Summary and book reviews of Of Bears and Ballots by Heather Lende

Of Bears and Ballots

An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics

by Heather Lende

Of Bears and Ballots by Heather Lende X
Of Bears and Ballots by Heather Lende
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Jun 2020, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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About this Book

Book Summary

The writer whom the Los Angeles Times calls "part Annie Dillard, part Anne Lamott" now brings us her quirky and compassionate account of holding local office.

Heather Lende was one of the thousands of women inspired to take a more active role in politics during the past few years. Though her entire campaign for assembly member in Haines, Alaska, cost less than $1,000, she won! But tiny, breathtakingly beautiful Haines—a place accessible from the nearest city, Juneau, only by boat or plane—isn't the sleepy town that it appears to be: from a bitter debate about the expansion of the fishing boat harbor to the matter of how to stop bears from rifling through garbage on Main Street to the recall campaign that targeted three assembly members, including Lende, we witness the nitty-gritty of passing legislation, the lofty ideals of our republic, and how the polarizing national politics of our era play out in one small town.

With an entertaining cast of offbeat but relatable characters, Of Bears and Ballots is an inspirational tale about what living in a community really means, and what we owe one another.

★ ONE ★
Election Day

THERE ARE TWO polling places in Haines. One is in the arts center lobby, on the hill above the harbor and cruise ship dock, the other at the re hall in Mosquito Lake, a woodsy rural settlement twenty-six miles out of town. I voted at the arts center and said hi to everyone as I walked in, but I didn't say, "Wish me luck," or anything close to it. The public radio station, KHNS, and signs on the street corners reminded residents that no campaigning was allowed at or near polling places. One neighbor, who lives in an old house with a wide porch on Soap Suds Alley, was asked by the borough clerk to remove campaign signs from his yard since his home was too close to the polls. I did notice who was there voting, though, friends and foes, and wondered which side of the Haines left-right divide would be victorious. Either way, a little more than half of us would be happy, and a little less than half would be disappointed. Haines is predictable; I assumed it ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

As a politically impassioned reader, I found some of Lende's recommendations too idle. Particularly at a time when very real social injustices are inspiring mass organized action focused on race and police brutality, trying to convince readers that "it's just politics, not real life," feels unsettling and silencing. The personal is political. Despite this point of criticism, Of Bears and Ballots is an interesting and optimistic look at local politics in America. Although there are some unique challenges faced by those in rural Alaska, Haines is representative of a broader picture of American politics, and Lende's story offers some ideas as to how people might work together and move forward...continued

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(Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Media Reviews

New York Journal of Books
In chapters that feel like diary entries, including both workaday details and the author’s emotional state, Of Bears and Ballots meanders through Lende’s three-year term without much of a story arc...At its best, the book showcases Lende’s folksy style and keen understanding of her small town’s culture...This book will likely appeal more to Lende’s existing fans than to new readers, who are better off starting with her earlier books that deal with more lively topics.

Minneapolis Star Tribune
Lende is a graceful and endearing writer, recapitulating the kind of wily, folksy wit and wisdom we associate with, say, Mark Twain, so much more powerful than the predictable “gotcha” snark of our social media age...What a blessing Lende’s view of democracy, which she calls 'glorious chaos,' is in this dark era. 'So much depends on people of good will, and they are everywhere,' she writes. She reminds us about the dreams we share, especially now, as we cry for, and struggle to save, our beloved country.

Kirkus Reviews
A memoir from an idealistic older woman who won political office for the first time...Written in her usual sprightly, witty, humble, effervescent style, this one will please the author's fans.

Publishers Weekly
The result is an honest and inspirational investigation into why "it's easy to say what's wrong with government; it's harder to fix it, and progress can be very slow."

Library Journal
A heartfelt ode to civil service. Recommended for readers interested in government, civil service, and small-town life.

Author Blurb Tom Kizza, New York Times-bestselling author of Pilgrim's Wilderness and The Wake of the Unseen Object
Heather Lende has the voice of that friend down the street you love to chat with over coffee—the one who knows everything going on in town, but also knows the difference between gossip and storytelling.

Author Blurb Melody Warnick, author of This Is Where You Belong
Heather Lende's brave, big-hearted book about her run for local office fairly bursts with affection for her place and its people. By the end you'll be torn between wanting to move to Haines, Alaska, and wanting Heather to take the helm of your hometown." -

Author Blurb Bruce Botelho, former Mayor of Juneau, Alaska
An uplifting reminder that democracy works in America. While its setting is an extraordinary landscape of mountains, glaciers and the waters of Lynn Canal, the political scene and the cast of characters Lende captures will find resonance in every corner of America." -

Author Blurb Bill McKibben, author of Falter
Citizenship—real, active citizenship of the kind we badly need—is hard work, as this book makes clear. But it's also rewarding in a profound way; hopefully this will inspire people to work with and for their neighbors in all kinds of ways!" -

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Beyond the Book

Elizabeth Peratrovich and the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945

Black and white photograph of Elizabeth PeratrovichIn Of Bears and Ballots, Heather Lende reflects on the contributions of Elizabeth Peratrovich to Alaskan history during a community event celebrating the activist's life.

Elizabeth Peratrovich (1911-1958) worked tirelessly to achieve equality for Alaskan Natives. Those familiar with Peratrovich likely know of her role in passing the first anti-discrimination bill in the United States: Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. Her powerful testimony to Alaska's Territorial Legislature is believed to have split the opposition, allowing for the bill's passage. However, her commitment to civil rights and equality was lifelong.

Peratrovitch was born in Petersburg, Alaska as a member of the Tlingit Nation, an original people of the Pacific...

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