Halpern, Jake 1975-
HALPERN, Jake 1975-
Born 1975, in Buffalo, NY. Education: Yale University, graduated 1997.
Home—Cambridge, MA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin, 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116. E-mail—[email protected]
Freelance journalist and author. Fact checker for New Republic (magazine).
Braving Home: Dispatches from the Underwater Town, the Lava-Side Inn, and Other Extreme Locales Houghton (Boston, MA), 2003.
Contributor of articles to New Yorker, New Republic, Commonweal, and Jerusalem Report.
Working as a freelance journalist, Jake Halpern "became obsessed with stories about hellish places," as he noted on his Web site. Traveling from smoke-filled coal towns of Pennsylvania to the snowbound Alaskan wilderness to a village built at the base of a volcano in Hawaii, Halpern began to gather stories the factors that made people settle and build their lives in extreme locations. He provides five such stories in his 2003 nonfiction debut, Braving Home: Dispatches from the Underwater Town, the Lava-Side Inn, and Other Extreme Locales. The book describes "a journey to the most punishing towns in America," according to Halpern on his Web site, "but more than this, it's [a] periscope into the extraordinary lives of the people who live there."
Halpern's book details life in the path of hurricanes in North Carolina and endangered by wildfires in Malibu, California. He focuses on the human stories in such places, such as the proprietor of a little-visited bed-and-breakfast near an active volcano in Hawaii, and the eighty-one-year-old Malibu resident who takes wildfires in stride. In Whittier, Alaska, he visits the residents of the town's principal dwelling place, a fourteen-story apartment building that protects residents against avalanches.
Halpern's book attracted the attention of a wide variety of reviewers. For example, Kate Jacobs, writing in the New York Times, felt that the book "reads mainly like a quick travelogue and a series of disconnected encounters." Jeff Pearlman, reviewing the title in the Chicago Tribune, was also unimpressed by what he found; on the one hand, he felt the author describes "strong-minded" characters, but on the other the critic said that Halpern's portrayals "are not especially interesting." Pearlman went on to comment: "The theme of 'Braving Home' is not that home is simply where you are. It's that home isn't necessarily all that fascinating." San Francisco Chronicle reviewer John McMurtrie similarly felt that Halpern's "youthfulness can sometimes work against him, as when he includes wide-eyed and earnest bits of dialogue and philosophizing that are simply dull." On a more positive note, though, McMurtrie added, "Overall, … [Halpern's] voice is a welcome one; he is a fresh, spirited chronicler of a rare breed of people."
Other critics discovered more to like in the book. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Evan Serpick wrote that, although the "connections between the stories are often forced, individually these are compelling, well-told tales of people living, literally, on the edge." Kalee Thompson noted in National Geographic Adventure that, despite sometimes "heavy-handed" analysis, Halpern "offers a rare glimpse at some of the wildest dwelling spots imaginable, and the feisty characters who just won't leave." David Pitt praised Halpern's work in his Booklist assessment, calling Braving Home "perfect for armchair travelers interested in visiting 'extreme locations.'" And writing in the Boston Globe, Caroline Leavitt noted, "What's so enchanting about Braving Home is Halpern's infectious sense of wonder, his willingness to be amazed, and his absolute respect for the people he visits." Leavitt went on to conclude, "Traveling may be broadening, but here, staying put is the revelation."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2003, David Pitt, review of Braving Home: Dispatches from the Underwater Town, the Lava-Side Inn, and Other Extreme Locales, p. 1636.
Boston Globe, July 20, 2003, Caroline Leavitt, review of Braving Home, p. D9.
Chicago Tribune, August 17, 2003, Jeff Pearlman, review of Braving Home, p. 7.
Entertainment Weekly, June 20, 2003, Evan Serpick, review of Braving Home, p. 79.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of Braving Home, p. 656.
National Geographic Adventure, August, 2003, Kalee Thompson, review of Braving Home, p. 30.
New York Times, July 27, 2003, Kate Jacobs, review of Braving Home, p. 13.
Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA), July 27, 2003, Sara Peyton, review of Braving Home, p. G5.
Publishers Weekly, January 27, 2003, review of Braving Home, p. 158; April 28, 2003, review of Braving Home, p. 56.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 20, 2003, John Mc-Murtrie, review of Braving Home, p. M6.
School Library Journal, January, 2004, Ted Westervelt, review of Braving Home, p. 165.
IdentityTheory.com,http://www.identitytheory.com/ (August 15, 2003), Robert Birnbaum, interview with Halpern.
Official Jake Halpern Web site,http://www.jakehalpern.com (March 26, 2004).
Yale Club of Southern California Web site,http://www2.aya.yale.edu/clubs/ca10/ (July 16, 2003), "Yale Author Explores Why People Live in Places They Probably Shouldn't on His Book Tour."*