Killing the White Man’s Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century
Author: Fergus M. Bordewich
Length: 400 pages
Summary: “In the face of a new lightly romanticized view of Native Americans, Killing the White Man’s Indian bravely confronts the current myths and often contradictory realities of tribal life today. Following two centuries of broken treaties and virtual government extermination of the “savage redmen,” Americans today have recast Native Americans into another, equally stereotyped role, that of eternal victims, politically powerless and weakened by poverty and alcoholism, yet whose spiritual ties with the natural world form our last, best hope of salvaging our natural environment and ennobling our souls. The truth, however, is neither as grim, nor as blindly idealistic, as many would expect. The fact is that a virtual revolution is underway in Indian Country, an upheaval of epic proportions. For the first time in generations, Indians are shaping their own destinies, largely beyond the control of whites, reinventing Indian education and justice, exploiting the principle of tribal sovereignty in ways that empower tribal governments far beyond most American’s imaginations. While new found power has enriched tribal life and prospects, and has made Native Americans fuller participants in the American dream, it has brought tribal governments into direct conflict with local economics and the federal government.”
Rating: 3 stars
Review: My review notebook only has one sentence for this: “Another white guy who doesn’t understand Natives knows how they need to handle their shit.” The history-telling in this is honest; Bordewich took care in recounting the events and issues accurately. But it becomes increasingly obvious that he doesn’t totally understand the people he’s researched. And, y’know, skepticism should always be reserved for anyone claiming to be completely and totally without bias, especially old white male academics.
Date Read: January 20, 2012
A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West
Author: James Donovan
Length: 512 pages
Summary: In June of 1876, on a desolate hill above a winding river called “the Little Bighorn,” George Armstrong Custer and all 210 men under his direct command were annihilated by almost 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne. The news of this devastating loss caused a public uproar, and those in positions of power promptly began to point fingers in order to avoid responsibility. Custer, who was conveniently dead, took the brunt of the blame. The truth, however, was far more complex. A TERRIBLE GLORY is the first book to relate the entire story of this endlessly fascinating battle, and the first to call upon all the significant research and findings of the past twenty-five years—which have changed significantly how this controversial event is perceived. Furthermore, it is the first book to bring to light the details of the U.S. Army cover-up—and unravel one of the greatest mysteries in U.S. military history.
Rating: 4 stars
Review: This is, I’d wager, one of the most exhaustively researched books on The Battle of Little Big Horn ever published. Donovan culled facts and witness statements from well-known and obscure sources from 1863 to 2007, including Native sources. And it makes for a good read if you’re interested in the history, though he does admit he’s sort of pushing the envelope with a lot of it. That said, having read as much as I have and knowing our oral histories, I don’t like or agree with the way Custer is largely portrayed as a likable hero and regrettable fall guy when, by most accounts, he was very much an active participant in the atrocities and the screw-ups.
Date Read: January 17, 2012
Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler, Maira Kalman (Illustrator)
Length: 368 pages
Summary: Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.
Rating: 1 star
Review: I would have given this only half a star, but I didn’t want to set that standard so early in the year. This reads like it’s supposed to be satire of the stereotypical artsy girl with the popular jock teenage romance, but it’s a little too authentic. And, as it turns out, I don’t much like Daniel Handler without his Lemony Snicket persona, and I like teenage girls (who read like 30-something spinsters) who write 300 page break-up letters after a 5-week relationship even less. I think I audibly groaned through at least every other page of this.
Date Read: January 15, 2012
Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America
Author: Daniel K. Richter
Length: 336 pages
Summary: In Facing East from Indian Country, Richter keeps Native people center-stage throughout the story of the origins of the United States, challenges cherished assumptions about times and places we thought we knew well, and reveals Native American experiences at the core of the nation’s birth and identity.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review: Basically, this is a look at Eastern colonial history from the Native perspective. It didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, but I’d recommend it, especially to anyone interested in Native history. Richter does a pretty good job illustrating that Natives were neither innocent bystanders nor violent savages, but actual living people participating in history.
Date Read: January 14, 2012
Author: Matthew Norman
Length: 352 pages
Summary: Tom Violet always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day. The reality, though, is far different. Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. (Really.) Domestic Violets is the brilliant and beguiling story of a man finally taking control of his own happiness—even if it means making a complete idiot of himself along the way.
Rating: 5 stars
Review: My librarian raved about this, and I’m so glad I listened because I liked everything about this novel. The writing is clever, hilarious, and—most importantly—incredibly good, especially considering this is Norman’s debut novel. The story is hysterical, sincere, and driven; and Tom Violet is such a brilliantly snarky, instantly likable character that I may be a little in love with him. I can’t recommend this enough; it’s already in the running to be my favorite of the year.
Date Read: January 12, 2012
They Had Goat Heads
Author: D. Harlan Wilson
Length: 148 pages
Summary: A collection of absurdist fiction revealing the horrifying and hilarious faces of everyday life.
Rating: 4 stars
Review: I really struggled with how to rate this one because, as a writer, I loved the artistry of this but, as a reader, not so much. There are a ton of stories in this—some no longer than a sentence—and it was definitely a bizarre read, but that’s also the point. Wilson’s writing has sort of an edgy, experimental wrongness to it, and I mean that mostly in a good way. But there were several instances where it got a little tedious.
Date Read: January 10, 2012
Gil’s All Fright Diner
Author: A. Lee Martinez
Length: 268 pages
Summary: Two best friends, who happen to be a vampire and a werewolf, take a break from their roadtrip at an all-night diner where the owner offers them $100 to take care of her zombie problem.
Rating: 5 stars
Review: This is a hilarious, campy horror story, which I’m a sucker for. It’s great writing, even better storytelling, and there are zombie cows. I couldn’t put it down and devoured it in a couple hours.
Date Read: January 7th, 2012
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World
Author: Michael Pollan
Length: 271 pages
Summary: A demonstration of how people and domesticated plants have formed a reciprocal relationship, detailing selective history of the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review: I absolutely loved this. Pollan combines botany with history, philosophy, neuroscience, economics, and a dozen other fields to make one hell of a captivating, informative read.
Date Read: January 6th, 2012
The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
Author: Wendy McClure
Length: 336 pages
Summary: A memoir of obsessive reading and reconnecting with childhood touchstones as a tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books.
Rating: 2 stars
Review: I thought I would love this because I’m an obsessive reader in general and I never outgrew my Little House boxed set. I didn’t love it. The narrator is irritating beyond belief. And, by the end, I felt like I’d been subjected to a really long “What I Did Last Summer” report written by someone I’d grown to despise.
Date Read: January 5th, 2012
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
Author: Sam Kean
Length: 391 pages
Summary: The Disappearing Spoon follows elements of the Periodic Table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the frequently mad scientists who discovered them.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review: This is a chemistry book detailing a lot of quirky stories, theories, and trivia about the elements and the people who discovered them. The writing is a little clunky toward the beginning and the end, but the science geek in me enjoyed it nonetheless.
Date Read: January 2nd, 2012