Shawn Sorensen's Reviews > Red Summer: The Danger, Madness, and Exaltation of Salmon Fishing in a Remote Alaskan Village

Red Summer by Bill Carter
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Apr 27, 12

bookshelves: graphies-auto-or-bio, national-and-international-affairs
Read from February 26 to April 02, 2012

[3 1/2 stars]
Without an overall story arc or much revealed about the author's life, Red Summer reads as a slightly philosophical, sometimes political and very long National Geographic article about people you don't get to know all that well (except for Sharon, the boat captain who hires Carter). I oscillated between being fascinated and wondering why anyone would do this sort or work, especially if the money isn't good any more. Then I wondered why anybody would write a book about this sort of work.

Here's what reeled me in. First off, I appreciated the author's need to commune with open, rugged wilderness. His general outlook is that it's spiritually healthy to be in an environment where people are animals trying to survive like all other animals, which I find wise and necessary. It puts one in his/her historical place, one more out of respect than domination. The work is incredibly dangerous, especially considering the water is usually too cold and powerful to consider swimming to shore as anything but a last, desperate resort. Like many an excellent travel writer (Ryszard Kapuściński, etc.), Carter is simply a guy who survived, humbled to be telling the story.

His take on the many Native Americans is another interesting tributary. He has a compelling bit about how tied they are to the tides, how they can feel what the water is doing without needing to broadcast their expertise. He talks about meeting a Native (Kevin), who finally reveals he knew Carter when Carter worked in a Alaskan cannery, years & years ago. That experience is seminal in a trail of developments documented in Carter's phenomenal book "Fools Rush In". That it took so many conversations with Kevin to learn this news leads to a fascinating realization by Carter:

"When [Native Americans are] speaking, they often delay their response to a question, maybe ten seconds, a minute, or an hour. The effect of the delay can make them seem thoughtful and pensive. That may be true of some, but over the years I've come to realize that they just have a different sense of time. Or, said another way, Native Americans, unlike the people of more modern cultures, don't believe talking is the same thing as thinking."

As I've come to expect with Carter, the writing style is honest, conversational. Ultra readable.

While I didn't understand or like why Carter seems so distant from all of the people he writes about (it seems a little too respectful/journalistic), I respected this bit of distance by the end of the book. The greater point is that people work in the fishing industry or live in Alaska because they want it to be their little 'oasis' away from it all. The unforgiving climate is the ultimate opportunity for alone time - even a writer like Carter can't stay through the winter. His motto from these experiences is "do the work or leave". He does the work, then high tails it out.

I recommend this book to avid travel readers or people considering the nothing-like-it adventure of working in Alaska over the summer (and who have not yet thought of any other money-making alternatives).
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03/21/2012 page 102
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Michael Phillips great review Shawn! I just read his new book (coming October 16) and it is amaaazing!


Shawn Sorensen Yeah, I pre-ordered Boom Bust Boom and am really looking forward to it. I love Carter's writing style. Thanks Michael!


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