street 13
Chapter 3 Homeland 29
Chapter 4 Sweat and Pencils 42
Chapter 5 Snowslide or Glacier? 55
Chapter 6 Summon the Strength 75
Part II The Middle of the Woods
Chapter 7 Dividing the World 87
Chapter 8 The Mystery of Beautiful Things 110
Chapter 9 Homemarks 120
Chapter 10 Street Wolves 137
Part III Back in the Water
Chapter 11 Love and Altitude 153
Chapter 12 Riding Out the Updraft 178
Chapter 13 Boulder, Boulder, Paddle 186
Chapter 14 Cinq de Plus 215
Chapter 15 A Tablecloth in the Wilderness 222
Reading Group Guide
1. In the beginning, the author describes events and objects as belonging to either an “Inside” or “Outside” world. What do these divisions represent? Do the two halves ever change or overlap?
2. Leigh’s childhood is split between two very different worlds. How do you think her life would have been different if she had only grown up in Alaska, or only in Baltimore? What did the combination of these experiences give her?
3. Leigh begins Part II “The Middle of the Woods” with the memory of swimming with a dolphin family. Why do you think she chose this story as a transition to the adult part of her memoir?
4. Acquiring Leonard the dog and a more homelike new apartment represent an important life change for Leigh. What do they signify? Have you had any similar markers of transitional moments in your life?
5. Despite the belief that opposites attract, Leigh and Lawrence seem to get along because of their similarities. What does Lawrence provide for Leigh and vice versa? How does their relationship change over time?
6. Leigh insists on catching a king salmon despite her admitted indifference to the fish. Why do you think this is? What does catching a king salmon mean for Leigh and her Great Alaskan life? Have you ever done something like this?
7. Leigh and her mother have a complex relationship. What does her mom’s commitment to finding the wedding dress help Leigh understand?
8. Why is the scene in the Parisian flower shop an important moment for Leigh? What does she learn?
9. On page 125 Leigh realizes, “That’s the thing about parents…you don’t have to see them all that much to imitate them.” In what ways do the characters in this memoir imitate their parents?
10. How does Leigh’s relationship with her father transform over the course of her life? What were the most influential moments? What has she learned about her father and herself by their conversation in Chapter 15?
11. Why is Nana such an important character to Leigh? How does she compare to Leigh’s other grandmother, Maybelle? Why are both important in shaping the author’s development?
12. On page 220, Leigh wonders “how long do you have to live somewhere for it to be home?” How would you answer her question?
13. Of all the themes in the memoir—wanderlust, travel, family, home, and love in all its permutations—which did you find the most compelling? Why?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I’ve tried writing from the perspective of a child and can attest that it isn’t easy for an adult to stay consistently in a young person’s mind, to sound believable, and still be insightful and engaging. It’s a balancing act that Newman has mastered. Even in the voice of her younger self, she inspires, challenges, and makes you fall in love with her. Newman’s silent cry for love and acceptance from her divorced parents had a haunting effect on me, perhaps because I, too, am a product of divorce and the back-and-forth routine. That said, her story is incredibly unique, and her experiences in Alaska, at times life-threatening, make you open your eyes wide and hold your breath. In addition to her beautiful writing and the delicacy with which she portrays human nature, Newman lands with a solid and satisfying ending. Still Points North is a worthy and entertaining read!
I read this book in my English class and I absolutely loved it. Leigh Newman's honest, humorous, and easy-to-read style will captivate you from the beginning to the end. A beautiful story that's honest about the complexity and flaws of the people around us. A definite must-read.
I was expecting it to be about the area and the authors memories; but it was more about family dynamics. I'm so sorry she had to deal with this and I hope this was cathartic for her to write it. I'm sure others may like it but it just was not what I was expecting.
I loved this book so much that I couldn't put it down on my last flight. It's such a pleasure to dissapear into the heart and mind of this sensitive, thoughtful writer. Whether you've been to Alaska or suffered through your parents divorce or not, you will find her insighr both brave and surprising.
Great story of how a confused child of divorce finds escape as an impossible path to happiness. But also a story of the power of unconditional love in saving a child as an adult. Highly recommend.
A hard childhood but obviously one she enjoyed for the most part. Very dangerous at times and her father obviously forgot some basic safety precautions at times.
I am not a native English speaker; which makes it always more difficult to enter into a new book. Here it is not. A smooth entrance. Writing is fluid. It is an "invitation au voyage" to the far North, but also to the complex internal world of childhood, the weight but also the strength of the influence of the parents. Always subtly described ... Cannot wait to finish the book. A great memoir!
Liegh Newman has the Saturday pancake smile and twinkle-in-the-eye of a tomboy who grew into her own unique version of womanhood. I feel like she wrote this book for me, for us - her peers who grew up loving the outdoors with our dads, then moved away in pursuit of professional dreams and complicated, urban lives. The story made me nostalgic and long for a simpler time of community and connectedness, to our families, to our friends and to the earth. Thank you Leigh for reminding me that the journey that starts from home can help me find my way back to who I really am. Pick up a copy today and dive into the delicious nostalgia! Jennifer Cain Birkmose