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April 20th, 2009


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02:06 pm - An Apple a Day
Poll #1386944 Validate either Seanan or me

Do you know who Sherman Alexie is?

Yes
63(61.8%)
No
39(38.2%)

I did not know who Sherman Alexie was until I attended a Lorrie Moore reading at the Alley Theater in Houston in January 2002. He had been really funny (funnier in person than Lorrie Moore, even), and he admitted to having a "blooming crush" on her. His best line, though, was this: "That's right, I'm not satisfied until you've been naked with my book."

It took me seven years to actually read one of his books, fully clothed though I was. I read two this weekend, making up for lost time.

Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, and as far as I can tell, he's the most famous Native American author today. Maybe ever. Given that I can't name any others. He's speaking for them all!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a semi-autobiographical young adult novel about Arnold Spirit, Jr. (known as Junior), a a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian "born with water on the brain," like Alexie. Like Alexie, he leaves the reservation to go to a high school twenty miles away where the only other Indian is the mascot. Unlike Alexie (that I know of), he's a cartoonist, and his cartoons (drawn by Ellen Forney) are peppered throughout the book to great effect.

This is a fabulous book, you guys. Junior is an incredibly likable narrator, and through his eyes, we get a good perspective on what it's like to be a poor teenage Indian growing up on a reservation, isolated from rich, white America but wanting to be a part of it all the same for all the opportunities it offers. He's very matter-of-fact about things, but it's that matter-of-fact attitude that allows Alexie to say all he wants to say without jamming it down your throat. Junior is really torn between two cultures, since he feels like an outsider in the white world but a traitor in the Indian world. There isn't actually a strong narrative drive, and that would normally turn me off, but it's a testament to Alexie's voice that I did not fucking care. The book calls it a diary, which means it's a chronicle of a life, and life just happens. It still feels coherent.

It's very funny and very sad at the same time. It makes sense that he was paired with Lorrie Moore, as they both have a gift for killing you with a one-liner: the last sentence of the second chapter is one of the most horrifyingly sad things I have ever read. Christ, it's making me tear up right now. But there are funny cartoons! Cartoons that are funny even when they're about sad things! Because that's just how Alexie (and Junior) rolls.

I loved this book, and I think everyone should read it, seriously. It won the National Book Award! I just discovered that he's writing a sequel, which makes me very happy. You can read this thing in a few hours, and you will not regret it. FIVE STARS.

Flight is neither semi-autobiographical nor young adult—technically, although the teenage protagonist and voice make it seem enough like YA. It's about Zits, a "time-traveling mass murderer." Wait, I'm getting there. Zits is a half-Indian teenager who's been bumped from foster home to foster home when he meets this guy in jail who decides to teach him to shoot random people.

And so he does...and then he starts Quantum Leaping into various people's bodies throughout time (and before you go there, Alexie is way ahead of you: the epigraph is from Slaughterhouse-Five). He gets a first-person historical perspective on Indian-white relations: sometimes he's a white guy and sometimes he's an Indian, but whenever or wherever he is, people are getting killed.

Sherman Alexie works well in a teenage voice; it allows him to question really complex ideas with very simple verbiage. Zits is not as likable as Junior, but he's still relatable because the questions he asks are ones we're always struggling to answer. What's the difference between good and evil? Why do people kill? Is it ever right to kill? Zits's timejumps form a hypnotically violent tapestry of America that makes you wonder whether the cycle of violence can ever really be broken.

The book is very short, clocking in at under 200 pages, and there's even less of an overall narrative drive; it's clear Alexie is a short story writer first and foremost. I don't think the book is really supposed to be about Zits, honestly; I think he's just the vehicle. We're supposed to follow him on his journey and learn along with him. There are thirteen pages of discussion questions at the end, I'm not even kidding.

I really liked the book, and it's a quick read. I certainly have a new perspective on Indians now. FOUR STARS.
Current Mood: lethargiclethargic
Current Music: Korn - Coming Undone

(45 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:jennythen
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:16 pm (UTC)
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Weird, I have also read a Sherman Alexie novel about an Indian mass murderer, but it was not Flight. It was Indian Killer.

Sherman Alexie also wrote Smoke Signals, which you should definitely see.

Edited at 2009-04-20 09:17 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, Indian Killer looked interesting too, but the reviews made it sound subpar. What did you think? I like mysteries! It looks like the longest thing he's written.

I do want to see Smoke Signals! I've had my eye on Sherman Alexie since I saw him, but I just never got around to reading him. I think I read a short story or a bit of one in a bookstore once, but that was it.
[User Picture]
From:jennythen
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
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Mmm, it's been a long time since I read it, but I think it was pretty good. It was definitely less funny and more serious than The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and Reservation Blues, and probably the two you read, too. That may explain the disappointed reviews. I liked it, though.

I took a Native American Lit class as a freshman, and we read his first two books and a couple of miscellaneous short stories. I was really impressed.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
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There's a whole class! So there must be other notable Native American authors besides him. Anyone else good?
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From:jennythen
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:40 pm (UTC)
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We also read (the notorious) Ward Churchill, Louise Erdrich, and Leslie Marmon Silko.

The best part was a collection of stories about experience of being taken away to the Indian schools, but I can't remember any of the authors.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
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Wait, Leslie Marmon Silko sounds familiar.

*Googles*

Ceremony! I've heard of that one for whatever reason; maybe it was mentioned in an English class as an option for ethnic outside reading.
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From:ryca
Date:April 21st, 2009 12:40 am (UTC)
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I had to read Ceremony as a junior in high school and as a freshman in college. I *so* did not get it in high school. I'm actually fairly certain that I didn't get it in college, either, but at least I remembered enough of it to get away with doing less work during a difficult first quarter. The other two books sound really interesting, though.
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From:cofax7
Date:May 2nd, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
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You should read Louise Erdrich; she's fairly awesome, and she's written a lot. Also Michael Dorris' Yellow Raft in Blue Water. (Skip Crown of Columbus, though.)

Susan Power's The Grass Dancer is a great magical-realist novel set among the Lakota.

Also, if you're interested in Native American history, now is a great time to set your Tivo to record The American Experience, because they're doing a totally awesome series of short films about key moments of Native American history, with Native producers and Native casts. It's called "We Shall Remain".
[User Picture]
From:scifantasy
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:31 pm (UTC)
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I've never read anything by Alexie, but I know who he is.
(Deleted comment)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
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What did you think of Flight? You're going to love The Absolutely True Diary. It's just so lovable. I actually thought, "I need to own this book," while I was reading it. Next time I go to Half-Price, I'll be on the lookout! Ooh, there's also that used bookstore on Piedmont. I'll have to check it out, maybe pick up whatever Alexie they have for cheap!

I do want to check out his short story collections! Maybe in seven years; I have so many other things to read.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:beeker121
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
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I read "Absolute True Diary" and ended up crying so hard at one point that my boyfriend took it away from me. (Junior's grandmother is so like mine that it simply hurt, but in a good way). I recommend it highly and then warn people to have kleenix nearby.

I actually have a Sherman Alexie quote that I keep written in my notebook of cool things. "Do you know why Indian rain dances always worked? Because the Indians would keep dancing until it rained."
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
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I think I came across that quote somewhere. He's very quotable; I've had a great fondness for him ever since that reading. He just seems like a cool guy.

The book should come with a box of Kleenex! Heh. But it's also so funny and amusing at the same time. And so readable. Oh, Junior.

(Also, I want to start a band called Invisible Mountain Gorilla Scientists.)
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From:beeker121
Date:April 20th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC)
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I told my boyfriend he had to read it, but I was not so convincing as I was still crying at the time. I am excited to hear that there is a sequel coming, I want to spend more time with Junior.
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From:electricmonk
Date:April 21st, 2009 05:01 am (UTC)
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That quote is from this piece about the trial over Seattle's basketball team.

I never gave a shit about the Sonics, but I wanted them to stay just so Sherman would be happy. Alas.
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From:darlingviolenta
Date:April 20th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
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I put "no" because I was reading it as "Alexie Sherman" and was just assuming it was some actress I didn't care about. But then I read the next few paragraphs and realized that while I have never read anything by him, I did (vaguely) know who Sherman Alexie is. So use that to validate whoever you want.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 20th, 2009 10:02 pm (UTC)
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Heh. I was sort of surprised you didn't know. You can change your answer to maintain the sanctity of the poll. And validate me.

I keep mistyping "Alexie" as "Alexis," so Alexis Sherman could be some actress you don't care about!
[User Picture]
From:darlingviolenta
Date:April 20th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
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Changed!
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From:pixie37373
Date:April 20th, 2009 10:00 pm (UTC)
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I loved The Absolutely True Diary! And I really enjoyed 10 Little Indians as well - his short stories have power.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 20th, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC)
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Kelsey!! *hugs*

I think I've read one of his short stories, and he read one back then, but I don't remember much about them.
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From:pixie37373
Date:April 21st, 2009 03:50 am (UTC)
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Sunil! *big hugs*

I have been terrible about staying in touch. I miss you!
[User Picture]
From:erinkayehashet
Date:April 20th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)
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I took a class once where we read both a Lorrie Moore short story and a Sherman Alexie short story. I'd like to read more of both of them.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 20th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)
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Lorrie Moore is my default favorite author. I recommend Self-Help and Birds of America out of her short story collections and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? out of her novels.
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From:evilstmars
Date:April 20th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
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We read this one for book club last year at MarsLibrary, and it was one of the most-embraced books we have ever read -- but for one student who is Indian-from-India and not Native American who declared quite angrily that he wouldn't even check out the book because Alexie was obviously a racist, on basis of title and use of cowboy-and-indian figures on the cover. It was one of those incidents that I didn't quite know what to do with, because the only answer really is 'try reading what's in it before you judge by its cover'.

BTW, the 'I can hand this to just about anybody and they will love it' book from this year is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which has tons of justified hype. If you want a fun quick dystopian sci-fi read, you should check that one out, though be warned you may find yourself waiting anxiously for a sequel that won't be out for five months.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 20th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
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one student who is Indian-from-India and not Native American who declared quite angrily that he wouldn't even check out the book because Alexie was obviously a racist, on basis of title and use of cowboy-and-indian figures on the cover.
Uh. Damn.

It was one of those incidents that I didn't quite know what to do with, because the only answer really is 'try reading what's in it before you judge by its cover'.
I know! I love the cover. Welcome to Ironyville, buddy.

BTW, the 'I can hand this to just about anybody and they will love it' book from this year is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which has tons of justified hype. If you want a fun quick dystopian sci-fi read, you should check that one out, though be warned you may find yourself waiting anxiously for a sequel that won't be out for five months.
Damn you! That does sound cool. *adds to the ever-growing list*
[User Picture]
From:evilstmars
Date:April 20th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
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I know! I love the cover. Welcome to Ironyville, buddy.

That was my feeling. I was particularly sad about it because I'd tried, in my gentle and perplexed way, to say: irony! But the thing about teenagers is sometimes the painfully-earnest bits overwhelm nuance. This was one of those times.

Damn you! That does sound cool. *adds to the ever-growing list*

It is cool. I've made people read it ranging from our to-be-valedictorian to our goth freshmen to my coworkers to our school English teacher to our custodians. /Everybody/ liked that book, with the same sort of passion normally reserved for Sherman Alexie, sparklepires, and The Spellman Files.
[User Picture]
From:cerulgalactus
Date:April 20th, 2009 11:06 pm (UTC)
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How Indian can he be if he doesn't know about Ganjhi?
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From:shpyum
Date:April 20th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC)
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Sherman Alexie is probably my favorite writer in the whole world. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven changed my life. Um, I think that's all. Oh! I saw him read once and cried and hugged him and it was amazing.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 20th, 2009 11:18 pm (UTC)
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Aw. I think I read one story from that in a bookstore, but I'll have to read the whole thing at some point.

I want to be an amazing hugging author!
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From:shpyum
Date:April 21st, 2009 01:14 pm (UTC)
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Well, you write things and I hug you, does that count? I haven't read Flight yet because reading True Diary was such an emotionally ripping experience that I wanted to give my heart time to heal. It's been about 6 months, so I think I'm ready. His talent is to tear your heart out and hand it back to you. Hmm, maybe if I'd had a cup of coffee yet this morning that sentence would be comprehensible. Oh well.
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From:sjester
Date:April 21st, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)
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I haven't read any Sherman Alexie, but I know who he is because I grew up in New Mexico, and they have a tendency to like telling us about Native American authors around here. They tend to have us read stuff from the more local ones, though.
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From:thetheatremouse
Date:April 21st, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
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I have read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. I unfortunately can't say I remember a damn thing about it, but I do remember I didn't enjoy it. Dratted memory failing me, I can't explain why. It may have been an unfairly held juvenile grudge because it was a class assignment for a class I wasn't particularly interested in...although that seems as unlike me as forgetting everything about a book I definitely read.

I can't tell if that makes it a more or less likely explanation.
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From:captainofidiots
Date:April 21st, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
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I don't ever comment (but I always read!) but I wanted to say I've heard of him mostly because I am from Spokane. I've always wanted to read his work and now going to have to move it closer to the top of the list. :)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 21st, 2009 04:40 am (UTC)
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I hope you enjoy it!
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From:cmbarrytx
Date:April 21st, 2009 02:17 am (UTC)
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I do not know who Sherman Alexie is. But I know Lorrie Moore. Much love for her!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 21st, 2009 04:39 am (UTC)
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So much love!!
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From:rachelmanija
Date:April 21st, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
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Woo-hoo!

It was my rec that did it, right?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 21st, 2009 04:39 am (UTC)
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To be honest, no. A friend and I were discussing the term "apple," which I said I learned from Sherman Alexie, and she didn't know who he was, so I was poking around Wikipedia and identified a couple books that seemed interesting to me to put on my to-read list since, as I said, I liked him but hadn't gotten around to reading him.

And then I went to see whether you'd reviewed them because I was sure you had or would, and, bam, there were the two I was interested in! And you had good things to say about them! So I went ahead and requested them from the library right then and there.

Wait, I think the answer to your question is YES.
[User Picture]
From:rachelmanija
Date:April 21st, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)
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With the awesome power of book recommendations, I control the universe!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 21st, 2009 04:57 am (UTC)
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Your recommendations comprise about a third of my current to-read list.
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From:electricmonk
Date:April 21st, 2009 04:54 am (UTC)
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Dang, I swoon all over myself for Sherman Alexie, but I still haven't read either of these. I even saw him read from Flight and bought a copy, but I haven't read the rest. I am such a slacker. (But he turned me down when I requested an interview for my newspaper, so he deserves it, a little. I still love him.)
[User Picture]
From:pseudo_tsuga
Date:April 21st, 2009 06:42 am (UTC)
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I read Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and high school and had him as a commencement speaker for college. He was the best thing at the ceremony.
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From:daynr
Date:May 14th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)
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I read absolutely true diary and the damn thing made me cry on the subway. TWICE. I loved it.
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From:squaringkarma
Date:June 4th, 2009 02:01 am (UTC)
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Randomly someone at CCC was reading this at the end of the year and I was like "Hey I think my friend Sunil recently read that." But I forgot some details so I thought it wasn't. But coming back to this post, hey she totally was reading this book!

And I'm talking about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Edited at 2009-06-04 02:02 am (UTC)

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