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Birchbark Blog

Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong

Louise Erdrich - Monday, October 19, 2009
Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong, a satisfyingly complex book by Paul Chaat Smith, who maintains that although we are considered somehow primitive and simple we are actually oceans of terrifying complexity.  I have been called this by men, with no regard to my Turtle Mountain heritage.  Just . . . an ocean of complexity.  And this book, too, is so complicated that I found my emotions were all mixed up.  Irony, laughter, rage, weariness.  A mixture -- a complex character trait but as one of my character flaws is a vague obscurity I appreciated the harsh wit and intelligence in these essays.  A recommendation with many stars after it.

I'll be taking this book along on my next trip along with Chitra Divarakuni's One Amazing Thing, covering Indians -- East to West.

And some favorite post snow fall reading -- Homer and Langely by E.L.Doctorow.  I loved this novel for its quirky, mild mannered fidelity, for its courtly reserve, and at last for the gentle horror of its ending.  I thought it beautifully imagined and restrained.  A perfect work.  The portrait of a consciousness cut off from even the world of music, floating in soundless space, the last 10 pages were extraordinarily moving to me.

Milkweed and Gryphon

Louise Erdrich - Monday, July 20, 2009
The other night I read The Blue Sky, by the Mongolian Tuvan novelist Galsan Tschinag.  Even his author bio is great reading.  I love the last line.  "He lives alternately in the Altai, Unlaanbaatar, and Europe."  This novel is simply lovely, an extraordinary coming of age tale, a story about the love between generations, a glimpse of the fascinating existence of Tschinag's people.  Published by Milkweed Press.

Milkweed of course reminds me of Emily Buchwald, who stopped in the store a month or so ago. The Gryphon Press, her new project, publishes books for children that explain the joys and also the harsh truths of animal lives.  The Gryphon Press terms itself "a voice for the voiceless", and the titles It's Raining Cats and Cats, At the Dog Park, and Max Talks to Me, are about relationships between humans and animals.  The books are beautifully made, and great for teaching children just why, for instance, one can't allow cats to reproduce and reproduce, and why, for instance, it is important that dogs have exercise and as much interaction as possible with their humans.  

So far, though, the press hasn't addressed the problem of the dogs of Birchbark bookstore -- the reading dogs and their slightly less literate owners.  What do you do when your dog looks at every book on the shelf and says "read that", or "ate that".  The Birchbark staff has convened and vowed to ramp up their reading just to keep up with the canine members of the bookstore team.

Too Loud A Solitude

Louise Erdrich - Sunday, July 12, 2009
I have trouble writing this blog post because I take it all so seriously.  I still write by hand in art paper notebooks, and am thinking of getting out my old typewriter because I miss typed manuscripts.  Then again . . . I am also thinking of writing  a whole book on birchbark with my teeth.  I do have news of a terrific read.  If you like Borges, Saramago, Kafka, Angela Carter, or writers born in Brno in 1914, who died in Prague in 1987, if you liked Bohumil Hrabal's Closely Watched Trains, or if you have never heard of Hrabal and you love books -- this is your book. 

Too Loud a Solitude, by Bohumil Hrabal.  I read it a month ago.  Then I read it again last night.  Maybe I'll read it again today.  The book is about a man whose job is crushing books.  It is a book about loving books and destroying books, about love and destruction, the crushing of ideas, the drinking of beer.  It is not a long book, but you will read it again and again.  It is a perfect book, I think. 

Besides reading this one book again and again, I've been reading newspapers.  I have been reading lots of newspapers with the awful feeling that the wonderful feel of print under my fingers, the dry snap as you unfold a newspaper, the paging back and forth, the tactile reality of the newspaper, is going to vanish.  So I've suddenly subscribed to several newspapers that I casually picked up every other day at the grocery store.  And all I give people for birthdays now is newspaper subscriptions.  I am doing this not only for the integrity of the news and the selfish feeling of joy I get when unfolding a newspaper, but for the many people I know who rely on completing the puzzles on newspaper pages -- for the lovely Finnish-American-Upper Peninsula Geology Professor I met on the airplane.  He was in his late eighties and had a folded crossword puzzle in his hand.  He was stuck but did not want me to brainstorm on an answer.  He enjoyed looking at his puzzle last thing before he went to sleep, and waking with the answer.  His was too loud a solitude, and puzzles are a friendly noise.

Buy a newspaper today.  Or Too Loud A Solitude.


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