They’re known as the Duck Dynasty of the Mennonite world, but the books never tempted me much— I’m not into hunting, guns, or junky cars. But after planning a trip to Alaska this summer, I decided to try them— after all, the “Traveling Dog Salesman” books tell the story of a Lancaster County Mennonite guy and his family who visited Alaska as tourists and liked it so much that they purchased 40 acres of wilderness land and moved to the Last Frontier.
The book series is officially named the “Alaska Adventure Books” and they were all written by Matt Snader or his wife, Marlene, with some help from Matt’s brother, Josh Snader. The first book, Adventures of a Traveling Dog Salesman, was published in 2014, and the most recent, Bears, Prayers, and Airplanes, was published in 2018. There are seven books total, including one book by Marlene that’s part cookbook, part memoir, The Snader Family Cookbook.
Matt Snader calls himself a “Traveling Dog Salesman” since he makes his living doing remote administration work on websites that sell puppies. When Matt first started writing books, he thought only his family and friends would be interested, but he quickly discovered that other people wanted to read them too. His writing style is relaxed and humorous, and while the self-published books have some grammatical errors and won’t be winning any Pulitzers, the action happens quickly and the books made me laugh out loud. Both books are full of glossy color pictures that really add to the stories. They’re funny, clean, and will appeal to all ages.
In the first book, Adventures of a Traveling Dog Salesman, Matt and Marlene, along with their five small children, traveled to Alaska as tourists. They did so in a 21-year-old Lincoln Town car stretch limo, painted with camouflage. At least two towns in Alaska said the Snaders were the first people to enter driving a limo. This book contains plenty of travel photos, including pictures of Washington State, British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, and various spots in Alaska, including the town of North Pole and the far north town of Prudhoe Bay, “where the sun shone as brightly at midnight as did at noon.”
Return to Alaska begins after Matt purchases his 40 acres of land in Anchor Point, Alaska, from an online dealer, sight unseen. The Snaders moved in the spring of 2014 and began to build a cabin. You don’t need a building permit in Alaska if you’re building outside of town.
The Snaders didn’t build their cabin without help— neighbors and relatives from Pennsylvania all pitched in to help the family out. Still, pioneering, even in the 21st century, is no easy task, and they were in a wilderness with the real threat of grizzly bears, swampy land for a lane, and had a baby on the way. Since the land had no electricity, this meant living off the grid— with generator and solar power and hauling water with a four-wheeler.
Be warned that one of the reasons Snader chose Alaska as his home was because of the state’s relaxed gun laws, so the books do contain plenty of hunting, guns, and junky cars. Alaska doesn’t have much in the way of vehicle inspections (no surprise!). One time, when their Suburban broke down on the road, the Snaders simply found a van for sale along the road, bought it for $500, and continued on.
The family enjoyed fishing, watching wildlife like moose and sea otters, and hearing hair-raising bear stories from the neighbors. One of those stories is reprinted in this book.
Overall, the “Traveling Dog Salesman” books are about adventure. This quote from Josh Snader nicely sums up the feel of the books: “The thought of sticking it out in a cubicle for another twenty years crushes your free spirited soul like an obese elephant sitting his haunches down on an aluminum can… However, like an aluminum can, your sense of adventure can be crushed, flattened, and buried, but it’s non-corrosive and pretty much lasts forever in some form… What are you discovering today?”