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Birchbark Blog

Postcolonial Love Poem

Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, April 01, 2020
Dear Friends,

When people say "this has never happened to our country before" I want to say, "yes it has." Indigenous people suffered wave after wave of European borne epidemic diseases, which killed 9 of every 10 people. The trauma continued through the Flu of 1918 and the scourge of tuberculosis. When treaties were made it was thought that Native people were going to vanish, but no. We are still here. In her torrential book of poetry, Postcolonial Love Poem, Natalie Diaz addresses these losses. With tenacious wit, ardor, and something I can only call magnificence, Diaz speaks of the consuming need we have for one another. This is a book for any time, but especially a book for this time. These days, and who knows for how long, we can only touch a trusted small number of people. Diaz brings depth and resonance to the fact that this has always been so. Be prepared to journey down a wild river.

Yours for books,


First Snow

Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Oh, Winter.  Here you are again. It seems like you never left. The snow lies heavy on my heart and on the trampoline that I have been keeping shoveled for many a winter past. The thing is, books -- when snowed in, when the temp drops, when you feel the snow will never stop. At least there are books!

And what books. I have to write about Olga again! We know that I'm completely in favor of Olga Tokarczuk. From the advanced readers pile, I plucked Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, and immediately loved the eccentric voice and the murder mystery which satisfied with its eco undertone and its slippery wit.  also loved Flights but it is utterly different, more philosophical, grounded in the body. I found myself a bit choked up when I learned she won the Nobel Prize because she so deserves it. And because now there will be more translations of her books.

I loved Ann Patchett's The Dutch House. Perhaps it is my favorite of her books, which is saying a great deal. Ann wrote a character I still think about, Maeve, an ironic saint. And there is a villain she does not redeem -- very difficult to maintain a loathsome character. I so respect Ann's discipline. The house is also a character. You won't forget it. This beautifully constructed novel really is the perfect read when you are snowed in or need something classy looking to be seen with in a coffee house. I mean, the cover alone! 

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews. Actually, anything by Miriam Toews. 

Two Books That Belong Together: Cold Warriors, by Duncan White and The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott. I read these books together and was pretty much overcome by all that I learned about Doctor Zhivago, the Cold War, and the real Lara. I didn't know that one of our secret cold war weapons was actually literature and that Animal Farm was translated into Polish and thousands of books were air lifted and dropped behind the Iron Curtain. The Secrets We Kept is a delicious read about what disregarded secretaries knew and told or didn't tell. After I read these books together I kept collaring people, pushing these books at them the way I'm now pushing them at you. 

What am I reading tonight? Before I make pumpkin pie with my youngest daughter? Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson.  

Now I have to stop. I promise a Holiday List to come and also books to look forward to when January happens.  Also, I will let you know how this pie turns out. I really can only cook two things and neither one is pie.

Yours, as always, for books.


What's On

Louise Erdrich - Monday, August 05, 2019
People (including me) usually answer the question "What's on your book table" with a lament about the messy pile and the impossible task of keeping those books in some sort of order. However, I have cleaned my room. It has taken time, I'm really proud of this. In keeping with this, I am going to give a neat list of what my neat stack looks like starting with the largest book and ending with the top one, the smallest.

Last Witness by Svetlana Alexievich. Compelling accounts and memories of children who were very young when World War II started.

The Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard. Fascinating!  The uses of the mosquito, besides essential food source of birds? To cull humanity.

Coyote Warrior by Paul VanDevelder. The New Indian Wars and a young Mandan/Hidatsa lawyer who continued his father's fight in Washington.

A Primer for Forgetting by Lewis Hyde. The complex solace of what is means to forget -- and the inevitability of same.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Searing account of a nightmarish and predatory "school" that swallows a promising child.

Facism by Madeleine Albright. If she is writing a book about facism then we should all read it right now.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. A sly, seductive, funny murder mystery in which an "invisible" older woman takes on a personal investigation of killings that seem to be the doing of forest animals rising up to exact justice upon those who desecrate their domain. This is one of my favorite novels of the summer, or the fall (I read an early copy) and I think it will be on many a messier book table than my own very soon.

Yours for books!

Canoe Family

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