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Birchbark Blog

Superior Lake

Louise Erdrich - Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes reads like a mystery -- how on earth will people and the lakes themselves defeat invasive species like the sea lamprey, zebra and quagga mussels, alewives?  Dan Egan makes the story of each battle epic, full of colorful characters and bold acts.  A reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Egan knows how to pare a story to its most interesting elements.  Having finished the book, I immediately started over.  (I can't remember the last time I've done that.)  More questions:  Will the deep troughs, now drains, that have been mistakenly engineered to assist large vessels, draw down the lakes?  Will the salmon. or the whitefish and other native species, triumph in the end?  And what of the waterless states fed by the shrinking Colorado River?  There have always been plans to pipe Lake Superior out of MInnesota.  When and how will our fellow Americans come for this vast, but finite, treasure?   

Taken for granted, spoiled, fished out, over-loved, will the Great Lakes survive us?  Probably, in some form, but we could very well not survive their loss.  So this book is on my MUST READ list.  Suspenseful, superbly informative, crucial.  I also love Egan's portraits of people working for and against the lakes -- a "World War II veteran named Vernon Applegate showed up and did what no creature in the past 360 million years had apparently been able to do.  He got under the lamprey's skin.  He figured out how it migrates and how it hides.  How it feeds, how it breeds, and how it dies.  And then he put a stake in it." 

If you don't know what a sea lamprey is, look it up.  You are in for a treat.  Bring this book to any lake this summer, any beach, and be grateful for Applegate.

Read and Weep/Laugh/Hope

Louise Erdrich - Sunday, February 26, 2017

Owning a bookstore (which actually owns me) doesn't get any better than the advanced reader shelf.  Oh wait, it does get better.  Talking to all of you readers who come in to find the book you will love -- that gets better.  But the advanced reader shelf where the copies to be published are stashed -- it is VERY good.  When Killers of the Flower Moon (available April 18th) came in, I noticed that it was by David Grann who wrote The Lost City of Z.  That made the book promising.  The demi-title "The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI" gave me a start.  I knew about the murders of the oil rich Osage but the connection to the birth of the FBI -- that was a new slant.  Turns out I didn't know much, really, about what happened to Osage people in the early 1920's.  This book, written as detective fiction by a master of the genre, was impossible to put down.  All I can say is get it now and read it now.  I still think about Killers of the Flower Moon and I still see the beautiful faces in the photographs that Grann includes.  Given the political climate in which Tribal Nations are going to be pressed even harder to give up energy resources to greedy corporations, in the light of Standing Rock, of Line 3, and Rick Nolan trying to reverse the sulfide ban and endanger the boundary waters, this book is as timely as it is shocking.  And as distressing as it is compassionately told.  And yet, please let me remind you, this is a read you will not put down.

Shifting gears -- there is Standard Deviation (available May 23rd) by Katherine Heiny.  I hardly ever laugh out loud when I am reading, so I was very surprised to hear laughter in the room.  Yes, it was me, and the book is clever and full of heart and joy and origami.  A couple of perfectly mismatched human beings try to love their heart winning Asberger's son (an origami prodigy) as they try to stay married and deal with a constant barrage of absurd guests. 

Back to extraordinary tragedy -- and unbearable strength.  A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea (now available) is the journey of Doaa Al Zamel (as told to Melissa Fleming).  I can't begin to describe the fury that captured me after reading this book.  It helped me understand what happened in Syria, and put a deeply human face upon one desperate family trying to save one another.  Please read this book and pass it on to others.  Help more people understand why the immorality and cruelty of the Trump administration's Anti Muslim and Anti Immigrant actions are intolerable and shame our country. 


Hidden Lives

Louise Erdrich - Sunday, January 22, 2017

After reading The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, my daily walks are an entirely different experience.  I see the details of a tree's struggle, the tree's heroic attempt to repair a slashed limb, to repel invaders, or how so often a root flare buried by a careless landscaper will eventually suffocate the strongest.  I see how hard it is to live on a boulevard and not in a forest composed of  myriad types of tree with a magical underground connection that can choose to harden against invaders or to sustain young trees with extra food. The Hidden Life of Trees is a marvel of understanding and science. 

Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien, still haunts me.  A novel of charismatic truth where reality feels like myth and myth is history.  A young woman and her ancestors live, and do not live, through the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  Gorgeous storytelling.  


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