Monday, March 31, 2014

March Reading

Here's what I read in March.

It's hard to believe that I didn't know who Sherman Alexie was until about December, and right now he's my favorite author going. That's what's great about books and literature; no matter how much you read, there's always a voice you haven't heard that is just waiting to speak to you. As one of the characters in Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian states, "...if you read all the bookes ever written, it's like you've read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there is so much more you need to learn."

I first heard about Alexie when one of the students in my literary criticism class did her final project on him. Then, he popped up in my world literature textbook. We read his poem, "That Place Where Ghosts of Salmon Jump" in class, and I watched the trailer for Smoke Signals (favorite line: "It's a great day to be indigenous!")  I ordered Reservation Blues and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and read both of them. I followed him on twitter. Along the way, I watched this interview he did with Bill Moyers, which sent me to his poem "The Facebook Sonnet," which I kinda-sorta remember reading in the New Yorker, but, given the new context of reading Alexie and also my renewed insterest in poetry, it just blew me away.

I guess what I'm saying is that I read a lot of Sherman Alexie this month.

So, let's get right into the novels, which I will write about together.

1. Reservation Blues                  


2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Both of these books are set on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, where Alexie grew up. Both are witty, hilarious novels that deal with the challenges facing Indians (he prefers the term "Indian" to any of its more politically-correct alternatives) today, and the books are filled with alcoholism, povery, despair, self-loathing, and premature death. There's also a lot of basketball in each of them.

My daughter ripped out two pages of my book!
Reservation Blues was his first novel, and it won the Ameican Book Award and the Murray Morgan Prize. In this book, Robert Johnson (yes, that Robert Johnson) shows up on the Spokane Reservation and hands over his cursed guitar to a motley crew of Indians. They soon form a rock and roll band, Coyote Springs, and start playing shows around town. Before the end of the book, they find themselves in New York City, in the studio of a big-time record label.

I did feel that this book became too ponderous toward the end, and verged on the edge of excess, but it was a highly enjoyable read and made me want more for this author. The day I finished it (today!) I picked up my next book by him and read it in a few hours, even while my children were trying to kill me. 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award for young adult fiction. This book does not shy away from the same adult themes of Reservation Blues, and handles them with the same mix of humor and tragedy that made the previous book so enjoyable. This one, however, is an unqualified success, and is a must-read for anyone who is interested in reading great fiction, not to mention great fiction for young people.

(UPDATE! This book was banned by the school board of Meridian, Idaho.)

3. More Poetry

I didn't just read Alexie, though. I also read lots of poetry of Simon Armitage and Ron Rash. See my recent post on Simon Armitage, who is the best. 

The Shout by Simon Armitage

Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. the Curdoroy Kid by Simon Armitage

Waking by Ron Rash

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