Tag Archive: 10

Mar 04

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Absolutely True Diary of  a Part Time Indian

February has been a trudge, ya’ll. It seems like every step I take just weighs me down a little more. But that’s not to say that good things didn’t happen this month. I got to see a fantastic production of Venus in Fur, my library outreach work was much better attended, and I decided to attend the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas due to a little help from some friends. And! And and and! I read this gem of a book!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie has been on my to-read list since it came out. I had read The Toughest Indian in the World in undergrad (thanks Johnny Quest!), and since I was one of only three people including the professor who wasn’t too embarrassed to talk about its contents, the book made a strong impression on me. I have continued to love Alexie’s writing. He’s one of those authors that I forget I love as much as I do until I sit down and start reading. Then, it’s four hours later, and I’m almost done with the book. He even makes me like short stories!

And this book.  Let me put it this way: on the back of the edition I read, there’s a blurb from Neil Gaiman that says something to the effect that this book will start winning awards and start to be banned immediately. And truer words could not have been said. It won the National Book Award and has featured prominently on the most challenged books list that the ALA puts out annually.

The story follows Junior (real name Arnold), a Spokane living on the Native American reservation in eastern Washington state. Because he was born with water on the brain, he is left with physical problems that leave him weaker than many others and prone to seizures. This led to him being picked on by many other people on the reservation. He gets taken under the wing of the toughest kid on the reservation, Rowdy, and they quickly become best friends. Their friendship is rocked, though, when Junior realizes that he doesn’t want to end up in the endless cycle of no progress and dream death that characterize his experiences with his family and neighbors.

So he decides to have his family enroll him in the pretty much all-white school in town. What follows is a bildungsroman of a young man trying to find his way to unite his heritage, his old friendships, his family, and his desire for more than would typically be offered to him. The story, told in a first-person style, features numerous illustrations that characterize Junior’s quirky and humorous way of dealing with the tragedies and foibles of his life.

This book is YA, sure, but it’s really for anyone who has ever wanted more out of life. Or has felt like they don’t belong at the cool kids table. Or who knows the uneasy balancing act of mixing your heritage with your heart. it sucked me in, hook, line, and sinker, and the only thing I regret is that I didn’t read it sooner.

JMF Rating: 10/10

Oh, and if that’s not enough of an incentive to have you go read it: I burned dinner reading this book. Yes, full-on romantic comedy heroine too wrapped up in a book to be aware of the world, I scorched the hell out of some dumplings. But thank you anyways, Sherman Alexie, it was well worth it.

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Nov 27

Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the SHore Guys. Guys, seriously.

I don’t always read literary fiction. Despite my English degree slowly gathering dust on my wall, I don’t think that something has to be dense to be enjoyable, and I think that a good story is often enough.

But this book. Guys. Can we just take a moment for how awesome Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami is? This is only my second Murakami (I read 1Q84 when it came out last year and loved it), but this has inspired me to hit up his backlist yesterday.

Okay, so the story is told in two dueling narratives. The first is about a boy named Kafka Tamura, the self-proclaimed toughest 15 year old in the world. He runs away from home and ends up in living in a library in a different region of Japan because the front desk clerk Oshima takes pity on him. So right away, I’m in love with positive portrayals of libraries (especially special libraries up in the hills). Next, (tiny spoiler alert), I appreciate any character that’s queer and not cookie cutter. Oshima is both transgendered and gay, but it’s treated like just another one of those things when he’s taking down some over-sensitive types that try to cause trouble for the library. This story revolves around Kafka staying away from the police who want to question him regarding his father’s apparent murder.

The other narrative follows Nakata, an old, developmentally-challenged man who can talk to cats. It’s alluded to at the beginning that this impairment and subsequent ability occurred due to a military activity he was subject to as a child, but nothing is ever definitively said. He then goes on a series of…quests is not quite the right word, but it’s the closest thing to match what it is with a truck driver named Hoshino.

And it’s not just because the story is crazy and you never know which way that it’s going to turn. And it’s not just because the mystical elements are seamlessly rolled into the real world so that they seem super natural (and not supernatural). And it’s not just that the language and the writing is so smooth that it makes you want to hit somebody. It’s that it’s an obviously literary book that has things to say about metaphysics and life and learning and being and art, but that it’s written in such an accessible way, that you can read it for depth or surface and still have a fantastic time. Deep doesn’t have to be stodgy; Murakami demonstrates this in spades.

I listened to the audiobook version of this. At over 18 hours, it has taken me most of the fall to get through it. But every time I go to walk Micah (the best and wenchiest Australian Cattle Dog in the world), I would look forward to going just a little bit further. I just wanted to know what happened in just that next part. And then again. And again. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that reaction to a book and enjoyed it this much.

JMF Rating: 10/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF