The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

Arnold Spirit is a teenager living on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington, where everyone calls him Junior.  As a baby, he was hydrocephalic, which caused seizures, poor vision, and a perception from his peers that he was different.  Most of the others on the rez picked on him, except his family, and his closest friend, Rowdy.  Rowdy was a tough guy and would fight anybody over anything, especially anyone who got too rough with Junior.

Beginning high school at the rez became a turning point for Junior.  He got upset that the textbooks were so old his mom’s name was in them.  He was suspended for throwing the book, which hit the teacher, Mr. P.  During his suspension, Mr. P visited Junior and convinced him to get his education off the reservation.

Most of the Indians picked on Junior because he was different, now they picked on him because he was a traitor for leaving the rez.

Reardon was Junior’s new school, it was twenty miles from the rez.  Sometimes his dad was sober enough to drop him off and pick him up, but every once in a while, Junior had to walk. He was the only Indian at the white school, and it was a rough start for him.   He was half white at the rez, and half indian at the school.  It took some time but Junior found his place, realizing he was as smart and athletic as anybody at Reardon.  While finding himself there, he also lost some close friends and family back home.  Rowdy believed he was a traitor and went for blood during the high school basketball game. Alcohol was also a major contributor to the losses at the rez.

Reading this book, I was reminded of the character’s in NS Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, which focuses on an American Indian’s struggle with modernization- living in the white world. It is a struggle between balancing everything your family knows and has held on to for centuries, or going out on your own to find a better life.  A struggle of honoring your ancestors to keep the culture alive or turning your back on them to leave the rez. It is a tough battle, and many on the rez don’t fight it.  They stay and become prisoners there.

The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

The early culture of space sci-fi was built on a foundation which portrayed Martians as beastly killers attacking Earthlings with no remorse.  However, in Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (1950), we have a chance to think about what really might happen.  How would humans feel if Martians came to settle Earth- Would we defend ourselves? Would we welcome the aliens with open arms and help them make a home here?  Another viewpoint Bradbury explores is the human pioneering spirit, such as the US’ Western Expansion through the 17-18th centuries. In both cases of settlement humans are determined to take what they want, and to make the land and culture adjust to themselves, rather than adapt to the new settings.

The first few chapters had a humorous tone. The humans sent the explorers to Mars, but the first three crews were killed in defense.  A Martian woman dreamt of the first rocket coming, she talked to the captain of the rocket in her sleep.  Her jealous husband overheard the conversation and resolved to keep his wife away from the mysterious visitors. He made sure she stayed at home while he went for a casual walk and hunting gun (which shot shells full of bees!).  The chapter ends with two shots in the distance and the wife solemnly welcoming her husband back home.

The second crew found themselves in a frenzy of Martian paranoia.  They have used telepathy to brainwash each other.  Many don’t care that the humans have arrived and find it more of an annoyance.  They send the captain and his crew here and there until finally a smart Martian welcomes them and sends them into a room to wait for him to return.  The crew was dumfounded, how could the the aliens not acknowledge that they have actually travelled through space?  This was a major accomplishment! The crew ment many Martians in the room they entered and soon realized that each one of the Martians were delusional.  The smart Martian was a psychologist, he returned and conducted interviews with the humans and determined that only the Captain was real and the other crew members were holograms to trick those who met him.  Then the psychologist asked the  Captain to take him to the rocket as he suspected this was also a hologram, and he could prove that the space travel was fake.  After exploring the rocket, the psychologist knew it was the best mental projection he had ever seen.  The Captain’s brainwashing telepathy was unlike he had ever seen before.  He knew if the simply shot the Captain the rocket and crew would disappear- but it didn’t.  It was the best projection he had ever seen, even when dead, the Captain’s brain power still made him see the rocket and crew! So he shot each crew member, and he still saw it all in front of him.  The only other explanation he could think of was he, himself, was projecting the imagery, so he took his own life to stop it.

The third rocket’s crew landed in a small town on Mars.  Each crew member recognized the village as their own hometown.  Each happened to see a deceased loved one they recognized in their fake hometown.  The friends and family explained that they didn’t know how they got there, but they had died on Earth and showed up there.  They tried their best to make it more like home.  This Captain was very leery of it all, but dropped his guard when his brother showed up and took him to visit their parents. They had a wonderful meal and the captain held his mother close and danced in the living room with her for hours.  At bedtime, the two brothers lay in the same room, when the Captain had a quick thought that it might be a trick… He decided to sneak back to the ship to wait for the others.  The Captain crept across the floor toward the door when the brother took him out.  The following morning, the entire town of Martians held a service to bury all the dead human explorers.

Further into the book, similarities between the real pioneers and the characters in MC are more apparent.  A Johnny  Appleseed character saw a need for oxygen production in the early days of humanity on the red planet, so he devotes himself to the task.  A husband and wife build a business selling hotdogs at an intersection of two major roads.  Priests believe the Martians need saved so they join the adventure and send missionaries.  Bradbury said Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was a major influence on the Chronicles and with the mass migration the states saw in the 1930’s, one can find many parallels between the two works. The Martian Chronicles was a very imaginative work 70 years ago, and can still captivate audiences today.

The venture, Mars One, plans to turn The Martian Chronicles into reality with a mission to create the first permanent human settlement on Mars.  You can find out more here.

 

The Quick and the Dead – Louis L’Amour

The day finally came when the McKaskel family set out upon the Santa Fe Trail. Duncan, his wife, Sarah, and their son Tom had only known the city life back East.  Both parents were educated and Tom was eager for adventure as any teenage boy would be.  Little did they know how much adventure they would find.

All of the education they gained in life would not be enough to secure their survival on the dire trail.  Within the first week the horses were stolen, surely they would have had to turn back if- the hero, Con Villain hadn’t shown up.  He was only passing through, and the pretty Sarah sure makes a great cup of coffee.

The McKaskels weren’t sure what to make of Con.  Was he just waiting for the right moment to rob the family himself?  Little by little, Con earned their trust. First of all, he never had to follow Duncan to the outlaw’s town to retrieve the horses.  He especially didn’t have to shoot the man in the barn aiming to shoot Duncan in the back.  Con didn’t even have to stay with the McKaskels when the Indians came to visit.

With his help, the family gained a different knowledge.  Learning what had not been written in the books they read.  The horse thieves followed them on the trail and Con always helped the McKaskels stay a step ahead.  One night, they were split up by the outlaws and Sarah figured they might not ever see Con again. If it were true, would the family make it on their own?  Would they overcome the struggles of the trail or would they become like the thousands of unmarked graves on the dangerous route?

A classic Western, The Quick and the Dead has been made into movies and is one of Louis L’Amour’s most popular works.  The suspense found between the pages keep them turning to find out if the family survives, if Indians attack, if outlaws return, and if Con Villain would be their savior, or a wolf in a sheep’s skin…

Twitter: @blookworm

IG: @83mrlong

 

Veronica Decides to Die – Paulo Coelho

As morbid and depressing as the title seems, this Coelho book takes the usual turn for understanding of the universe and an inspiration for readers to strive not to settle into the kind of routine they don’t wish to be in.  Coelho’s books have been NY Times Best Sellers and translated into dozens of languages, he’s one of the top selling modern authors.  It just takes one book to understand why, and this book certainly fits into that category.

Veronica is a young woman with a happy life.  She has loving parents and a nice job.  She lives in Ljubljana, the capital city of the newly formed country of Slovenia (after the Yugoslavian civil war). With as many positives points in her life, Veronica found nearly as much sadness.  She believed the routine of her life was inconsequential and secretly vowed to kill herself to leave the world behind.  After feigning sleeplessness, she collected strong sleeping pills and went about the deed.  She slowly fell into a drowsy state, but the peaceful death was not coming, a burning throughout her body led her into a coma and she woke in the infamous Villette hospital for the mentally insane.  Upon waking, the doctor told the girl she would survive, but her heart had taken the toll from the suicide attempt.  The state her heart was in, she could expect a week of life before she succumbed to the death she had wished for.

Not to give too much away, Veronica reluctantly made friends, and rediscovered her passion for the piano.  In fact, her piano playing was said to lift many spirits in the gloomy hospital.  With a week left to live, what would you do? Veronica searched her soul and others joined.  Her weak heart pushed the limits and she found herself having heart-attacks through the week.

In a previous interview, Coelho explained his need to write this book.  He had been put into a mental asylum himself as a young man. Coelho even modeled a character in the book after himself. His parents expected him to become an engineer, but his thirst for writing could not allow him to complete the studies the family expected of him.  He made his way out and the rest is history.

Whether you’re feeling ‘in a rut’ or just enjoy Coelho’s books, this is a good read.  Coelho never lets you down. Enjoy.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

It’s easy to love this book, but hard to find a place to start explaining it.  Anybody who has had a best friend with four legs and a wagging tail will understand immediately.  The Art of Racing in the Rain is a story of a race car driver, as told by his best friend and dog, Enzo.  The story moves through highs and lows but they stick together through it all.

Enzo is a lab mix, who dreams of the day his soul will be reborn as a human.  He has so much to say, but a long flat tongue gets in the way so he uses gestures to the best of his ability. His ‘master’ is Denny, and young racer who has dreams of becoming a professional driver.  After a couple of years as bachelors, the pair meets Eve, a woman who Denny eventually marries, and they have a daughter, Zoe.  Together, the family enjoys the time they spend together. After six years of marriage, Eve is diagnosed with a brain tumor, a terminal diagnosis.  Her parents are helpful and watch Zoe a lot, and offer to bring Eve into their home for hospice style care.  Denny is reluctant but knows they have the time and money to help her and so he supported Eve’s decision to stay with them.  Soon, they also point out that Zoe should spend more time with her mom before she loses her, and again, Denny reluctantly agrees.  Eve eventually passed and Denny was heartbroken.  To make matters worse, Eve’s parents present Denny with a custody suit for Zoe.  Denny was confident that there didn’t seem to be much of a case, but a ghost in Denny’s past came in and the cards were soon stacked against him.  He had to spend his life savings, and go into debt to fight for his daughter.

The story alone is gripping, but through the perspective of a loyal dog-friend adds even more to it.  Denny was a racer, and together, Denny and Enzo spent a lot of time watching race videos, analyzing them and learning how Denny could become a better driver.  Enzo loved it!  All throughout the book, Enzo was relating race mantras to the readers.

“The car goes where the eyes go.”

“There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you’re afraid to lose.”

“It makes one realize that the physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak; a true champion can accomplish things that a normal person would think impossible.”

“That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.”

I can’t really say I’m much of a race fan, but this book was much more than that.  As I finished, I sat the book down and thought of all of my dog friends I grew up with with fond memories, and imagined them running through endless fields with their tails wagging. It has been one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote

This morning, I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a novella by Truman Capote.  I had read In Cold Blood several years ago, and find some similarities in the characterization, but little else as the narrative follows a fictional relationship between two people in New York. It was a nice short read, the characters were pitiful, but that just makes you love them more.

The narrator, a young writer, is pleased with finally finding a home of his own in a brownstone apartment in New York.  A neighbor has moved in, a young woman named Holly Golightly who spends days sleeping and nights entertaining older gentlemen.  Holly is a character if there ever was one, a self described nut who ran a way from her Texas home at fourteen. She had married the horse doctor who had taken her in, but ran away because she never felt at home.  She went to Hollywood and was on the verge of becoming a star, when she ran again to New York.  She went on many dates and flirted money right out of the pockets of wealthy older gentlemen. Holly ended up with a Brazilian diplomat, preparing to marry him and move to Rio when her world came crashing down as she was arrested for involvement with a notorious gangster.  The gangster, Sally Tomato, was visited by Holly every Thursday, she delivered coded messages to him, unknowingly, but she thought the ‘weather reports’ were a cute game. Pregnant and shattered by the news of the diplomats decision to leave her, she decided to take the flight to Brazil and leave it all behind, facing indictment for fleeing the prosecution.

The two central characters, the narrator and Holly Golightly, were polar opposites.  The narrator was proud to have a place to call home and Holly was never able to find a home to settle in.  This freedom and stability issue was continuous throughout the text.  One Christmas, they exchanged gifts.  Holly gave the man an elaborate birdcage, a home for avian, while he gave her a medal of St. Christopher, the patron saint of safe travel. At the end of the book, Holly had sent a post card stating she had found a home in Buenos Aires, the the narrator had spend much of his time traveling the world, their roles seemingly reversed.

The Stranger – Albert Camus

A young Frenchman, Meursault, lives on his own, working a trivial job.  The story opens with news of his mother’s passing.  She lived nearly 80 Kilometers away, at the elderly home he had sent her to live as he had little income to support her living at home with him.  He was disconnected from his mother, the time they spent when they lived together was uneventful, each having nothing to say and wishing to be elsewhere.  At the viewing and funeral, Meursault had not wished to see his mothers body, and had not cried, giving the appearance of indifference.  Upon returning home, he began an affair with Marie, a woman who used to be his coworker.  He thought she was incredibly beautiful, but as she asked him for marriage, he again showed indifference to their future.

Meursault’s friend Raymond lived across the hall in their building.  He was involved with a woman who cheated him and asked Meursault for help in writing a letter to her to have some cathartic revenge.  The woman returned to Raymond’s apartment and he beat her.  The woman’s brother was an Arab who began keeping a threatening eye on Raymond.

One day Meursault, Marie, and Raymond went to Raymond’s friend’s beach house.  After a day of swimming and eating, the men went for a walk on the beach and ran into the Arabic brother and his friend, a fight ensued.  Raymond was cut with a knife and went to the doctor.  Later that day, Meursault was still on the beach and was suffering from the heat.  He considered going up the stairs to the beach home, or back to a cold spring (where they last saw the Arabs) to cool off.  He started walking to the spring and found the Arab there.  The blistering heat got to Meursault and as the Arab’s knife flashed a ray of the sun into his eyes, Meursault began shooting him.

The second half of the book relates the time leading up to Meursault’s trial for killing the Arab.  He was seemingly indifferent the entire time.  His lack of desire to fight for himself and prove his innocence led Meursualt to being charged with the crime and sentenced to the guillotine.

The book had a sense of indifference throughout.  Meursault did not care much that his mother died.  He did not care whether he married Marie or not.  He did not really seem to care whether he was found guilty of murder or not.  In the end, he was resigned to the fact that we are all born, we all live a meaningless life, and we all must die.  The melancholy of triviality that lasted throughout the book ended in his final realization.  Meursault was finally happy.