Michener, James A.: Alaska
(researched by Aaron Butt)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

James A. Michener. Alaska. New York: Random House, Inc., 1988. Parallel first edition: Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Copyright: James A. Michener

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

First American edition published in trade cloth binding.

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

442 leaves, [14]pp.[1-3]4-10[11]12-33[34]35-88[89]90-174[175] 176-226[227]228-309[310]311-365[366]367-464[465]466-524 [525]526-628[629]630-737[738]739-868[2] Note: chapter pages not numbered Page numbers are 15mm from top of page, 20mm from outside edge.

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

Includes a list of other books by James A. Michener on page [4], Acknowledgements to contributers by Michener on page [9-10], a list of Fact and Fiction, describing what is fact and what is fiction in the novel on page [11-12], and a Table of contents on page [13].

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

Green and brown maps are inside both front and back covers, and on page [1], [870]. The map on the front inside cover depicts Alaska, and the surrounding area, the map on the back inside cover depicts the greater north pole area. Cartography copyright 1988 by Jean Paul Tremblay. Calligraphy black and white drawings on title page and each chapter page.

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

The text is very readable, normal print size, with large margins. Measurement of Page: approximately 233mm x 155mm Measurement of Text: approximately 185mm x 110mm Margins: top-22mm, bottom-26mm, sides-20mm First letter in each chapter is uppercase bold, chapter titles in uppercase bold calligraphy by Carole Lowenstein. Chapter numbers are bold calligraphy in Roman numerals.

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

Paper is creamy white, not aged or faded. Pages are clean and generally in good shape, with slight discoloration on outside edge.

11 Description of binding(s)

Binding looks to be Calico-texture cloth. Orange yellow hue. Front cover has illustration of mountains stamped in gold hue. Transcription of the spine: [vertical ruler] | JAMES A. | MICHENER | [horizontal ruler] | ALASKA [horizontal ruler] | RANDOM HOUSE | [random house logo]| [vertical ruler]

12 Transcription of title page

ALASKA |[horizontal rule line]| JAMES A. MICHENER | RANDOM HOUSE [random house logo] NEW YORK (illustration described in number 15-other)

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

consulted: websites: University of Northern Colorado University of Miami University of Texas at Austin Swarthmore College Universities of Alaska Library of Congress ** The most likely location is the Library of Congress, which has a James A. Michener Collection off-site ***

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

The chapter illustrations depict scenes typical of the chapter's content (i.e. the first chapter illustration shows volcano's errupting, and the first chapter is about the formation of Alaska).

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

Other editions: Michener, James. Alaska 1rst ed. New York: Random House, 1988 868 p. : 2 col. maps ; 25 cm. **specially bound and signed by the author, numbered 1-1000***

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

First printing: 800,000 copies. 1000 signed and numbered special editions further printings unknown

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

Other editions include translations described in number 13. "Alaska" Guild Publishing, 1988. London. 915 p. ; 25 cm. "Alaska" Mandarin, 1997. London. 1274 p. ; 18 cm. "Alaska" ECON, 1990. Dusseldorf, New York. 910 p. :2 maps ; 24 cm. "Two Complete Novels" Wings Books, 1993. New York. 1528 p. : 25 cm. "Alaska" ECON, 1990. Dusseldorf, New York. 910 p. : 2 maps ; 24 cm. "Reader's Digest condensed books: volume 2, 1989" Reader's Digest Association, 1989. Pleasantville, New York. 574 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 20 cm. "Alaska" Secker & Warburg, 1988. 640 p. "Alaska" Ballantine Books, 1988, 1989. New York. 1073 p. : 2 maps ; 18 cm. (paperback)

6 Last date in print?

As of 1999, "Alaska" is still in print in the following editions: Michener, James. "Alaska" Random House Inc., 1988. Status: Active Record. Michener, James. "Alaska" Fawcett Book Group*, 1989. Status: Active Record. (Fawcett Book Group published as Ballantine Books)

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)


8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

Sales for the year 1988: source: Publisher's Weekly March 10, 1989. copies sold: 795,429.

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

Advertisement from Publisher's Weekly, January 8, 1988. MICHENER / James A. Michener / ALASKA / "In the record-shattering tradition of Hawaii, Centennial, and Texas, America's Greatest storyteller gives us a 1,100 page novel as monumental as its subject: America's 49th and most ruggedly romantic state. June. $22.50 (0-394-55154-0). Delux limited edition $100 (0-394-56981-4) * A book-of-the-month club main selection * Major print advertising * Author/Syndicated Video tours * Floor display"

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

source: publisher's weekly january 8, 1989. -Author /Syndicated video tours -Floor Display

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

Audio Media: "Alaska" Books on Tape, 1994. Newport Beach, CA. 40 sound cassettes (60 hrs.) : analog. "Alaska" Random House, 1988. New York. 2 sound cassettes (173 min.) : analog. *read by Peter Graves*

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

Translations: Editora Record, 1988. Rio de Janeiro: (Portuguese) Emece Editores, 1994. Barcelona: (Spanish) Bompiani, 1990, 1991. Milano: (Italian) Hjemmets Bokforlag, 1991. Oslo: (Danish) Raben & Sjogren, 1988, 1991. Finland: (Finnish) France Loisirs, 1988. Paris: (French) Presses de la Cite, 1989. Paris: (French) Libre expression, 1989. Montreal: (French)

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A


15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A

There are no sequels or prequels.

Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

(see entry for "Hawaii" for biographical overview of James A. Michener) A prolific writer of best-selling novels mixing fact and fiction, James Michener was the author of over 40 best selling books. Even in his eighties, Michener could deliver 1000 page best selling works, and in 1988 after long research in Alaska, Michener finished his monster novel by the same name. "Alaska", an 868 page novel, was originally over 1000 pages, and it was only due to Michener's editors that a large portion was deleted to lower the length to under 1000 pages. The portion removed from the original was published by Michener a year later as "Journey". Michener moved to Austin, Texas in the early 1980s to begin research on his upcoming novel "Texas", and he never left. A continual traveler, he used the Austin home as a base until becoming too ill, requiring kidney dialysis three times a week for a period of three hours. Michener was an educator at heart, beginning his career as a teacher, and only beginning his writing career at the age of 40. In an interview with Michener published in 1987, Michener applauded the elementary education system of the current day. A student seeking her doctorate interviewed Michener to complete her dissertation entitled "James A. Michener, Educator" :

Q: Your novels teach much that is interesting and important about the world. What approaches would you recommend for teaching world history to young people? A: I am favorably impressed with the elementary school units that presume to project the child into another civilization - the units on ancient Greece, Indian life, Eskimos, and Congo. The payoff of such studies later in life is enormous. While working in Alaska on my latest novel [Alaska] I had a score of people tell me that they still remember the elementary school unit that they had on Eskimos or life in northern Canada.
Despite the enormous success of his novels, Michener was not at heart an entertainer, but remained an educator throughout his lengthy life. He was uninterested in success, and became a philanthropist later in life, donating 15 million dollars to the University of Texas writing program, and 5 million dollars to Swarthmore College in 1991. In 1988 the James A. Michener Art Museum was opened in Michener's hometown Doylestown in Bucks County, commemorating their local hero. Michener in the late 1980s was getting old, and became confined to the city of Austin, which he described as "my prison" after the freedom he had throughout life traveling around the globe. Despite his increasing frailty, he remained a powerful, gracious man dedicated to educating and bettering the century which he had impacted so greatly. sources used: www.jamesmichener.com (tales of a storyteller) virgo other databases - contemporary authors "Social Education" April/May 1987, pg 252 (H62.A156). sources consulted but not used: Time Magazine v.132 July 4, 1988 Biography Index Current Biography American Biographical Archive Library Journal v.113 July, 1988

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

The reviews for "Alaska", James Michener's "latest titanic adventure novel", are mixed; many reviewers embrace the novel as Michener's newest historical fiction saga, while many criticize "Alaska" as a mediocre novel by one of America's most prolific and venerated novelists (Time). The 868 page monster story of the history of Alaska begins with the prehistory of Alaska, following the development of the land mass which became present day Alaska, and the "arrival of its first daring explorers, the Eskimo and Indian tribes" (American Spectator, 31). Michener travels through the centuries, retelling the nineteenth-century "account of the Russian and American invasion of this huge, forbidding territory," and moving into present day life in the northern expanse (American Spectator, 31). In general, reviewers seemed to enjoy this typical Michener drama: Booklist declares, "the author's usual blend of fiction and history is certain to please one of popular literature's largest established audience." Michener writes to a particular crowd of enthusiasts, and many reviewers seem to think that despite the quality of his works, Michener will always have a distinct audience because he is an established author of renown. "Alaska" is a novel describing fact with the use of fiction, and The Christian Science Monitor calls the saga a narrative "to inform the reader of the poetry that approaches truth in an imagined human and national history". Time magazine views the novel favorably, enjoying Michener's portrayal of the destruction of land by humanity, writing "one of Michener's favorite words is noble, but after mushing through his Artic saga of persistence and greed, one is not surprised that he uses it mainly to describe grizzly bears, salmon and whales." Overall, a large number of reviewers summed up the novel as "vintage Michener," the newest blend of fact and fiction by a great American author (Library Journal). Several reviews are critical of this huge work, the main critique coming from the New York Times Book Review:

"Reviewing James A. Michener is rather like trying to review some inexplicably venerated national monument. Surely only a venerated national monument would be allowed by its editors to put a line like this into what purports to be a novel: 'If four different factors in an intricate problem operate in cycles of 13, 17, 23, and 37 years respectively, and if all have to coincide to produce the desired result, you might have to wait 188,071 years (13 x 17 x 23 x 37) before everything fell together.' Alaska has all the vivacity, drama, passion and humor of a National Geographic article without any pictures. It begins 'About a billion years ago,' and surely only a national monument could unblushingly describe in sitcom lingo the eons-long movement of this planet's tectonic plates: 'Anything could happen ... and did.'"
Michener was criticized for his awkward sentences as well as his simplified language, which seems to contradict itself. The reviewer in the NYTBR describes Michener's language as "national geographic", while at the same time "sitcom." Contradiction in "Alaska"'s criticism seems to be a reoccurring theme in the critical reviews of the novel. The Library Journal calls the beginning part of the novel classic Michener, but declares that the final sections are "trite, uneven, and overloaded with stereotypes. Too cumbersome to be called fiction.." Conversely Booklist writes that the beginning "is a slow start," then says that "the action picks up" after Michener moves into wooly mammoths and Eskimos. Despite the criticism, most of the reviewers agree that "Alaska" is a classic Michener novel, mixing fact and fiction together to describe history. "Unhook the phones! Sling the hammock! Cast off all brunches!" writes Time magazine, for James Michener has done it again. Works Cited Rev. of Alaska, by James A. Michener. Booklist v84 15 May 1988: 1553. Rev. of Alaska, by James A. Michener. Time v132 4 Jl 1988: 70. Cornish, Sam. Rev of Alaska by James A. Michener. The Christian Science Monitor eastern ed. 27 Jl. 1988: 18. Hinkemeyer, Joan. Rev. of Alaska by James A. Michener. Library Journal v113 Jl. 1988: 93. Jennings, Gary. Rev. of Alaska, by James A. Michener. The New York Times Book Review 26 Je. 1988: 7. Roosevelt, Archie. Rev. of Alaska, by James A. Michener. The American Spectator v22 Dec. 1989: 31.

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

I was unable to find any subsequent reception after 5 years from the publication date, though there are numerous reviews of the author. main source: Book Review Digest. v2 H-M 1993-1995. also consulted: Virgo "other databases" MLA Bibliography, Humanities Abstracts http://gateway.ovid.com/server1/ovidweb.cgi?T=dbList&S=IDNJHKDKLDNGOO&mode=&ID=&D=ml ab& http://firstsearch.dedip.oclc.org/html/webscript.html:%3Asessionid=1401717

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

James A. Michener "Vintage Michener" was the review for James A. Michener's Alaska, and that is just what Michener has become to the public, an easy summer reading novelist who delivers bestsellers which thrive for a few months, then disappear with the arrival of the newest summer thriller. Alaska represents the modern day bestseller as America has moved from a reading nation to an entertainment based leisure state. Despite critical reviews, Alaska was able to sell based on a name and the ability to market Michener's renown. Due to the rise of major corporations such as Random House as well as the rise of an entertainment oriented society, best-selling novels such as James Michener's Alaska, have come to dominate the top 10 lists over critically acclaimed works known as true pieces of literature. From 1980 to 1994, almost twenty-five percent of the top 10 best sellers were written by Steven King or Danielle Steele. Both these mass-producing novelists were able to deliver up to three best sellers in the same year, or an average of one novel every four months. Almost half of all best-selling novels written from 1980 to 1994 were written by seven authors, including James Michener. With the rise of such astounding quantities of writing, the quality was sure to fall. The book market became what the movie market was, a means of quick and simple entertainment. Time Magazine, writing about Alaska, declares "Unhook the phone! Sling the hammock! Cast off all brunches! Alaska, James A. Michener's latest titanic adventure novel promises to transport vacationing readers through billions of years and thousands of scenic miles." Modern day bestsellers have become vacation paperbacks to be read on the beach, on an airplane, or at the family reunion for simple, easy entertainment. As America moves into a post-modern era, we have become a people of leisure, not having to struggle for basic necessities and therefore seeking other forms of fulfillment. The book industry has marketed this inherent need, and publicized easy-to-read, enjoyable authors, changing the public's reading list and changing their view of literature. A reviewer from the New York Times Book Review calls reviewing James Michener's Alaska like "trying to review some inexplicably venerated national monument." Michener is venerated neither for his literary ability nor for his diverse writing style, but for his ability to create novels to entertain and satisfy the public. In an interview of Michener by the Intelligencer Record, he acknowledges his differences from most of the critically acclaimed novelists of the twentieth century, but seems happy in his role of entertaining the public and selling millions of books: "At times, Michener regrets being different. He says he would like to have traveled in the literary circles inhabited by Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, who he considers symbolic writers of their generation. But as he talks, it becomes evident he accepts being different. He is proud of what he has accomplished off in his little corner of the literary world. With sales of more than 75 million books, he is willing to let the facts speak for themselves. 'I was deeply moved by an article published within the past two years by a man who had been in charge of bookstores at a wide variety of universities,' Michener says. 'He reported that in those years, in his stores, my books outsold all the others. 'I believe this is true and I'm delighted somebody clarified the record. ... I think this means something.'" For James Michener, selling 75 million novels is more important than the fame and literary acclaim that Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer have achieved. Alaska was able to attract the public and reach the bestseller list due to the notoriety of Michener's name and the familiarity of his writing style. With many previous novels on the bestseller's list, Alaska was almost guaranteed success with the signing of his name. Michener received complimentary reviews for several of his earliest works, including Hawaii, which significantly helped to bring along his fame as a storyteller. Reviewers declared "the subject [Hawaii] is so well covered that it may be a long time before anyone essays another major work on the islands." The New York Times Book Review wrote that Michener " is able to penetrate into many cultures with detachment and sympathy," creating novels mixing historical information and riveting tales of human nature. Gaining fame through these initial works, Michener was able to capture an audience, and after a period of time the quality could deteriorate as long as his name was attached to the work. In general, most of his novels are surprisingly similar, describing in detail places around the world through fictional characters. Part of the success of Michener's novels can be attributed to the consistency of his writing, and the fact that readers know going into the novel its basic content. The only differences arise in characters and the places described. The modern reader desires predictability and simplicity in the novel, again going back to the concept of America as a leisure nation. With so many Michener novels already reaching the top 10 bestseller lists, Alaska was almost guaranteed a spot as long as it maintained Michener's usual style and format, appeasing readers worldwide in search of a novel for the hammock. Many of the reviews for James Michener's Alaska were negative, due both to the critics desire to return best-sellers to more quality literature as opposed to the modern paperback thriller, as well as the fact that Alaska differed little in style or imagination from Michener's numerous previous works. In several reviews, the critics were contradictory, one stating "early on the book is vintage Michener, but the momentum encounters an Arctic chill midway. Final sections are trite, uneven, and overloaded with stereotypes," while Booklist declares the beginning of the novel "a slow start," then says "the action picks up" later in the novel. Most critics agreed that the novel was not literarily acclaimed, but disagreed on where its faults were. One review from the New York Times Book Review even seems to contradict itself, writing "Alaska has all the vivacity, drama, passion and humor of a National Geographic article without any pictures. It begins, 'About a billion years ago,' and surely only a national monument could unblushingly describe in sitcom lingo the eons-long movement of this planet's tectonic plates: 'Anything could happen . . . and did.'" The reviewer compares Alaska to a glorified soap opera, written purely for entertainment while attempting to throw in technical lingo. In the next sentence the same review declares that the novel and sentences are too complex and technical, citing a passage: "'If four different factors in an intricate problem operate in cycles of 13, 17, 23 and 37 years respectively, and if all have to coincide to produce the desired result, you might have to wait 188,071 years (13 x 17 x 23 x 37) before everything fell together.'" Reviewers struggled to define Alaska's faults, but were generally united on the fact that despite its weakness as a piece of lasting literature "Michener fans will demand it anyway" (Time). One common ground of criticism for Alaska was Michener's lengthy descriptions of pre-history, as well as his long chapters on Alaskan animal life and geographical information. Michener spends pages describing tectonic plate movement, volcanic action in the northern Pacific, Wooly mammoth movement across the continent, and plant life on the tundra. Describing through fictitious stories the history of a landmass that became Alaska, Michener's style and form quickly become tedious and repetitive, and for lack of a better term, boring: "In this placid, ponderous way, Mastodon lived out his uneventful life. If he defended himself against saber-tooths, and avoided falling into bogs from which he could not scramble free, and fled from the great fires set by lightning, he had little fear. Food was plentiful. He was still young enough to attract and hold females. And the seasons were not too hot and moist in summer or cold and dry in winter. He had a good life and he stumbled his gigantic way through it with dignity and gentleness "(19). This style is entertaining and enjoyable for a few hundred pages, but reviewers such as the New York Times Book Review are tired of 900 page book after book of the same writing in different forms, tired of reviewing a "venerated monument" that the public adores. James Michener's choice of Alaska for a topic of his book reflects the changing mobility of America as a nation, and the general increase in vacationing and people's interest in far-off lands. The twentieth century has been characterized by fast transportation, instant communication, and the ability to travel freely around the globe. Michener fed to this rise in travel, writing about exotic and far away places that interested the public. In Alaska he brings out both the good sides of the history as well as the bad, but in general he portrays the country as a mysterious, exciting destination for travelers: "in these remote and formless days little Alaska hung in suspense, uncertain as to where its mother continent would wander next, or what its climate would be, or what its destiny" (4). Over the forty years of his writing career Michener has written entertaining novels to a vacationing nation as we have developed more and more into a transportation society. Despite the critical reviews and generally average quality of James Michener's Alaska, the novel was largely accepted by the public as an interesting anecdote. The characters Michener uses to recount Alaska's history are entertaining and easily understandable. Michener retells amusing stories that amuse readers, as in the following tale: "'How did you win your name [Raven]?' asked [the chief], and his captive replied: 'I was trying to jump from this rock to that, fell into the stream. Wet and angry, tried again. Fell again. This time very angry, tried again. Just then a raven tried to pull loose something from a spruce limb. Slipped backward, tried again. And my father shouted: 'You're the raven.' 'The third time, did you make the jump?' [asked the chief] 'No. And the raven failed too. When I was bigger I jumped, and my name remained.'" After gaining the initial following and fame from his earlier works Michener could write very mediocre works with the same basic tales and same basic plots, and the public would continue to buy. Throughout his writing career the novels he wrote remained entertaining and just plain fun reading. Though Alaska sold over a million copies in the first few years after its publication, it receives very little attention ten years after its printing. Initially Alaska was reviewed by many newspapers and magazines, but since 1989, a year after its publication, not a single review can be found for his novel. A large reason for this is the fact that Michener, like six other authors between 1980 and 1994, is responsible for almost half of all the best-selling novels. Less than a year after releasing Alaska Michener had Caribbean on the top 10 bestsellers list. Due to the fact that the novel remains an entertaining piece of fiction and not a literary work, the public and the reviewers could move on to the next super-selling Michener novel and forget Alaska, as someone forgets a movie seen and enjoyed. James Michener's Alaska remains an enjoyable piece of entertainment to be read for fun on the beach or during winter break. It was never extremely favorably received by the critics, and its fame died with the arrival of the newest best-selling Michener work. Alaska and novels like it have come to dominate the bestseller's list: quick, easy reads for pleasure, as America has evolved into a material and leisure based society. Works Cited Rev. of Alaska, by James A. Michener. Booklist v84 15 May 1988: 1553. Rev. of Alaska, by James A. Michener. Time v132 4 Jl 1988: 70. Cornish, Sam. Rev of Alaska by James A. Michener. The Christian Science Monitor eastern ed. 27 Jl. 1988: 18. Hinkemeyer, Joan. Rev. of Alaska by James A. Michener. Library Journal v113 Jl. 1988: 93. Michener, James A. Alaska Random House, New York. 1988 Roosevelt, Archie. Rev. of Alaska, by James A. Michener. The American Spectator v22 Dec. 1989: 31. www.jamesmichener.com

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