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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Delve Into Erdrich's Intricate World

The Painted Drum
By Louise Erdrich (2005)

What it’s about: A woman of Native American heritage if not culture discovers a drum, a sacred object in Ojibwe culture and belief. As the book jacket explains, “we trace the drum’s passage both backward and forward in time” and learn “how it changes the lives of those whose paths it crosses.” And “as the novel unfolds, its elegantly crafted narrative comes to embody the intricate, transformative rhythms of human grief.”

Why I picked it up: Louise Erdrich is one of my favorites. If you’ve never read Erdrich, this is a great place to start.  The first narrator eases you into her world gently, and by the end of the book you’re of that world. Erdrich fans quickly figure out that the fictional characters, families, and places she writes about weave in and out and through her books. If you read like I do, and years pass between books by one author, you might not remember exactly what you know about the Pillager, or Nanapush, or Shaawano families. But you recognize them: your old friends, and their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Why I recommend it: Here’s your opportunity to learn about a culture and a way of life you may know nothing about. It’s also an invitation into the extraordinary world of Louise Erdrich’s writing, which is gorgeous, rings true, and is fabulously intricate. The characters are linked by a dozen threads. I highly recommend starting over at page one when you finish it. It’s that rich. 

Quotes from the book:
"All we crave is a simple order. One day and then the next day and the next after that, if we're lucky, to be the same. Grief is chaos. Death or illness throw the world out of whack. The drum's order is the world's order. To proceed with and keep that order is a gesture of desperate hope. Protect us. Save us. Let our minds remain clear of sorrow so that we can simply praise the world.”

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

Tip for making reading happen in a busy life: Remember how in January I sent you to the library for your old favorite book? This month, go back to the library, go up to the nice person behind the desk, hold out the book, and say, “I loved this book. Can you recommend something else I might like?” Libraries are full of lists, websites, and various resources for this question, and the person behind the desk is the best resource. That person LOVES helping you find a book you love! (Book stores employ these people as well. Ask for my friend Melissa next time you are in Carmichael’s.)

Announcement: This is the last month in which I will give you a tip for making reading happen in a busy life. After all, I can’t top Rose’s quote from February! But more importantly, if you’re still following my blogs – I can dream! – then you already have the desire. If you want to find time to read, you will.  

New Feature:  
Bonus Books:  Too many books, too little time, right?! Starting this month I’ll list for you a couple of extras.
“If you Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-town Alaska” by Lende
“When You Reach Me” by Stead
“Bellwether” by Willis

And Because March is “Math Month” 
(Because pi is 3.14  . . . you remember this from high school!)
Born on a Blue Day by Tammet
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Ogawa

Contributed by Elaine Jack, Assistant Editor, Today's Family magazine


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