a known wow

In anticipation of World Book Night and the pleasure of handing out copies of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, Natalya read it for the first time. (And really, wouldn’t have handed it to her any earlier.) She handed it back to me, “Wow. I only have one word for this one: Wow!” I smiled, because that is a good word for the experience of the read. I hope those reluctant readers who receive their copy will find a love of reading and an obsession for good reads.

The Absolutely True Story is a fail-safe recommendation for teen reads, boy or girl, but especially boy. I’ve a few others I consider good ideas as well: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Marcello and the Real World by Francisco X. Stork… and really any of the books by these authors.

What are your fail-safe recommendations?–books and/or authors?

"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · Lit · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · short story · Tales · Uncategorized · young adult lit


The Chronicles of Harris of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales

Art & Story by Chris Van Allsburg, with an Intro by Lemony Snicket

Houghton Mifflin, 2011; Illustrations-1984; Stephen King’s The House on Maple Street-1993.

Hardcover, 195 pages + Intro & Author bios.

the 14 are: Sherman Alexie, A Strange Day in July; M.T. Anderson, Just Desert; Kate DiCamillo, The Third-Floor Bedroom; Cory Doctorow, Another Place, Another Time; Jules Feiffer, Uninvited Guests; Stephen King, The House on Maple Street; Tabitha King, Archie Smith, Boy Wonder; Lois Lowry, The Seven Chairs; Gregory Maguire, Missing in Venice; Walter Dean Myers, Mr. Linden’s Library; Linda Sue Park, The Harp; Louis Sachar, Captain Tory; Jon Scieszka, Under the Rug; and Chris Van Allsburg himself, Oscar and Alphonse.

For more than twenty-five years, the illustrations in the extraordinary Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg have intrigued and entertained readers of all ages. Thousands of children have been inspired to weave their own stories to go with these enigmatic pictures. Now we’ve asked some of our very best storytellers to spin the tales. Enter The Chronicles of Harris Burdick to gather this incredible compendium of stories: mysterious, funny, creepy, poignant, these are tales you wont soon forget. ~Publisher’s Comments.

The House on Maple Street : ‘It was a perfect lift-off.’

Who has not had Chris Van Allsburg’s Mysteries of Harris Burdick used as a writing prompt—besides Sean? N and I were kicking around the idea of checking the book out from the library when I heard The Chronicles of Harris Burdick was coming out. I told Natalya she still should write her own inspired piece, but there was no having The Chronicles in the house without her getting a hold of it. It features some of her favorite authors.

Mr. Linden’s Library: ‘He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late.’

(11 for a while now) Natalya’s response the experience? She handed the book over with a modest list of her favorites. The story by Sherman Alexie was number one, and I believe Stephen King’s was a good second (and I agree). She liked most of them, but there were a few that she couldn’t get into. After reading The Chronicles, I could see why those few failed to interest her, or were too confusing. Needless to say, I was just happy she honed in on two new-to-her authors who such phenomenal writers.

The Seven Chairs: ‘The fifth one ended up in France.’

It is a successful anthology that can host such credible diversity, and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is one such collection. There is the “mysterious, funny, creepy, [and] poignant.” There are the sports themed, the fantastical, the science fictional, the psychological, and the classically flavored morals & tales. There are some for the Readerly, but most all are for every reader. I liked the stories that could be read on multiple levels, but not necessarily more than the ones that drew me in rather singularly and had me scrambling for the ending. DiCamillo’s channeled Kate Chopin for me, and Lowry had me thinking about Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water, the magic in childhood and a person’s potential. Everyone should find three or four stories to savor, if not more. All should honor The Chronicles of Harris Burdick’s placement of Stephen King’s story as the closer—for that lingering satisfaction in a book well-made.

Oscar and Alphonse : ‘she knew it was time to send them back. The caterpillars softly wiggled in her hand, spelling out “goodbye.”‘

It was interesting to see what the author’s took from the Illustration and how they used the caption in the story. Some were more literal with the elements, like Tabitha King’s contribution, but why the bat and no mention of the yo-yo? Another uses the image a bit more abstractly, like with Cory Doctorow’s. Many begin in one place and you can’t help but wonder how the Illustration comes in; I had to exercise a great deal of patience with Gregory Maguire’s piece. Others create the kind of suspense the Illustrations do, implications lingering, like Alexie’s, MT Anderson’s, and Allsburg’s.


A Strange Day in July : ‘He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.’

I admit to being worried that The Chronicles of Harris Burdick would ruin The Mysteries of Harris Burdick for me. But it didn’t. I enjoyed some of the approaches, the imaginative takes on the Illustrations and captions. A few Illustrations seem impossible, but the story was good. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is fun and intriguing in a new way. If anything, may this compendium present a new kind of challenge, to perhaps out-imagine and out-write some of these amazing writers collected here.

*I find it amusing The Chronicles book ends with husband and wife.

do check out NY TimesReview by Leonard S. Marcus, “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

the video below is essentially the “Introduction” in the book, though one should definitely read the Intro in the book.

"review" · fiction · Lit · poet-related · wondermous · young adult lit

brought to you by the letter A

…anxieties, archives, alexie.

We are getting the daughter packed and ready for the next week and half. We are getting anxious about our upcoming move to wherever (we are not all that sure). We are getting–a little crazed around here.

So as to not abandon this blog for a few weeks, and to move comments made about books read before this blog on my previous hodge-podge of a site, I am going to be re-posting some past-date pieces from “the coloring book” here.

If I find what I wrote no longer relevant I will spare the reader, or will make comment about what an idiot I was.

Was thinking about this post (below) because I found a nice copy of the book at a used book store last month. I was very thrilled…well, still am.

******************************From August 18, 2009.

I just finished The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Illustrations by Ellen Forney (Little, Brown Young Readers, 2007; 229 pages). —Wow.

This is a great book. I think I read Sean most of the first few chapters earlier today, and continued to be annoying with my chuckling every few minutes. Simultaneously funny and poignant. the self-deprecation of the narrator/main character is perfect—it comes across as neither cute, clever, or overwrought. And the cadence of the words. the author truly is a storyteller: and his short-story writing experience benefits the reader here. he chooses the metaphors–images that are true to the fourteen-year-old-male-narrator that, at times, admittedly suits my juvenile humor.

Yeah, it is found in the “YA” section of the library, is a bit too old for the “juvenile” shelves, though is “juvenile” fiction. heard a lot of rave reviews on this one, which automatically makes me suspicious, and not the least bit interested. But this tiny new library I’ve signed up at (after this move) actually had copies.

On the back are “advanced praises” by various authors. The first quote is by Neil Gaiman where he says a couple of things and ends with this: “I have no doubt that in a year or so it’ll both be winning awards and being banned.” so true.

This will be an add-to to my ever growing lists of books to own. (and when Natalya is a teen, I hope she’ll read it). Wouldn’t limit my adult readers here: it is not a nauseating coming-of-age (as I’ve had my limit of this summer). The protagonist is a hormonal 14 yr old male. Basketball is played and of interest to the book. There is violence. There is language. Some things would shock and warrant protest, I suppose….a character’s life can be unflinching that way: Alexie captures this.

Like I mentioned: I just finished the book not 20 minutes ago. I am still thinking about it. Considering. Reeling. Energized. The characterization is wonderful. The pace, a quick read, fun, interesting, provoking, humorous. I love the repetitions, and the fragments.


my post on Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

"review" · fiction · Lit · poet-related · recommend · short story

Startling, Sure. But Dazzling?

lr&t alexieThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.

Grove Press, 1993, 2005.

(242 pages, 24 stories).

You may have heard about this little collection of short stories. Usually I am more skeptical of a book with this much praise. Beside all the printed reviews, I had several people recommend this book with hands rubbing together, that gleam in their eye, that “i found a treasure look,” rather than that other accompaniment “you are so gonna not enjoy this.” Having read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian I was eager to read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

I was prepared for repetitive themes, images, and characters, and I figured I probably wouldn’t like a few of the stories. The repetition isn’t out of a lack of originality or creativity, but a nice thread to pull a collection into a more complete complex image, more a book than a collection. I think if I were not reading Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, Alexie’s book would feel less a collection, but it is.

My edition has two added stories that were cut from the original submission due to their thematic difference and an intro by Alexie (a reflection of sorts). The introduction is good, his humor and his poignancy: his seemingly effortless ability.

There is some criticism regarding literature that comes out of the Northwest: an inaccessibility of language and place (landescape). I am sure it is of a similar complaint of any literature that is so strongly steeped in a region or culture. Some of the lack of access is unavoidable, and really, it shouldn’t be avoided. However, there are moments in some of the stories that alienate the reader—me. Being white (little w), and not of the Northwest, I suppose I should be alien. Unfortunately, I struggle with being alien and not becoming apathetic.

The use of the first person narrator pulls the reader into an intimacy, yet, here, the stories rarely ask for sympathy. They rarely ask for any emotion; only merely asks for a witness; because what do we really know of these lives portrayed?

I get the feeling plenty of the readers know something of what Alexie writes, despite their alien status. Is that part of the brilliance? Like LeGuin’s technique of making the characters foreign to only then allow the revelatory leap of understanding that zings the reader into seeing the overwhelming similarities: the humanness? Not one to often question an author’s intent, but this explanation of brilliance did not come readily to mind with this author and this work. I think we are to see the human condition in the characters in the stories, but I am not sure we are made to identify; most are made to be so concretely individual as to resemble no one.

Alexie is so talented in his construction of imagery, no one character in a story is made to be someone other than themselves. These are stories set in a place, over the span of all time, but I hesitate to label a character as representative of more than themself. A cultural denial?–Despite (or because of) the poetry in the prose, there is a sense of concrete realist construction: this story is as real as any story based on real people or events: look no further: control your fanciful notions and political generalizations.

I tried to give each story a fair pause before moving onto the next. In short stories you learn not to ignore the brief, or even the seemingly simplistic. You only do that with novels. Some moved me. I like Alexie’s humor, but found it less and less toward the end of the book. Maybe I was done laughing about that particular thing, or maybe the depression was taking over. There is no room for pity, but there is plenty of room for sighs, tears, and irritation.

There are a number of the stories I enjoyed. If I were good with a journal, I would have a paragraph per story for you. Alas, you are spared (or robbed). Here are a few I remembering favoring (in order of appearance): “Every Little Hurricane” (the collection starts out strong); “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock” (I like long titles, and it made for a clever and compassionate family portrait); “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” (if you’ve seen Smoke Signals the basics of the story are familiar, but it does differ; and if you love Thomas from the film, you’ll love him more here.); “Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother Is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation” (I really responded to this one, in ways I am still struggling for articulation); “The Train Is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result” (would have included this as required reading for the short story class: excellent); “A Good Story” (an amusement, though I am sure there should be more there that I missed, just the same); “The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor” (non-linear telling at its best, and brilliant portraitures of humans; and the complicated nature of love, living, and dying); “Indian Education” (a good read, and the kind of exercise with which I can see a writing professor tormenting students.); and “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” (there is a reason this is pulled out as a sampler of Alexie’s work).

The other stories were good, or I am sure they are. Some were just ‘ehh’, and some were ‘I missed something’. I want to like “Flight” so I am going to read it again, when I can sit with it and it isn’t late at night. There are some symbols for which I am certain I am missing the meaning. I know who Crazy Horse is, but I found myself wondering who he was to the author and/or the characters in the stories. I can make a guess, but the story titled “Crazy Horse” had me second guessing. Also, I need to do some research on some of the dances, to catch some of the significances there. In some stories, you can pull from context or Alexie will make allusions, but much of the time everything is, and you know or you don’t. The object/action already encapsulates a meaning before entering the story, not sure how I feel about that, I can be reasonably sure how Flannery O’Connor would feel about it though.

I love Thomas Builds-the-Fire, and I would have liked “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire” more if it were not for the epigraph: “Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.”–Franz Kafka. It is of Kafka’s The Trial. The Trial is fresh in my mind from my Modernism class this summer, and I wish it wasn’t, because I started questioning the epigraph as a primer for the story. I either wasn’t, or was refusing to, draw a correlation between the short story and Kafka’s novel. I was also disappointed to see a recognizable epigraph because I started thinking it was a good idea to make up an epigraph (quote and name) to prime a story—that is allowed, isn’t it? As Borges would certainly say Yes, I will remember to do this. Otherwise, “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire” is a prime example as to how and why looking at time differently works.

Besides the non-linearity of time in most of the stories (which I adore), there is the adjustment for those who fall into another Prevailing-tradition of story telling: the use of threes. Since learning that some cultures use the numbers 4 or 6 (or both, or other) like the 3 I try to maintain an awareness and an interest. Sometimes it is the reason why I pause and reread sometimes. It effects the rhythm of the paragraph—as I read it. In “Imagining the Reservation” the narrator ‘imagines’ six consecutive times at the end of the story; though more is ‘imagined’ in that last section. It appears overwrought. Does the overwrought have purpose, was it intentional? Is it overwrought?

Alexie is a lot of the things they say he is, but I am not sure The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is his selling point (though obviously it has been). Don’t hurt yourself going out and finding it to read, but you should make some time for it on your reading list. He is good, and you’ll like more than a few of the stories. I am making plans to read The Business of Fancydancing, a book of Alexie’s poetry, in the near future. And of course, I am ever recommending his The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, really, sprain your ankle if you must. It is in the Teen/YA section most likely, so you shouldn’t have to run over too many old ladies for your copy.



An aside: If you get the copy with the yellow cover and the excellent picture of The Lone Ranger and Tonto boxing, do not read the quote along the bottom, by The Boston Globe. It distracted and annoyed to the point that if I had not been almost through with the book, I would have taped paper over it. Of all the excellent quotes. There has to be a joke in it somewhere. Are you curious yet? Or perhaps you already know.

Alright, here it is: “Alexie’s prose startles and dazzles.”–The Boston Globe. Tsk, tsk.

short story · Uncategorized

slowing down

I am slowly, but steadily, working my way through the reading list. Between one thing and another, and the desire to hibernate with the onset of winter, I have not read nor written about what I’ve read as much as I had intended.  Then there was this pesky couple of days that I thought I would write on a new story idea.  And lastly, there was this problem that occurred.  Though I have not had a problem reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s short stories while starting another author, I did hit a snag with having started a third author. Having gotten overly excited to get Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek and The House on Mango Street from the library, I thought I could read a few while finishing Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, besides, there were a few of Cisneros’ stories I had to read to my daughter.

I find LeGuin fairly incomparable, so I do not even attempt to worry other authors by trying to compare them to her. However, I found it very difficult to return to Alexie after Cisneros. Just when I was debating returning to some work that I know I dislike, or find seriously lacking, I am confronted with two excellent and unique voices doing battle (and most certainly unfairly).  But it was a relief to be rescued from poor work and this overwhelming notion of late that I am becoming woefully repetitive:  it was wonderful, excellent, blah, blah, blah…. I am sure we have unpacked a thesaurus in this latest move and I’ve been worried I’d have to find it and raid all known praise words.  It is not that when I get to sitting down and writing about Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven I will not praise it, but I have a few things that were swimming until I read some Cisneros and they became more articulate.

I will have to get onto that writing about my reading, as I write about my writing elsewhere. It is taking that pause: stop and write before reading the next book, one; and, two, maybe not falling asleep with the book pressed to the face and gathering drool.