Books I am reading

“When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.” — Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Still in my mind after six months: Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. A prescient book, a wide sweeping story of our near future. I read this when it was first published and am rereading it. Many people across the world believe Robinson’s account is a likely forecast of where the world is heading as we grapple with Climate Change. P.S. Its not a dystopia. There is hope.

Antelope Woman by Louise Erdrich, (I recommend the audio version read by the author), is the most recent version of Antelope Woman originally published in 2016. Louise is the author with whom I most strongly relate as a writer. Her stories arise from a particular place. The Sentence and The Night Watchman are two others I’ve read in the last few years both twice. Check out her books at her bookstore in Minneapolis, Birchbark Books. Below is an interview with Louise on her novel, The Sentence. I recommend any of Erdrich’s books.

The Children’s Fire by Mat Mcartney. Inspiring memoir and challenge to all of us to ask whether we are keepers of the children’s fire in this world changing time on Planet Earth.

Horse by Geraldine Brooks who is another of my favorite writers. Geraldine began writing as a journalist, which I observe is the genesis for many of our best fiction writers. Horse demonstrates the power of a trained researcher who can weave a story around historical facts and mysteries. Year of Wonders, a novel about the Great Plague is a powerful example of how Brooks builds narrative around historical events. I have read all of Brook’s fiction and nonfiction. Each is a gem, a solid work of research and careful thought. Caleb’s Crossing is one that resonated powerfully with me.

The Haunting of Hajji Hotak by Jamil Jan Kochai, a finalist for the National Book Award in 2022, a book of interrelated short stories from which I am learning how to write. Jamil’s works illustrate how important we hear from writers whose direct experience reflect to us how our national policies impact people in other nations. Jamil Jan Kochai was born in a refugee camp in Pakistan, to Afghani parents, who later immigrated to America when he was a young boy. I had the rare privilege to participate in a writers’ group with Jamil during the Tucson Festival of Books Masters Review. His refrain for reviewing each of our works – Where’s the fire? – still rings in my mind. There is plenty of fire in this book. And, wonderful humor.

Finally, I am listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead. A reimagined version of Dicken’s David Copperfield, this is an ambitious novel. I was born in the foothills of the Appalachians and I can testify that Barbara’s main character is so authentic that I both laugh and cry (with memories loosed in my mind of my grandparents and aunts and uncles and the people in and around Watauga and Johnson City, Tennessee.) I recall the mash up of local culture and mystical realism and poverty. It is the beginning of the Opioid Pandemic. Barbara, whose book plots are usually complex and nuanced, is a powerful writer whose books are some of the most powerful works of American literature in my lifetime.

Future Home of the Living God: A Masterpiece

Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God is a masterpiece of contemporary  American literature. After 16 novels, books of poetry, and memoir, and nominations for the Pulitzer, and winner of the National Book Award, this novel is a culmination of her storytelling, use of language, and imagination.

I’ve read and studied Erdrich’s works for at least 15 years, eagerly awaiting each new novel. Some have exceeded my expectations, others have not but are still excellent reads. But this one, THIS is an achievement — not just for her as a writer and artist — but for our times.

The writing is beautiful and flows with such ease, concise yet vivid description, that reading is seamless. The plot moves with tremendous pace and at times I was so full of suspense that I had to put my hand over the next sentence to keep myself from jumping ahead. As a woman with a daughter and sisters, and nieces, I was drawn to the main character, Cedar, who writes a diary for her unborn child — a record of a time when all that people assumed would never change was upended overnight.

If you are a woman of child-bearing age or a woman concerned about protection of women’s rights, if you are a a man who values women, a person of faith, or a citizen who wishes to understand this age, this time on earth, then you need to read this book. The earth is changing, we are changing.

In the dystopian tale, so prescient for today, she manages to still uplift the reader. She is a weaver of legend, personal destinies, and her own cultural perspective. Louise Erdrich manages to show us there is still hope, still good to be cherished and brought forward in all of us. Yet, Erdrich bravely portrays a potential future that threatens all we hold as good and right in human behavior, and the fate of the earth.

Hildegard of Bingen, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, scripture from the Bible, and Ojibwe elders all find voice in this story.

Find it at Birchbark Books, Erdrich’s independent book store; Indie Bound, or other online book vendors. Read the New York Times book review.