Once a month, in my new Rocking Reads section, I will talk about a book that I found superbly entertaining and the reasons for why it rocked my world. The books will range from engrossing fiction to enthralling travelogues to engaging non-fiction. Some are bestsellers, some not many have heard of. Old or new, short or long, the goal here is to share my love of books and hopefully start a discussion.
I hope you tune in and contribute to the section with your comments and suggestions. I am always looking for book recommendations, so please feel free to share your favorites.
This month’s book suggestion is Travels in Siberia by New Yorker writer Ian Frazier. In this travelogue that is part historical and part humorous, 59 year old Frazier chronicles his five trips over seventeen years across the massive wild land of Siberia not many think of venturing to. When was the last time you heard anyone say they are going to Siberia? I suppose never. But with this book in hand, you basically go there- to the endless forests, the haunting gulags, and drive along in a rickety Renault step van or take a train ride over 9000 miles and eight times zones. You experience the chill of the bitter Siberian cold, and the thrill of a land steeped in dramatic history and intriguing culture.
When my wonderful writing guru Susan Shapiro introduced me to her friend and mentor Ian Frazier at a panel event last Fall, I had no idea how famous he was. In his signature baseball cap and blue jeans, he was simple and humble and talked about his love of the wilderness. When I told him I wanted to write for Outside magazine that he used to contribute to, he kindly made suggestions and offered to connect me with the editor. When he visited our New School class as a guest speaker a few months later, I was awed by this man’s achievements- from his best selling Great Plains and On the Rez books about his western adventures to his Thurber Prize for his humor works. After class, I emailed my professor if it’d be overly ambitious of me to consider doing a profile of Frazier for the magazine I write for. “Sure, go for it!” was all the encouragement I needed to go ahead. But soon, anxiety set in. How could I write about THE Ian Frazier? What if the profile doesn’t measure up? What if I can’t do it? After all, it was my very first attempt at writing an author profile.
Within the next week, I raced through the 500 page hardcover, jotted down notes and questions for him. With his responses and help from my professor and writer friends, I was able to produce a profile for Resident magazine that you can find here. Those who read it said it was good, but I think it’s the book’s material that is enchanting. I learned more than I ever needed to know about Russia and its history. I fell in love with the poetic style of Frazier’s writing. Frazier’s dry and witty sense of humor made me forget about the length of the book. Most of all, the book was eye opening and enriching, as any travelogue ought be.
Below is a video of Frazier on The Colbert Report. At another panel event recently, Frazier recounted the whole experience by saying, “it’s like your favorite uncles tickles you for a bit, and then he’s done.”
Watch and find out for yourself.
FSG, 544 pp., $30