Reviews & Features
The Atlantic Interview February 2016.
The Inadvertent Grief Counselor
What it’s like to work as an obituarist in rural Alaska
PRI’s The World, January 2016.
What writing obituaries taught them about life
WBUR Here and Now, May 2015.
View this 4 minute PBS video from Indie Alaska of Heather filmed in June 2014, about her work writing obituaries.
Praise for Of Bears and Ballots
In 2016, Lende (If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name) was elected to the assembly of Haines, AK, a town in the southeastern part of the state accessible from the mainland via boat or plane. Here, she discusses the issues before the assembly, including harbor renovations, appointing a town manager, recreational permits, and assigning house numbers. Naturally, the town’s strong personalities make appearances. Additionally, the author reflects on her own mistakes as an assembly member and the lessons learned during her tenure. Descriptions of municipal matters could be dry and boring, but Lende’s vivid descriptions, good-natured humor, and adoration for her quirky neighbors further energize this engaging tale. Throughout, Lende emphasizes the need for bipartisanship, as she knows everyone in her community personally and does not want to lose friendships over politics. When several of the politically conservative members of the town attempt to recall Lende and two of her fellow assembly members, she reconsiders her dedication to the community, the assembly, and her friendships. VERDICT A heartfelt ode to civil service. Recommended for readers interested in government, civil service, and small-town life.
“Citizenship—real, active citizenship of the kind we badly need—is rewarding in a profound way; hopefully this book will inspire people to work with and for their neighbors in all kinds of ways!”
—Bill McKibben, author of Falter
“This book is a fine story—told with compassion, wisdom and wit—about democracy, community, and decency in small-town America, and how to save the best of who we are. It’s medicine for the soul. I vote for Heather Lende.”
—Kim Heacox, author of John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire
Praise for Find the Good
“Simple yet profound… [Lende’s] homespun stories will speak meaningfully to readers. The overarching message is that the life we get is precious, as obituary writer Lende knows so well, and should be lived in such a way as to create much good to be remembered by.”
“Honest and simple yet full of lasting strength, the author’s prose demonstrates what makes a life better rather than worse—including something as simple as picking up heart-shaped stones on the beach with a grandchild. Optimistic, slightly humorous reflections on living a fully engaged, meaningful life.”
“Find the Good is a gem of a book. It’s honest and funny, reminding us to live in the moment and to pay attention to those around us. A joy to read.”
— Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness
“Heather Lende’s small town is populated with big hearts—she finds them on the beach, walking her granddaughters, in the stories of ordinary peoples’ lives, and knits them into unforgettable tales. Find the Good is a treasure.”
— Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Owen’s Daughter
“In this cynical world Find the Good is a tonic. Heather Lende confronts life and death with love and vulnerability. The result is a literary wellspring, which will continue to run, and nurture, even in times of drought. What a brave and beautiful thing she has made with this book.” — John Straley, Shamus award-winning author and former Writer Laureate of Alaska
“Heather Lende is the kind of person you want to sit across the kitchen table from on a rainy afternoon with a bottomless cup of tea. When things go wrong, when things go right, her quiet, commonsense wisdom, self-examining frankness, and good natured humor offer a chance to reset, renew, rebalance. Find the Good is excellent company in these unsteady times.”
— Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
“A beguiling evocation of small-town life, and death. The perfect book club book.”
– Dana Stabenow, New York Times bestselling author of the Kate Shugak novels
“Heather Lende is a terrific writer and terrific company: intimate, authentic, and as quirky as any of her subjects. I don’t want to get creepy here, but I hope that, when the time comes, she’ll look for the good in my life and write my obituary.”
— Marilyn Johnson, author of The Dead Beat
Praise for Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs
“Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs celebrates the resilience of ordinary people, gathered together to help one another with the business of living and dying. Reading this memoir is like listening to an old friend… The effect is pleasantly intimate, as if we were sitting next to her on the Juneau ferry.”
— Book Page
“Here is the real thing– good old fashioned American values coming from small-town Alaska. In a cozy, chatty voice, Heather Lende tells stories of life in Haines, Alaska…accepting and rejoicing in the world are her preferred modes of thinking and feeling.”
— The Boston Globe
“The book is full of vivid characters (a librarian who collects overdue books in person) and strange, sad deaths. Lende is not one for looking back. She has a simple, chatty style most readers will find oddly comforting. Life does, in fact, go on.”
–– Los Angeles Times
“Fifteen well turned essays about living the shadow of death in a world both harsh and beautiful…An uplifting, even cheerful book. Lende has a knack for subtly illuminating the remarkable in the commonplace, the transcendence in tragedy…Her voice, which alternates between folksy and formal, playful and prayerful, entertaining and elegiac, is reminiscent of Garrison Keillor, Krista Tippet, Tom Bodett, Kathleen Norris and Anne Lamott. But Lende has a freshness that keeps her from being too derivative, and Alaska’s geography, history and culture strongly flavor her work.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A multilevel look at serendipity, coincidence,irony and the power of friendship and faith.”
— Rocky Mount (NC) Telegram
“I am the most unemotional of people, but Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs had me both laughing and crying, sometimes on the very same page. I am also irreligious and allergic to dogma, but the genuineness of Heather Lende’s experience and her thoughtfulness about life’s bad breaks and unexpected gifts– expressed so well in her fine and funny writing– make me want to ordain her as the goddess of good sense and song. It would be a lucky thing to live by the water in Haines, Alaska and have Lende as a neighbor; the next best thing may be reading this book”
— Alaska Writer Laureate Nancy Lord, author of Fishcamp: Life on and Alaskan Shore and Rock, Water, Wild: An Alaskan Life.
“Heather Lende continues to explore small-town life in the last frontier with profound reflections on motherhood, mercy, and the art of mending. Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs will touch your heart and soul and give you much to think about long after you’ve turned the last page.”
–Jo-Ann Mapson author of The Bad Girl Creek Trilogy and The Owl & Moon Cafe.
“This book is a wonder. It authentically opens a door to Alaskan living, a world that, for most, will be surprising and beautiful. The same door opens to a world of the soul and spirit that will seem familiar and new at the same time. It is one of the best books on theology and spirituality that I have read in a long time.”
— The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, formerly the Bishop of Alaska, now the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop of Canada
“Amiable in Alaska and slightly left of center, projecting the warmth of a well-made campfire.”
–– Kirkus Reviews
“Lende writes emotionally but never sentimentally, giving us the best Alaska memoir of late, maybe the best ever.”
— Booklist Starred Review
Read the whole review:
While biking downtown, daydreaming about her upcoming tour for If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name (2005), Lende was hit by a truck. Literally. It ran over her torso. So no tour, but the makings of another book, which moves as far beyond the clichés of the hurt-but-heroic personal-triumph genre as Lende’s town, Haines, Alaska, is from . . . well, even Juneau and Anchorage, to say nothing of the world Outside. What distinguishes it is Lende’s relationship with her community and her faith, both of which present challenges as well as comforts. Small town Alaskan life ain’t easy. Far too many are lost to alcoholism, weather, violence, and accidents at sea and in the wild. Lende should know: she writes the local paper’s obits. Friendships, family, and natural beauty sustain her and other survivors. As for her faith, it isn’t always easy, either. So few meet in her Episcopal congregation’s borrowed quarters that they have an unpaid vicar rather than a priest. God doesn’t always seem to answer; why, for instance, does Lende’s beloved mother go down to death still fighting, while an Alaskan friend passes away in beatific calm? Sometimes her moral compass seems to roll around rather than point north. Lende writes emotionally but never sentimentally, giving us the best Alaska memoir of late, maybe the best ever.
Praise for If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name
“Part Annie Dillard, part Anne Lamott…”
— L.A. Times
–“If you like the stories on Prairie Home Companion or Northern Exposure, you’ll love the real news from small-town Alaska.
— USA TODAY
“A surprisingly charming little book about community and knowing your neighbors.”
—The Vail Trail
“The title is incomplete– they should add “And If You Died Here, I’d Know Even More.”
—The Washington Post
“The book is a charmer from beginning to end.”
—Bas Bleu book catalog
“It’s a gift to discover a collection of essays that … makes the reader feel part of the writer’s world. I hope Lende writes more.”
“Heather Lende paints an affectionate portrait of the quirky characters in Haines…she also writes about God and, although liberal, writes generously about people who are to her right both politically and theologically.”
“Like Bailey White’s tales of Southern life or Garrison Keillor’s reports from the Midwest… Heather Lende’s take on her offbeat Alaskan hometown celebrates life in a dangerous and breathtakingly beautiful place.”
“Lende’s first book is a welcome trip to her paradise”
— Cox News Service
“If you’ve always wanted to go to Alaska, but haven’t done so yet, pick up her book- where else are you going to read about blueberry picking with a boom box to ward off bears?”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“Heather Lende is the perfect frontier guide- clear- eyed and big- hearted, tackling family and community and life and death with humor and hope.”
– Stewart O’Nan, author of Faithful
“Heather Lende writes from the heart, and her heart is where her home is. If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name is the real story of small- town Alaska. Not the one with the Hollywood laugh track behind it. These are true tales of ordinary people who do extraordinary things with (and to) one another in one of the most beautiful backwaters on Earth.”
– Tom Bodett, author of The End of the Road stories and Norman Tuttle on the Last Frontier
“This is the beautiful, funny, compassionate story of a remote American small town and its people- the upstanding citizens, the goofy characters, the fast friends and avowed enemies- united by their zip code, but above all by their mortality. Heather Lende is deeply attuned to the simple, the quirky, and the quietly profound elements that compose a life well- lived, and she writes of them with grace and good humor. When, now and again, your reading is interrupted by tears, they will be the sweet sort.”
– Michael Perry author of Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time
“This is something tender and brave- using death as introduction to lives and loves and fabric of community in a northern town. Heather Lende provides powerful witness.”
– Seth Kantner, author of Ordinary Wolves
“[Heather Lende] concerns herself with family and community in the Last Frontier State- and one might say, everywhere else too. Written with ease and empathy, this is both about maintaining a home in Alaska and about being at home in the world…Homespun warmth in a cold climate”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Lende paints a picture of life in a unique setting and writes thoughtfully about her life, family, faith, neighbors and small town conflict… [An] absorbing homage.”
– Library Journal
“The author has a real gift for eulogy; she knows that every life contains something to admire, honor or illuminate…Lende’s quiet voice resonates long after the book is finished.”
A Fan Mail Sampler…
Hello, Heather. I read “If You Lived Here…” a couple of years ago and totally fell in love with Haines; a visit is now on my bucket list! I finally got around to starting “Take Good Care…” and find myself once again being immersed into the Haines community. Thanks for another great ride! Namaste.
Heather, your writing is great and I really appreciate your insights on life and Alaska. I’d be surprised if Haines doesn’t increase in size population-wise after your books reach many hands.
From Geelong, Australia: Hi Heather, my husband and I stayed in Haines for 5 days in Sept. 2007 at Summer Inn and fell in love with the beauty of Haines. I bought your first book then, and have now ordered from my local bookseller online your new book which I have just finished and have thoroughly enjoyed every page. I keep your website on my favourites along with Chilkat Valley News and love reading them every week and keeping up with the goings on in Haines. I will keep an eye out for #3 book.
We’re loving your blog–it really does supply us the best (and most entertaining) news from Haines. I just finished Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs… and am impressed: I’ve never before read such an upbeat memoir with so much death in it. I cried 4 or 5 times during the reading; forgiving the truck driver who ran over you was incredibly moving to me. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book, ( If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name) I read it last year on my way to Alaska on a cruise ship. When I got to Haines, it was a beautiful sunny day, and after meeting your husband and getting directions I went straight to the bookstore to buy a couple of signed copies for my friends.That was the start of an incredible day in Haines. I met Tom who introduced himself as the “fellow that fell through the ice” …he directed us and we walked to the cemetry and on the way I saw the sign to Whitehorse and thought about the night you had to get to the hospital. My work has taken me to Whitehorse Hospital and through those same doors you talked about (glad you were treated well) …….back around the parade grounds to see Ted and Mimi’s house, and low and behold met their son (who enlightened me about his role in the book! met his sister! We later purchased a carving from the “tomato assailant’s’ wife! who we met in the gift shop, stood and read the names at the waterfront memorial, felt like I knew a little about each one of them………and then I met the “3 legged dog”……..got a tour of the cooler and the former jail. I took pictures all day long and tucked them into each chapter so my friends could visualize the stories. To top the day, I met Stoli at the Hardware store, it was the day after her graduation…..you were at the airport! It was probably just another day in Haines…..but one that I think of often and treasure! Can’t wait for your next book…..I look forward to seeing Haines again, maybe this year. I would like to thank you for the pleasure you have given me through your first book and now through your blog. I wait with anticipation to read your latest book when it is released and then, hopefully, soon after that your novel. I was born and lived the first thirteen years of my life in a small village in Wisconsin (Rudolph WI pop 345) so your stories of small town life resonate with me. Even though small town Wisconsin is not small town Alaska,there are common threads that makes your writing very familar and a comfort to me. I have lived the subsequent 34 years of my life in Las Vegas, Nevada and often find myself yearning for the relative simplicity of small town life (in much cooler climes). Your work takes me there, even if it is only for a short time. Thank you again for pleasure your writing has given me.
I just finished your book, what a great summer treat! I live near Tucson, in Arizona. When the temperatures start climbing, I always try and find some relief in books about cooler locations!
Your writing always makes me think… and smile… and get weepy, but in a good way… in case you didn’t notice, I very much enjoy it.
Just a quick note to tell you that your book has easily become one of my all time favorites. It was a joy to read and I felt a little sad when I finished reading it.
I just wanted to thank you for your book, If you Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, what a great read. I couldn’t put this book down. I lived in Alaska, but in the summer if 2006 I went to Florida to visit my sister, and I purchased your book to read on this trip. I would go every morning to the pool (at the hotel I was staying at) and would walk in the shallow end while reading your book.
You really have a way with putting good thoughts into words. I’m an architect but I also write songs so I know something about words too. Thanks for the great gift of your book, it’s the best I’ve read in some time.
I live in Beckum in Germany on a small farm (which is the closest you can get to Wildlife and Rural in our area). I am a more than faithful reader of your column. Reading your articles has made me realise that living in Haines and Beckum is not always all that different. Of course the climate is not exactly the same, within the last years your summers seem to be much nicer than ours (which worries me, to be honest). More than once your articles have brought tears to my eyes, made me scream out loud with laughter or (and that I cherish most) made me feel: Thank God, I am not the only one!
I read your book this winter while sitting by the woodstove at our cabin on Kenai Lake. Your humor and storytelling helped the dark winter go by very pleasantly.
My wife and I along with our two daughters just returned from an Alaskan cruise last Sunday. While on the cruise, I also bought a copy of your book If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name and have enjoyed every page. Thank you for helping me bring Alaska home.
I have to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your book. I cried, I laughed, it was excellent! I didn’t want it to end. Thank you so much for a great read.
I have to admit that your book caused some friction in my household. I couldn’t put it down, stealing every moment possible to immerse myself in your vivid and passionate descriptions. That I should give so much attention to a book rather than to my husband had him complaining that he was suffering from “attention deficit disorder,” but now that he is reading your book, he understands why I couldn’t put it down.
How long is too dead? My paper has relatively few established guidelines on local news obits, I’m planning to set a few. One of the first has to do with timeliness…