Friday, September 25, 2015

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Some of you may have read my review on Alexie's other book, Reservation Blues, but this book, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, a collection of short stories, was his debut to the literary world.

It was a unique sensation, reading short stories about very familiar characters in Reservation Blues, but it was like seeing old friends again. It's probably why I like series so much. You become invested in characters and you wonder how they are doing and you wonder what is going to happen to them next. As a reader, I'm curious to understand their character development and how other characters react to them.

With this edition, he wrote an introduction. Normally I don't read introductions to books. They are usually by other people, and I never know what the heck they are talking about. Believe me, I know the importance of an introduction (kinda, sorta) but for some reason... I read a few paragraphs and then I skip to the start of the book. Maybe I'm impatient?

Anyway, I read the introduction to the book. I really like Alexie's voice and I'm envious to how well he conveys it. He writes about his break out in the literary world with his first publication, The Business of Fancydancing and the rollercoaster ride that came with it. He tells the story about an agent who told him that his stories needed work, which he didn't like, and eventually went with another agent, who published his stories quickly. I'm not sure why he decided to divulge that information? Is it to stick it to the agent that told him he should rewrite some of his work?

Here is a hot take, I liked Reservation Blues much more. Reservation Blues is much more polished than Tonto, but I'm not sure if I feel that way because Reservation Blues is a novel and Tonto is a collection of short stories, so it's meant to feel a bit disjointed, but I also noticed that Alexie was trying out his writing style. What did he like? What didn't he like? What was he good at?

I don't blame the agent for wanting to take it slow, but I do understand Alexie's gut instinct to jump when he needed too.

Now onto the book.

My favorite character in both Reservation Blues and The Lone Ranger is Thomas Builds-the-Fire. I loved his stories, and it was very interesting to me to read the dynamic between him and the rest of the tribe. He told stories about the present, about the past and about the future, and there is this theme of deep regret, anger and shame on the Spokane Indian Reservation about exactly that. Many try their best to deny and forget.

Thomas doesn't do that. He has been beaten up by Victor, a childhood acquaintance and the other members of the community refuse to listen to Thomas anymore. However, he doesn't become bitter or angry, or change the way he is. He still tells stories (not out loud) and in one short story, even accompanies Victor to pick up his deceased father.

I'm always fascinated with stories about people who, despite being good, still have bad things happen to them. Thomas is misunderstood by the whites, and is sent to prison after telling a story about a massacre in the 1800s. It's obviously a story set in the past, but he tells it under oath, and eager to send him away, they convict him. Though the whites destroyed Indian tribes across the nation without repercussions, but as soon as a white person was killed, though 100 years ago, the Indian is put away and titled a savage.

There is a deep seated sadness with these stories that undoubtedly have to do with oppression of a people but is lost in the telling of American History. When a student sits through history class, they of course, get the spiel about Native Americans and Manifest Destiny. Most likely there is a lesson on the trail of tears. However, there is seldom mention of the now defunct residential schools, planned to wipe out native culture and the poor land that most of the tribe is on today, along with the lack of opportunity in almost everything. Alcohol is rampagant in the community and poverty is a strong bedfellow.

Alexie does a good job of showing both the beautiful and ugly sides of life of the Spokane Indian reservation and the differences between different groups of people. I suspect it would be easy to demonize whites (and rightly so) for all that they have done, but Alexie presents it as a fact, and then moves on (and rightly so). Even though white people have essentially destroyed their past way of life, it's a moot point. There are other issues to combat (or just react too). He shows the difference between the elders and the new generation, the differences between men and women, the differences between families and the differences between city Indians and reservation Indians. But he also shows just how similar they all are in their reactions and their dreams to become something more, or to go back to the way it used to be.

I'm interested in watching Smoke Signals (maybe a Which is Better? post) and reading more of his books.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Goodreads account!

I have a goodreads account! Finally!

I'm not sure why I resisted for so long.

Find me!

Friend me!

I'll friend you!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells

Like many other books I picked up this summer, I found this book in the classroom of the teacher who was retiring. I watched the Ya Ya Sisterhood movie, but never read the book, so I was interested. I didn't realize that Little Altars Everywhere was a prequel. 

So... it's a collection of short stories about this family living in the south. It's about the children of 1 friend who is apart of a group of 4 friends. In the beginning of the book, the stories just seem to be stories that all children grow up with such as loss, friendship, loyalties, etc. For example, Siddalee is jealous of her cousin and her ballet teacher who end up getting together. She is pushed out and though she is getting older, she feels like a child. 

In the next chapter, Sidalee recounts her summers and how much fun they were at a Lake. It made me think of my own summers and it made me want to have children, go out with my best friends who also would have children and spend the summer in a big cabin in a small town by the lake. Though my husband and I were talking about children and our plan to have them, for the first time, it made it seem like it was fun to have kids...

However, the stories turned from typical childhood memories into something much darker. Gradually it's revealed that Vivienne and her friends are alcoholics who make very reckless decisions with their kids. Viv's marriage is in shambles and eventually Viv moves into the children's playroom to get away from her husband, Shep.

Then the stories got even darker. Viv found Jesus but used it to her advantage. She used religion to
manipulate her children.

Then the stories got even darker. The short stories are set in the deep south in the 60s, which is a backdrop for rampant classism and racism. Letty and Chase, who are an African American couple who live on the land and work for the Walkers, are familiar with the family, but never really family. Letty recounts when Viv comes home from Jesus retreat, she sends Letty home early. Letty has a feeling that something is going to happen and she goes outside to look across the property to the Walker house. Vivienne has the kids outside and they are naked. Vivi is whipping the kids unmercifully. Though they are scared of overstepping their bounds (the Walkers made it abundantly clear of what they see the Letty and Chase to be), they save the children. They call Buggy, Vivi's Mother but never even get Letty's clothes back.

The back of the book advertises that it is a mixture of sad and funny stories. The book, to me, was never really funny. I thought it was interesting and the writing is superb. I couldn't put it down. It was an easy read, and when the stories became darker, it was a like a car crash; you couldn't look away. I couldn't put it down.

Though I largely mention Siddalee, I like the rotating perspective of the people in different stories. I am always interested when characters look at each other: it's much harder for the writer, but if they pull it off, it's very rewarding. Rebecca Wells does this very well.

I'm glad I lucked into reading the prequel. I would like to read Ya Ya Sisterhood and watch the movie again to do another "Which is Better?" post.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

When to Make the Decision to Stop Reading a Book

So, my book stack is dutifully in my bedroom. I picked them out when I was moving and committed myself to reading them when I moved. After all, why spend money on books when I had many that I had not read yet? A major theme of this blog is to pick up books for a discounted price or for free. Certainly I should read the books in my house first.

I read a few historical fiction and fiction books this summer, which is a step away from the science fiction and fantasy that I go after. I enjoyed the fiction books I read, so why not take another chance? I was about to embark on a social studies position at my new school: I had a duty to be informed, even if it was to teach 6th graders.

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. My mother gave me this book lord knows how many years ago. She encouraged me to read it. "It's very good," she commented. "He makes great connections and says it in a way that makes sense." She also concluded that I would be interested in the topic, since I about to start college as a political science major. I just put it on my shelf, committing to myself that I would read it... eventually.

A few weeks ago, I finally did. I dusted off the hardback book, and began reading it.

I got to 50 pages before I put it down again.

I'm not going to write off Mr. Friedman. He's brilliant, drawing conclusions between our ever changing economy and the way we live, but the major problem with presenting theories about our economy, the way we live and technology, is that the technology used to draw those conclusions are defunct 10 years later. This book was written in 2005. It's now 2015, and many of the emerging business models are either common place or collapsed all together. With the housing bubble and the bust, the book is not necessarily ground breaking as it once was. It's almost like a history lesson.

I also realized a few things about my reading preferences. Reading nonfiction books before bedtime is probably not something I would do again. Whereas I tore through Little Altars Everywhere, I crawled through The World is Flat. Now, it's probably the way you're supposed to read it, but for someone that reads to relax, The World is Flat is not a relaxing book.

Sorry, Thomas Friedman. If I ever get my hands on your newest book, I'll give you another try.

I went back to my book stack. What should I try next? I had a few Virginia Woolf books. BAE adamantly concluded that I would like her, so I decided to try "A Room of One's Own." I remember Nicole Kidman playing her in a movie a few years ago (she donned the fake nose, so she must be a serious actress), so I thought I would give it a try.

I got to 15 pages before I put it down.

The introduction warns the reader that it's like an extended essay. Though I felt like she and I were talking and walking about the state of women, it felt like I was at a lecture. A lecture that I was not allowed to comment or question.

Like Friedman, I am not going to write Woolf off. The only author I would ever write off is Thomas Hardy with Tess D'Urbervilles (never again). I do have another book by her, which seems to be a fiction novel. I will give her another try later.

However, making the decision to stop reading 2 books consecutively when I normally stick to books the entire way through made me think of when we should stop reading books. In both of these cases, they didn't serve my purpose. I read to relax before bed. I read so I can escape and go to far off places and read about other people's lives. Both of these books did not do that.

Now sometimes I will finish a book just to give it a scathing review, but it wasn't like I hate either of these books. They were fine books written by brilliant people. I think at the end of the day, my taste in books skew to the light side.

I would like to turn the question over to you: When do you make the decision to stop reading a book? Why?