I’m currently engaged in a crazy project to read and review most of Louise Erdrich’s books in order of publication, and so today I should be blogging about her 1986 novel The Beet Queen. She just published a new book however, and I can’t be expected to follow a reading list when there’s a brand new Louise Erdrich novel in existence. Below are my thoughts on Future Home of the Living God, published today in the US.
The second book in my Louise Erdrich Project is Love Medicine, her most famous novel, and the one that’s considered a modern classic. It tells the story of two Ojibwe families, the Kashpaws and the Lamartines, over three generations. I see it as a sort of roadmap to Erdrich’s world, since it introduces the North Dakota reservation that will become her default backdrop, and many characters who will appear in her later novels. But it’s obviously a lot more than that.
I am a non-native speaker of English who writes in English. This means I write from a strange sort of distance that I’m always trying to close to make a point. At the same time, this distance can work to my advantage – when I want to evade criticism. You see, if I use English poorly, it can’t be my fault: I’m not a native speaker. Convenient, uh? Only this time, when I read George Orwell’s discussion of bad writing in Politics and the EnglishLanguage, I felt like I no longer had an excuse. I faced my weaknesses as a little scribbler, and wrote a few recommendations for myself. This is my Orwell-inspired writing advice to myself as a non-native speaker of English.
The Children of Jocasta is a new version of both Oedipus the King and Antigone – chapters alternate between the two stories- told from the point of view of two usually overlooked characters, Jocasta and Ismene. Through their eyes, Natalie Haynes presents the usual protagonists in a different light, but also expands the timeframe of the two stories, starting them long before the cataclysmic events that set the tragedies in motion (the murder of Laius in the case of Oedipus the King, and the deaths of Polynices and Eteocles in the case of Antigone). Because it is a novel, The Children of Jocasta can also go into much more narrative detail than the original plays: we accompany Jocasta as she first becomes queen, and share Ismene’s life as the youngest of a cursed royal family. Really, with its alternative points of view and filling in of narrative blanks, the book feels like (very good and well-researched) fanfiction.
Down the TBR Hole is a meme created by Lia on her blog Lost in a Story, which I first encountered on another blog, Elle’s excellent Elle Thinks.The idea is to clear up your ever-expanding TBR list by following this procedure: on your Goodreads profile, arrange your To-Read books by date added in ascending order, and then go through the list 5 to 10 books at a time, deciding which book you should keep and which you should discard. Repeat the process weekly until you reach the end of the list.
This feels like a useful meme to me at this point. I’m in therapy for anxiety, and one of the main problems we’ve identified is all the rules for living I impose on myself. One of them (admittedly a minor one, but hey, I have to start somewhere) is “Thou shalt not do blog memes because they are lazy and self-indulgent”, and it’s time to let go of it. Plus my TBR list remains so huge it makes me feel like a failure every time I look at it, so I welcome the opportunity to attack it. Here are the first 5 books on my TBR list.
And so begins the Louise Erdrich Project: with the poetry collection Jacklight. I should mention that anxiety makes it quite difficult for me to enjoy poetry: because it forces me to focus on each individual word when I read, it denies me the distance necessary to see the whole picture. For this strange reason, I tend to avoid poetry, but since the point of the project is to push myself, I didn’t run away this time. I’ll even share my uncertain thoughts.
Before I embark on my Louise Erdrich project, I want to give a small introduction to her and her work, especially since she seems to be virtually unknown in the UK. As I understand, she is kind of a big deal in the American literary world, but over here, people don’t recognize her name when I mention it (and I work in a bookshop). This entry will also act as a snapshot of my understanding of her work as I begin the project. We’ll see how it changes as I go along.