Genre: Nonfiction, Wilderness, Adventure
Setting: early 1980s Minnesota and Alaska. Paulsen first ran the Iditarod in 1983.
My copy came from: I got this from Paperbackswap.com
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Review: While adventurous and exciting, Winterdance wasn’t the book for me. I found it too sporty and I honestly didn’t have any interest in the subject matter. I’m definitely not the person this book was written for! Winterdance was a book club read for me, and I can say that had this not been a book club choice, I would not have picked it up. Reading books that I can only classify as wilderness books don’t really appeal to me. You know, those stories that talk of derring-do in the wilds of forests, deserts, snow, oceans, and the like? I’m just not interested in those types of stories. I much prefer my wilderness books to be quiet and contemplative about the scenery and life. I don’t like to read about fighting wild animals and/or surviving in below-zero temperatures. It’s just not my thing.
So, with that being said, this was just not a book that I was going to enjoy. I did go into it with an open mind, hoping that there would be contemplations on life and living in the book, and there were, but as a whole the book was full of too much action for me to enjoy it. It also didn’t help that I was told that this book was absolutely hilarious. I didn’t laugh once. So I was so confused as I was reading, as Winterdance is not written in a funny way, so it wasn’t like I just wasn’t getting the joke. Maybe it’s just because I don’t find someone being dragged for miles behind a sled funny. That just sounds painful and dangerous. I also don’t find tales of being lost in the woods, or being sprayed in the face by five different skunks in one night funny (okay, fine, maybe those skunks were kinda funny). Or crashing into trees. Or falling over cliffs. Or concussions. So this just wasn’t my kind of story. Instead of laughing when these things happened, I just kept thinking, how is this guy still alive? And why is he still doing this? And then I was cringing thinking of the pain he must’ve been in.
“My father says you’re crazy.”
“All of you. The dog drivers. He says you’re all crazy. Are you crazy?”
I thought about the old saw that if you think you’re insane then you’re not insane; truly insane people don’t know they’re insane. But by this time I frankly knew that I was insane—nobody sane would do this, any of this. “Yes, I’m crazy.”
He smiled. “I am nine. I already have four dogs. When I get to be eighteen I am going to go crazy, too, and run this goddamn race.”
Another thing I’d like to mention about Winterdance is that animal lovers might have a hard time with this book. Yes, there is a lot of talk of sled-dogs and good scenes that animal lovers will really love here, but there are also some animal cruelty scenes, and mention of animal trapping, and a horrific image about dog food production. So, those who find animal cruelty difficult to read about, you may want to stay clear of Winterdance, or at least go into it knowing that there are some extremely difficult scenes ahead. But there are also many heart-warming animal scenes as well.
True northern sled dogs like Devil, Ortho, and Murphy. Huge, gray-sided, yellow-eyed meat eaters that didn’t want anything but to pull and eat; no petting, no love, no hate, no touch. Just a harness and a horizon.
I can’t discuss Winterdance without mentioning the beauty and danger of Alaska. You really get a sense for how dangerous the Iditarod is, and how brave and foolish the racers are who run this race. I had no idea the race actually went over a frozen patch of the Bering Sea, and this scene in particular was harrowing to read. So, if you have any interest in the Iditarod at all, you may want to read Winterdance, as it talks about the race from the very beginning: the training, the getting to the race, the lead up to the race, and running the race itself.
Book Club Discussion
Winterdance was a book club read for me, and we had an engaging discussion of the book! While I personally didn’t find this book funny, I did laugh a lot during our discussion of the book, and I now find I appreciate the book more after discussing it with those who did love it. Our group was split on whether or not the book was funny. I think that Winterdance is a good book club choice, as it’s a fairly quick read that delves into topics like survival, animals, and humanity, but isn’t a heavy read.
So, while I could appreciate the book, and did learn a lot about the Iditarod and sled dogs, Winterdance just wasn’t a book for me. I think that those who love wilderness adventure tales, and those with an interest in the Iditarod would really love this book. It just wasn’t my kind of read.
Bottom Line: Full of adventure and wilderness, but it just wasn’t a book for me.
What do you think of Winterdance? Does it sound like your type of book? Have you ever been to Alaska? Would you like to compete in the Iditarod? Have you read any other Gary Paulsen books?