Title: Winterdance (The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod)
Author: Gary Paulsen
Don’t think this is some boring biography like the ones we read about historical figures in high school. If you ever enjoyed Jack London books, you should pick this one up as soon as possible. If you’ve never heard of Jack London, this book will probably give you a taste for that kind of literature.
Paulsen’s story-telling technique is excellent, though sometimes he describes experiences a little out of order. While Jack London’s books are largely written from the point of the view of the dog, Paulsen’s book is very much from a human perspective. His trials and tribulations trying to prepare for this crazy race with a crazy bunch of dogs almost trump the actual experience of the race itself.
My copy of the book declares on the front how it inspired the motion picture “Snow Dogs”, but the striking difference between the two mediums is almost ridiculous. Snow Dogs is a comedy, a chuckle and a heartwarming ending at best. Winterdance is an exploration of the human condition and our individual relationships with nature and the universe with natural-feeling humor and beautiful honesty sprinkled evenly throughout the story. The dogs, humans, wild animals, and nature are all savage as hell but there is an incredible innocence to it all. The race is crazy, a killer, hard to finish and even more difficult to win. It is, indeed, a fine madness.
I was doubtful about what the tone would be like, but it is very far from scientific and despite the constant descriptions of below-freezing temperatures, Paulsen is a warm writer that draws you in and lets you experience the wonder of it all right alongside him. He is full of good humor and determination even through circumstances that would have most of us intelligibly cursing the heavens and everything that exists, and he leaves nothing out - including embarrassing amounts of ignorance and just plain physical embarrassments.
I almost wish he’d lingered more on the actual Iditarod (which all told, only took up about the last fourth of the book), but I don’t feel at all unsatisfied by all the things this book gave me to think about. This isn’t the kind of book that changes you in one big crazy way - it’s the kind of book that changes you in dozens of tiny inconspicuous ways.
I still find it very hard to imagine zero degrees as a balmy temperature, though.