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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

April 21, 1996|CHRIS GOODRICH

CONFESSIONS OF AN IGLOO DWELLER by James Houston (Houghton Mifflin/Peter Davison: $24.95; 321 pp.). What compels a man of apparently sound mind to spend more than a dozen years living among the Inuit, routinely experiencing the sort of weather, isolation, discomfort and privation that would drive most people mad? Canadian writer James Houston provides no ready explanation in this book but tells one story that seems to capture the Arctic's appeal. One day, aboard a bobbing boat in search of food, Houston and his Inuit friends spotted some bearded seals. Houston fired at one and missed, at which point the Inuit applauded. When Houston successfully shot and killed a seal sometime later, though, his companions regarded the feat, to Houston's consternation, with obvious sorrow. Eventually Houston understood: A good hunter initially fires to tire his quarry, not to kill it, for a premature hit allows a seal to dive deeply and thus die unretrieved. It was this sort of experience for which Houston went to the Arctic--for adventure, certainly, but also for a life characterized by simplicity and self-sufficiency and personal skill, a life unmediated by modern luxury.

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