If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska is a lovely memoir of sorts by Heather Lende, who makes something of a living writing obituary notices for people in her home town of Haines, Alaska. The book is aptly titled. If you lived there she WOULD know your name, something about your family, your history, your talents, etc. What is beautiful about this book is that even though her career involves death, she instead focuses on life and the beauty therein.
An Episcopalian, Lende is exposed to all sorts of beliefs, traditions and background as she desires to write about who people really were and what their heart was like. Instead of condemning anyone that is different from her in belief or life position, she chooses instead to love and respect. She does this tastefully and genuinely.
Along the way, she learns to enjoy the beauty of her surroundings. She loves her family and she loves her community. Haines, Alaksa, quite frankly, does not sound like an easy place to live. On the contrary, it sounds rough and rugged. Yet underneath the snow and past the raging Alaskan sea there is a warmth of personality. Haines somehow feels like a place you’d want to call home. That is, it feels like a place you’d want to call home until you remember that part about the snow. And the raging sea. Then you just feel grateful you are where you are!
This book was a comfort read, almost like Mitford, to me. I enjoyed hearing about the culture of Haines and how Lende learned to smoke salmon, went blueberry picking and pursued her skills as a “domestic goddess.” I also enjoyed hearing about her family’s rustic cabin in the woods that has only a little electricity and from which they’ve viewed bears and moose along the trails leading to and from the cabin. Everything feels so rustic. (And cold. Did I mention the snow?) The front cover declares Lende to be “part Annie Dillard, part Anne Lamott” but since I’ve never read either I can’t say whether or not that is true. I can say that you will feel like you know the town and the people in it and I dare say that you will like them. Yes, the subject that starts the book is death but by the end of it you are only thinking about life and the beauty that it holds. Well written and well-told, I feel like despite where I might differ with her, I can heartily recommend it. It’s a cozy read, definitely meant to be read under a nice warm blanket. This book has not only the ability to make you long for physical coziness, but it also builds a coziness of the heart. I mean that sincerely.
Carrie comes by her book obsession honestly, having descended from a long line of bibliophiles. She blogs about books regularly at Reading to Know.