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Birchbark Blog

One Amazing Thing in Normal, Illinois

Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Dear Friends,

Last week I was invited to Normal/Bloomington Illinois.  I would speak to students, and read poetry, and looked forward to meeting those who had arranged this visit.  Lynda especially had been patient and encouraging.  Somewhere along the line I realized that David Foster Wallace had taught here, which made me think of his life and work and his graduation speech.  

I looked forward to the book in my bag, One Amazing Thing, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and to seeing again the person who would drive me.  Bill Young.  I had just finished reading Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safron Foer, and had decided that my rare and even very careful (you know, organic ranch raised creatures imagined so happy to be eaten they run eagerly to the slaughterhouse) type of meat eating was now at an end.  Bill and I talked of this.  On the way to the place I was staying, The Chateau, a unit of motorcycle state police passed us in proud formation.  We seemed to have a police escort!  But as it turned out, there was a convention of state troopers at The Chateau.  The readings of poetry, for a radio show all poetry, and the readings in general, went very well and I couldn't have been more hospitably treated.  I loved walking into the Chateau, past the old tapestry, over the tired new carpet.  Bill and I decided to have a post-reading glass of wine in The Lido bar.  It was filled with rowdy and roaring state troopers, but who do you call when they are the ones disturbing the peace?  

Bill and I went out for a burger -- well, a veggie burger, which can be had at Burger King.  Ours must have been sitting deep in the freezer, said Bill.  For a long time.  But he ate it and we had a glass of wine -- from the Chateau cellar.  The goblet was huge, but of course one would expect that at a Chateau.  I wanted to see the wine cellar, but as the library was mainly American Jurisprudence and Janet Evanovich, and some diet books, Bill said that the wine cellar might not be what I expected.  So up I went to One Amazing Thing, which I intended to fall asleep reading.  Early on I realized that Chitra was throwing a plot at me!  An irresistible plot where a mini-UN of interesting people get trapped by a disaster and each must come up with a story.  Oh no!  Oh yes!  I was up very late.  I read straight through because this is the sort of book that pulls you along.  Divakaruni is so adept with her characterizations.  She has a light touch with people.  She is a careful, evocative writer.   I wanted to be any of the several beauty salons described so lovingly.  I wanted to eat the bits of food described with such delicacy.  Chitra Divakaruni has written 14 books and they just keep getting better.  I think I enjoyed this one the most, lying there in my French (?) four poster bed, French (?) scenes of rural life on the wall, wishing for another French (?) veggie burger, or another goblet from the Chateau cellar.  Outside the rain fell and fell.  The next morning driving back to O'Hare we were passed by a state police car hauling a trailer with motorcycles strapped onto it.  Were the troopers still reeling in the Chateau?  Was the rain too dangerous?  Had they forgotten their rain gear?  We will never know.  But I am still a vegetarian.  

And today, back in Minneapolis, I still admire this line from One Amazing Thing, "She ignored Uma superbly, as people do when faced with those those abject destinies they control."  Haven't we all been ignored superbly?  How I hate it when my abject destiny is controlled by others.    

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.

Louise   

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