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Birchbark Blog

Book Pile

Louise Erdrich - Monday, November 03, 2014

Every time I finish a book I want to include here I put it into a pile. Now the pile has toppled. I hardly know where to start except with the first that comes to mind. The Thing With Feathers by Noah Strycker, subtitled and subdescribed, as every nonfiction book is these days: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human. I cannot get this disturbing bit of information out of my head: The Pentagon has been researching a hummingbird-like Nano Drone. This remotely controlled fake hummingbird spyware would be painted like a real one and mimic darting movements. Fortunately, there is a difficult issue to surmount -- the drone's battery life is eight minutes. Basically, Strycker says, hummingbirds burn fuel like fighter jets. We would have to eat two hundred pounds of hamburger between breakfast and dinner to match a hummer's intake.  "In terms of energy, hummingbirds live at the edge of physical possibility." This book is packed with marvelous bits of information and I'm going to give it to my father.

Per Petterson's new novel, I Refuse, is unnervingly terse and starkly beautiful. It is a small porthole window that provides glimpses of damaged unassailable love. I don't think Petterson uses a single adverb -- stunningly stunning. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, uses quite a few. They are in keeping with the Victorianesque text. This novel was perfectly deserving of the Man Booker Prize.  Wendell Berry's novel, Hannah Coulter, seems a quiet novel. For many of its pages it is the story of a woman's not unusual life, if you remember that many people made their lives on farms. It is at the end in the description of the Okinawan people and the battlefield their land became, that this novels delivers its power whole into the reader's hands. I am still reading Elena Ferrante's addictive trilogy which begins with My Brilliant Friend.  

When there isn't a book I can get involved with close to hand, I pick up old favorites. Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell, always moves me with its simplicity. The ruin of a decent but oblivious man by careless distant relatives gives each page an implacable weight. Yet the novel itself so light on the surface, so precise in every spare scene and nimble word. I read The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. Also an implacable story, told with keen relish for conversation and description of life during the brazen boom years of the mid-1980's in the UK, when AIDS was a set of wild rumors which became devastating truth. 

In the end, the only book that matters in light of today's announcement by the U.N. that we are at the cliff's edge, maybe plunging over, into a broken climate that could knock out our species, is This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein.  Please read this book. 

Bianka Fuksman commented on 07-Nov-2014 10:56 AM
Thank you for your "book pile!" I love this idea of the toppling pile...
They are now on my list.
Isn't it wonderful that there are just SO many books out there. I never understand how I manage to go through a dry spell?
I am always holding my breath for another book by my favorite author- you. <3
Roy Taylor commented on 07-Nov-2014 11:49 AM
Yes, I agree! Haven't gotten to it yet. Seeing NK on "The Daily Show" recently, reminded me that I need to start her latest. First encountered her writing in Harpers, The Nation and In These Times. Then, really added her to my list after, "The Shock Doctrine", because of my interest in neo-Liberalism critique. Now she takes on climate change and its connection to a fossil fuel reliance economy and the current energy hegemony prevalent in the west, now encroaching on the developing world. Thanks for the reminder.
Barbara Scott Zeller commented on 07-Nov-2014 01:27 PM
Thanks, Louise, for these recommendations. "The Luminaries" is one of my favorite books. It was a book that I gave to friends. For a book not mentioned here, I thought "The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell was absolutely brilliant. I trepidly went into this book because I am not a fan of time-travel fiction, but was hooked from the first page. The structure, characters, creative invention still has me star-struck. Now I have more to read from your recommendations...
Kathy Whitgrove commented on 07-Nov-2014 05:32 PM
Hannah Coulter moved me to tears. I recently discovered William Maxwell and read So Long, See You Tomorrow and another of his novels. I will have to get a hold of the one you recommend. Thanks for doing this. It is appreciated.
Chris Hensel commented on 07-Nov-2014 06:28 PM
Thanks for sharing these selections. My book club recently finished The Round House and we loved it. One of our more engaging discussions. As we look to compile our suggestions for our 2015 reading list, we'll have to entertain some of these recommendations. -Watti-tuus Book Club, Twin Cities, MN
Jim Cihlar commented on 19-Nov-2014 07:13 PM
Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty is one of my all-time favorite novels. Thanks for listing it!
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