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Birchbark Blog

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 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 bad 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 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 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. 


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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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Not Winter Reading

Louise Erdrich - Monday, November 28, 2016

November rains and a stormy outlook. Time to plunge into a contradictory reading spree -- first Svetlana Alexievich's extraordinary work, Secondhand Time, an oral history that encompasses every emotion from extreme sorrow to the most tender love. This book of contemporary Russian voices and Soviet history is not for the faint of heart. So, when my heart went faint from descriptions of what is to live in that grand and tragic country, I turned to Amor Towles. His novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, is also about Russian/Soviet history but from the point of view of a most fortunate man. Our hero, Count Rostov, isn't executed in the first pages but instead is confined for life to the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. This is an old fashioned sort of romance, filled with delicious detail. Save this precious book for times you really, really want to escape reality. 

Back to reality -- I have resisted picking up Atul Gawande's Being Mortal for quite a while now because of the title, which would imply mortality. Once I began reading this important book I could not stop. It addresses, without fear, questions we all ask in our hearts but rarely voice. And it gives a person the tools to begin talking about . . . mortality. One's own, one's cherished family.  I gave this book to everybody in my family. Not as a Christmas gift -- I must admit it would be a downer to receive this book as a Christmas gift. But give it to yourself because you deserve clarity.

Somehow I missed talking about Ann Patchett's wonderfully human Commonwealth. Her first chapter is one of the best I've ever read -- leading to a kiss that is one of the best kisses I've ever read. The engaging and headlong family story that follows sweeps you up -- you won't stop reading until it puts you down.      

Dave Clemens commented on 09-Jan-2017 09:12 AM
I was disgracefully late in coming to Ann Patchett's work, but I recently started to catch up with Bel Canto, which I loved. Now based on your recommendation, Louise, I've put Commonwealth at the top of my list of next reads, to dig into as soon as my wife and I finish reading LaRose aloud together. (I read it for myself months ago.)
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