Polar Chic

There's nothing hotter than cold women — or so some publishers say

Jan 1, 1999
Outside Magazine

During the eight months she spent in the frozen wilds of Two Rivers, Alaska, with her husband, their three-year-old daughter, and 33 dogs, Ann Cook weathered some trying ordeals. She spent a minus-60-degree night huddled in a pile of hay with her huskies. She employed a snow shovel to fend off an animal she thought was a renegade moose (it turned out to be a horse), stitched 12 fleece doggie jackets on a broken sewing machine, and endured a litany of other woes stemming from her decision to move from New England in 1991 to race sled dogs across the tundra. All of which are chronicled in chilling detail in her recently released book, Running North, a memoir that the publisher, Algonquin Books, has elected to promote through an inventive if somewhat strained device: Next month, Algonquin is sending her off on a dogsled tour across northern New Hampshire.

If all goes according to plan, Cook's husky-enhanced publicity stunt will (a) sell lots of books and (b) catapult the 43-year-old debut author into the front ranks of the publishing world's literary genre du jour: Women Who Write About Snow. The latest spin-off of the endlessly hyped and immensely profitable Men Who Write About Disasters category, the trend includes such recent works as Sara Wheeler's Antarctic travelogue Terra Incognita; Caroline Alexander's The Endurance, an account of Ernest Shackleton's 1914-1917 polar expedition; Jenny Diski's memoir Skating to Antarctica; and Andrea Barrett's adventure novel The Voyage of the Narwhal.

Unfortunately, aside from snowy settings and the fact that they are penned by women, few of these books actually have much in common. That, however, hasn't stopped publishing-industry insiders from announcing that a dramatic shift in the zeitgeist has taken place. Nor has it discouraged media pundits from making breathless inquiries into what this all means. ("Why," demanded a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, "are so many chicks going polar?") All of which has generated the kind of overheated hype that has left some of the principal players feeling a little confused. "I didn't realize I was part of a new trend, because I didn't know there was a new trend," declares Diski. "Women have been off adventuring since the 19th century. It would be a bit sad to say that, on the brink of the millennium, we're just now picking up our petticoats and venturing out of the house."



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