Shopping cart is empty.

Birchbark Blog

Powerful Must Reads

Louise Erdrich - Sunday, August 06, 2017

A September Must Read:

1) Nomadland by Jessica Bruder.  Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.  You will never forget the people whose stories Bruder tells.  Proud, resourceful, screwed-over, funny and in so many ways admirable, the American nomads Bruder lived with and reports on have sometimes lost everything but their bravado.  These are people whose middle class jobs dried up, people who lost their homes when the housing market crashed, people who should have comfortably retired but instead are nearly broke.  Opting to live in vans, campers, trailers, various RVs, they follow seasonal work from Amazon warehouses in the Southwest to the sugar beet harvest in the Red River Valley of North Dakota.  Most people are in their 60s or 70s.  The Amazon jobs are so grueling that there is a period of "work hardening" before they begin, and dispensers of OTC pain relievers on the warehouse walls.  

These are the people who have done their best to "make America great again".  Bruder tells their stories with humanity and wit.  She doesn't need to editorialize because the stories tell all you need to know about who bears the burdens of an unfettered free market.  

2) Actually this is an August Must Read but you must please read You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, Sherman Alexie's memoir.  This overwhelmingly beautiful book is ostensibly about his mother, but also about everything in the world, and all things Native.  Loss, Hilarity, Cruelty, Love, and an obliterating History.  My daughter and I listened to the book on a road trip from Belcourt, North Dakota.  It was a literary experience that i will never forget.  Of course, Sherman is an extraordinary reader as well as writer.  But the sound of his voice telling us his story over the miles became something more.  By the time we got home we were imbued and imprinted with Sherman's living spirit and Lillian's complex ghost.  My sister called this "not exactly a book as much as a volcanic eruption".  She is a physician with Native Health.  She's seen a lot.  She's exactly right.

3) Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler.  This is the book I was reading when not actually driving.  Octavia Butler was a visionary writer of speculative fiction.  She was a genius.  Even if you think you don't like science fiction, please try this book.  It is wonderfully addictive and complex.  Butler constructs an alien race that exists by manipulating and absorbing the genetic material of other worlds.  They find us shortly after we destroy our place on this planet.  They save us and fall in love with us.  Their first human is Lilith.  i don't know how to convey the generosity and tension of this book -- you will have to read it yourself.  One of my daughters kept telling me it was a good book, another put the book in my hands and insisted I take it on my trip.  Thank you.  Gorgeous, strange, stunningly humane.

4) The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk. This is one of Pamuk's most engaging novels.  The narrative is a directly focused stream.  But one of the most wonderful and terrifying things about the novel is the description of how wells were hand dug in Turkey in the old days.  I was fascinated because at the time I was also reading about hand dug wells in the 1930's on the Turtle Mountain reservation.  In both places the water was 70 or 80 feet down in the earth.  The digger filled a bucket with dirt and stones, and that bucket was hoisted up by people on the surface.  The sides of the well were reinforced as the hole got deeper, and deeper.  80 feet.  Can you imagine working at the bottom of that well, looking up at the tiny circle of sky, and not feeling entirely lonely and vulnerable?  It would ruin the book to say much more.

5) Hunger by Roxane Gay.  A Memoir of (My) Body.  And then this book.  In some ways, it is about what it is like to be greatly overweight.  It is also about why Gay used fat to insulate herself from further harm after a sickening betrayal by her childhood boyfriend.  He lured her to a hunting shack where his friends were waiting.  She was gang-raped at 12.  Sensitive, intellectual, deeply loving, soulful, possessed of great gifts of articulation, she embarked after the rape upon a life of hunger.  This book is like an undertow.  You are swimming in the life of another person, and suddenly you find that she has written about part of you that you cannot acknowledge.  You don't even know why you can't stop reading, why this book afflicts you, like it's author, with a kind of hunger.  I started the book late one afternoon and by night I reached a certain page, a section, and my heart began to madly pound.  It was near the end.  I put the book down and paced my house, sobbing, until I could finish the book.  Just telling you it is that sort of book.  In it you may find a hidden side of yourself suddenly reflected by an author who is an avatar of female truth.   


Canoe Family

Recent PostsRSS


Ice coyote Wolf Hall Alice Munro Minneapolis Botany Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge Pembina graphix Easter Island Anton Treuer Alan Weisman show your love Mankato Powwow This Green World The Farmer's Daughter More Remarkable Trees Birchbark Books Small Bookstores as Commons Zombies Aza Love friends Stephen Salisbury birchbark house series The Ojibwe gratitude joy mississippi Kabul Anishinabe buffalo Greenland Victory Gardens adventure Bill Moyers Journal knowledge Catalyst pilgrims Too Much Happiness Michael Jackson twins Fireworks photography Hilary Mantel post holiday euphoria Up Late Again Native People how good looking you are post holiday reads ependent support The Transition Handbook plants Interview Nero devoted customers neighborhood Ojibwe Ojibwemowin 2666 sweden Rare Books Brown Dog anniversary Keepers of the Trees Crushing Books Dogs E.L. Doctorow Unnatural Disasters Bohumil Hrabal favorite tree Peak Oil customers Philip Roth tree books local economy monkey in a dryer fresh water The Wealth of Nature the most romantic city in the world gardens thanks Tar Sands NACDI:All My Relations The Resilient Gardener Too Loud A Solitude The Blue Sky The Royal Prussian Library The Birchbark House book and dinner club Ha Jin Collective Denial Magers and Quinn language revitalization The Game of Silence city of books Aubrey/Maturin Gary Clement Gail Caldwell peculiar touches of green and gold thank you friends Louise Jim Harrison Bleak House Light in August Keystone XL Patrick O'Brian Population Hillary Clinton favorite dog Beth Dooley Video Nemesis Minnesota solstice, Thomas King Remarkable Trees Wendy Makoons Geniusz President Obama Milkweed Press National Book Award Green Team H2Oil leaves and snow germany Makoons Peak Water British Navy Let's Take the Long Way Home Chickadee boarding school Czech Writer italy State Troopers Canada Anishinabemowin health care reform Dartmouth Climate Change Emily Johnson Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive S.C. Gwynne Afghanistan Wastepaper World on the Edge Education france Mohamed's Ghosts ptsd trees Gryphon Press china cafe closing favorite book William Trevor Native Arts The Porcupine Year Book Review japan incarnation School Gardens Poetry Kenwood Gardens aquifer Islam green ireland Empire of the Summer Moon Women and Trees spring cafe Chitra Divakaruni Tree Houses Vic Glover Kate DiCamillo Roberto Bolano bill mckibben north dakota