Winterdance (Paulsen)

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod
Gary Paulsen, 1994
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
272 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780156001458

Fueled by a passion for running dogs, Gary Paulsen entered the Iditarod—the 1,180 sled-dog race through the Alaskan wilderness—in dangerous ignorance and with a fierce determination. For 17 days, he and his team of 15 dogs endured blinding wind, snowstorms, frostbite, dogfights, moose attacks, sleeplessness, hallucinations—and the relentless push to go on.

They crossed the barren, moonlike landscape of the Alaskan interior and witnessed sunrises that cast a golden blaze over the vast waters of the Bering Sea. They crossed the finish line, but it wasn't enough: Paulsen was obsessed and wanted to race again.

Though the dangers of the Iditarod were legion, more frightening still was the knowledge that he could not stop racing dogs of his own free will. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio 
Birth—May 17, 1939
Where—Minnesota, USA
Awards—3-time Newbery Honor winner (for Hatchet,
   Dogsong, The Winter Room); Golden Spurs Award of
   Western Writers of America
Currently—lives in La Luz, New Mexico

Gary Paulsen writes many young adult coming of age stories about the wilderness. He is the author of more than 200 books (many of which are out of print), 200 magazine articles and short stories, and several plays, all primarily for young adults.

Born in Minnesota in 1939, he was raised by his grandmother and aunts. Paulsen used his work as a magazine proofreader to learn the craft of writing. In 1966, his first book was published under the title The Special War. Using his varied life experiences, especially those of an outdoorsman (a hunter, trapper, and three-time competitor in the 1,150 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race), Paulsen writes about what he knows best.

Much of Paulsen's work features the outdoors and highlights the importance of nature. He often uses "coming of age" themes in his novels, where a character masters the art of survival in isolation as a rite of passage to manhood and maturity. He is critical of technology and has been called a Luddite.

Some of Paulsen's most well-known books are the "Hatchet" series, although he has published many other popular novels including Dogsong, Harris and Me, and The Winter Room, which won the Newbery Honor. Woodsong and Winterdance are among the most popular books about the Iditarod.

Paulsen competed in the 1983 and 1985 Iditarods. In 1990, due to heart problems, he gave up dog sledding, which he has described as the most difficult decision he has ever made. After more than a decade spent sailing all over the Pacific, Paulsen got back into dog sledding in 2003. In 2005, he was scheduled to compete in the 2005 Iditarod after a 20-year absence, but withdrew shortly before the start of the race. He participated in the 2006 Iditarod, but scratched after two days.

Paulsen lives in La Luz, New Mexico with his wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen, an artist who has illustrated several of his books. He also maintains a 40-acre spread north of Willow, Alaska where he breeds and trains sled dogs for the Iditarod. (From Wikipedia).

Book Reviews 
Thhre are only a handful of indispensable dog books.... Winterdance belongs among [those] classics.... It's hard to find a page in this laconic book without an insight, hard to find a word that could be cut without loss.... Winterdance is beautiful and it is very funny and it is about men and dogs and their souls.
Donald McCaig - Washington Post

Winterdance will be around long after most outdoor adventure book shave been forgotten. What could have been an ordinry journal becomes instead a revelation.
Minneapolis/St. Paul Star-Tribune

A breathtaking, heart stopping, roller-coaster ride that depicts the brutal reality of the Iditarod, the magnificent beauty of Alaska, and the unique, if not surreal, relationship that develops between man and dog.
Nevada Weekly

Paulsen's survival adventure is in the tradition of Jack London: one man and his dog team together against the Arctic wilderness. With everything stripped down to the barest essentials, Paulsen finds elemental connection with a world beyond cities, family, and work. His prose is spare and physical; at its best, it has the fluid simplicity of Hemingway.
Hazel Rochman - Booklist

The Alaskan Iditarod is an annual 1180-mile dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome that generally takes two to three weeks to complete. Paulsen, a popular YA writer, ran the race in 1983 and 1985 and was again in training when a heart condition forced him to retire. This book is primarily an account of Paulsen's first Iditarod and its frequent life-threatening disasters, including wind so strong it blew his eyelids open and blinded his eyes with snow, cold so deep matches would not strike, and packages of lotions kept next to his skin that froze solid. However, the book is more than a tabulation of tribulations; it is a meditation on the extraordinary attraction this race holds for some men and women. In a style reminiscent of fellow nature writer Farley Mowat, Paulsen deftly examines careening on a precarious edge. Highly recommended for all libraries. — John Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ. Lib., Camden, NJ
Library Journal

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

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Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Winterdance:

1. Given the inhuman conditions and hardships, what is behind Paulsen's obsessive drive to complete the Iditarod? In light of his inexperience, do you find his ambition admirable, selfish, mad ... or what?

2. What lessons does Paulsen's self-training episodes teach him? How well do those lessons work during the actual race?

3. To what extent is the race about the dogs, as Paulsen says, or about human skill in running them?

4. What knowledge does Paulsen gain during the race—about the race, the dogs, the Alaskan wilderness, and most of all about himself?

5. What about those who cheat...especially the one who has pizza delivered by a friend on a snowmobile?

6.The Iditarod has generated controversy regarding the sometimes maltreatment of the sled dogs. Although no fingers are pointed at Paulsen, who clearly treats his dogs with love and respect, The Sled Dog Action Coalition* has raised disturbing issues about abuse in general. You might do a little research and decide for yourself where you stand.

(Questions by LiLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

* In June, 2012, a LitLovers reader emailed the following: 

The Sled Dog Action Coalition is known to be negative, untruthful, and has no known positive support for sled dogs other than a vicious internet campaign attacking people and schools.  I suggest you consider removing reference to the group (although the thought behind the question itself is certainly fair).  For more information, please see:

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