Call of the Wild

Progress has been slow on the Classics Book Reading Project front, for all the usual reasons, which can be largely summed up as “life”- I’ve read a few more than indicated here, because I just haven’t blogged about them, but I’m definitely still behind where I “should” be according to our five year plan.

But! I just took a trip to Alaska, and between the plane rides and the lack of phone service at my grandfather’s house, I knew I had a chance to do a little catching up. I’ve been bogged down in Brothers Karamazov for a while (it’s long, and I so far just. don’t. care. about any of the characters, which makes it hard going), so in spite of how much it hurts me to do things out of order, I figured I should pick up one of the next ones on the list, preferably a short one, and see if I couldn’t just at least make some headway. Ergo, I downloaded several of the next books onto my kindle and set off.

By simple dint of it showing up on the front page of my kindle and being short, I ended up reading Call of the Wild next, and I have to say, I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to! It’s a book a lot of people read in junior high or middle school, I think, because it’s short and relatively accessible, but I’d never read it before. It’s also kind of big in the Bay Area, because of course Jack London was from here, so there’s a certain hometown pride associated with it. All I really knew about it, though, was that it was about some dog going wild. I don’t much care for dogs generally, and also am not much into the sort of early-20th-century romanticization of nature and the inner lives of various creatures, so it had never held any particular attraction for me.

I did not know, however, that it takes place in Alaska! (Or, at least, largely in Alaska, and the rest of it in the surrounding bits of Canada.) So, through pure serendipity, I ended up reading it at exactly the right moment- being able to literally follow along with the geography of the story as we drove up from Anchorage to Fairbanks added a whole other dimension to the actual story itself, and got me really excited for seeing what would happen next, and where.

If you’re not familiar with the plot, the basic premise is that a Platonic ideal of a dog who belongs to a wealthy judge in the Bay Area gets kidnapped and sold north to be a sled dog in the Alaskan gold-rush. It’s told from the dog’s perspective, describing how he learns to work for different kinds of people and how to deal with the other dogs, and how he goes through the trials and travails of being a sled dog in the last frontier, and in the process it details a lot of really fascinating geography and history.

I do highly recommend that you read it with a map in hand- there are a lot of route descriptions and territory covered, and it’s both helpful and fun to be able to follow along with where he is at any given moment. There is a bit of graphic violence, both of dogfight descriptions and of men beating dogs, and there’s the odd casual bit of racism, though it’s really a surprisingly low amount for the time.

Final score: 9/10. Short, engaging, and easy to plow through. Would read again!

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