Monday, January 3, 2022

Timmesota - Tim McCarthy on Louise Erdrich

Happy New Year everyone! It's been an exciting holiday season. I'm grateful to have talked with so many customers about my favorite 2021 books, so thank you for being here! I'm hoping for some kind of lighter and better world during 2022, and it helps to complete unfinished business. So, here goes. 

In one of my Minnesota in My Mind blogs, I referred to Minneapolis author and bookstore owner Louise Erdrich as one of America's best, and someone who deserves a lot more of my time. I'm happy to say that I recently gave her just that, and I’m thrilled to say that the two books I’ve just read from her are so different! Both are unique, but one is an adult novel and the other a child’s picture book.

Her latest adult novel, The Sentence, is both hilarious and deadly serious, sly and sincere. It's hard-edged and beautifully tender, with biting humor as a balm for life’s wounds. Erdrich is a national treasure, but you probably knew that. What I knew of her was limited to her Birchbark House children's writing, so it’s tough to admit that this is the first of her adult novels I’ve ever read! (Please don’t tell.) I also knew that her flowing autograph is a signed book nerd’s dream, and her beautiful jacket photos take my breath away. I'm a shameful book collector who’s picky about his crushes. Oh yes, the story. If I tell you very much, I’ll ruin good surprises. So, I’ll just say it’s a ghost story, an exploration of the spirit world inside our own. It happens in Erdrich’s very own book store, Birchbark Books, with Louise as a subtle character. And the ghost is an annoying, complex, recently dead regular customer. Above all, we get to see into the heart of a Minneapolis bookstore during the pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. This is priceless American truth! And it's about people who love books. 

Her picture book, Grandmother's Pigeon, is being republished after many years by the University of Minnesota Press. It's perfectly illustrated by Jim LaMarche. Together, they've given us a great gift, a quirky, magical tale of family love, told by Erdrich with a clever wisdom and wit. LaMarche's pictures accomplish what great illustrators do: add to the story's suspense and joy. Grandmother is full of surprises, and when she sails away to Greenland on the back of a porpoise, the family thinks she's gone forever. As they finally decide to explore her bedroom, they find the beautiful mysteries are only beginning. Erdrich's dramatic and whimsical storytelling combined with LaMarche's unique perspectives deliver a thrill reminiscent of Chris Van Allsburg's finest work. Just be careful with that stuffed pigeon!  

All the best to all of us this year! See you soon!


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