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Birchbark Blog

Future of the Book as More Junk

Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, February 16, 2011
When I tell strangers that I work from home, the women are the ones who say, "I couldn't do that because I'd always be cleaning.  I'd never get anything done."  Which is why I strenuously try not to clean before I go upstairs to my garret, put on my fingerless gloves, and begin to write.  Recently, however, I've been sneak cleaning.  I have been trying to get rid of electronic junk.  In this house there has occurred a buildup of old computers, CD players, cameras, games, tape players, hard drives, computer printers and a copy machine from 1990 -- a work horse that just gave up.  All of these items are made of supremely toxic stuff and it isn't easy to find a place that will recycle it all.  

One reason I've thought kindly of electronic reading devices, even though we as a bookstore are devoted to the book as a book, was the thought of saving trees.  But now when I look at my bags of once cutting edge electronic rubbish, I also imagine all of the Kindles, Nooks, E Readers and other book substitutes that will get dropped, waterlogged, stepped on, smashed, or just become an old thing like any other piece of charmless crap.  

I have lots of old books, too.  I have my first William Faulkner set of mass market paperbacks bought in a basement bookstore in Harvard Square.  I have my first edition of Felix Cohen's Handbook of American Indian Law.  I have an old Materia Medica from the attic of our house in Wahpeton, North Dakota, which gives me twenty remedies for female hysteria.  I am tempted to keep listing the marvels that populate my bookshelves, but I'm on a mission here.  Does anybody want an iLamp, a seven pound Walkman, or a Tandy Stereo Mate? 

Emily Johnson is a City Pages Artist of the Year!

Birchbark Books - Wednesday, January 05, 2011

By Alec Soth
We are so excited!

Birchbark bookseller and extraordinary choreographer, dancer, director, writer, etc  Emily Johnson graces the cover of the 2010 edition of the City Pages Artists of the Year. Emily says she is flattered and honored to be selected alongside such locally and internationally recognized artists as Marina Abramovic, Ryan Olson, M.I.A., Alec Soth, Robyn, and Banksy. Alec Soth, world-renown photographer whose work was recently featured at the Walker Art Center, took the cover photo. Emily's latest work, The Thank-you Bar (recently performed at the Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis) has been receiving the acclaim of audiences and critics alike. Emily is of Native Alaskan (Yup'ik) descent, which richly informs her creative work.

Find out all about Emily by visiting her website at

Have a look at her Press page to read about her selection as a City Pages Artist of the Year, her experience shooting with Alec Soth, and to see some of the alternate cover images.

Check out the Productions page to see video excerpts of The Thank-you Bar, her current work-in-progress Niicugni, and her many previous works (don't miss the video Wingspan 5' 2").

See the Catalyst Presents and Collaborations pages to find out about Emily's collaborations with painter Carolyn Lee Anderson (also a Birchbark Staffer!) and the musical duo BLACKFISH.

Finally, make sure you visit Emily's Facebook page, where you will quickly decide that you Like her. 

Congratulations, Emily! We are so proud of you!


Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Walter R. Echo-Hawk, a hero of persistence and one of the most thoughtful and engaging of writers, takes on the 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided in the book I am reading now.  In the Courts of the Conqueror is written with such passion, wit, and candor that I literally can't put this book down.  Even though it is heavy.  True, it is painful to come to terms with the truth about what happens in the court system, particularly the Supreme Court.  It is even more difficult to resist the flow of history and precedent and re-imaging a society based on justice.  Patricia N. Limerick says in her introduction that this book is "an effective challenge to the fatalistic school of history."  As such, while reading it you may be outraged and startled -- but the fact that it, and the writer, exist and fight on gives one hope.  Plus, a fascinating read.  

Nobody but Gerald Vizenor could write the words "cosmoprimitive casino series", or "mongrel driving schools", or describe the Band Box Diner and capture with such skewed energy what it means to be an Indian, an Anishinaabe, a human being on and off the White Earth Reservation here in Minnesota.  Shrouds of White Earth is another wildly laudable work by our master ironist.  A meditation on Native Art, Marc Chagall, George Morrison, The Gallery of Irony Dogs, and too much else to mention, this book is a small feast just in time for our favorite holiday -- whatever else happened on that fateful pilgrim afternoon I am thankful for Visioner, I mean Vizenor.  

Can you take The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book?  It isn't funny, and the pictures are brutal, but that's the real history and Gord Hill tells it in quick takes.  This book is packed with information and particularly valuable for the information on resistence in British Columbia at Ts'peten and at Aazhoodena.

Lyrical, moving, quiet and profound, the photographs taken by John Willis on Pine Ridge are that rare artifact -- art that increases the dignity and beauty of the subject while remaining honest.  Mr. Willis spent many years visiting and revisiting the people and places he photographed.  There is a clear, deep love in many of these images.  Views from the Reservation is a large photography book, a collection, but you wouldn't put it on your coffee table.  I carry my copy from place to place in the house because even the endpapers provoke meditation.  

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