Summer Reading, Part 3


Harjo

Closing out the summer with a final summer reading post. Feel free to revisit parts 1 and 2 to see what English faculty intended to read… even if they didn’t quite get to it.

Dr. Veronica Austen
I’ve been doing a bit too much work-reading this summer to say that I’ve really achieved “summer reading,” with all the freedom and pleasure that that moniker usually connotes. But I did recently finish Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle. Over at St. Jerome’s, many of us reading this book over the summer so that we can participate in SJU Reads during Orientation Week in the Fall. All of our incoming students will be reading The Glass Castle and then participating in discussion groups as part of their Orientation activities. It’s the first time SJU has put together such a program for incoming students, and there’s lots of excitement already brewing.

Dr. Jennifer Harris
Sadly, I didn’t get most of my summer reading done.  I started Andrea Lee’s Sarah Phillips, didn’t like it, forged through and now can’t stop thinking about it. A friend followed me and had exactly the same response. Otherwise I’ve been reading about house renovations, though I’m currently charmed by How to Do Things With Books in Victorian Britain, which I’m reading less as an academic and more as a book lover.

Dr. Chad Wriglesworth
For the most part, this has been a summer of writing rather than reading.  Still, I’ve managed to catch up on a couple recent books by Native American writers that I like.

The first is Joy Harjo’s memoir Crazy Brave (2012).  At first I was not too sure about his one.  For the first thirty pages or so, things were not working for me at all.  Harjo’s memoir is written in a style that taps into unconscious memory, dreamscapes, and psychic maps to other worlds – so much so – that she was remembering her existence before conception . . . now that is an impressive memory!  While I like the idea that “a story matrix connects all of us,” I found the sharp clarity of her memories about life-before-life to be odd, if not flat-out absurd.  But once her story became grounded to this world, I was hooked.  Harjo takes us through life in Oklahoma with an alcoholic father, an abusive (actually sadistic) stepfather, the American Indian Movement in the 1970s, and the challenge of becoming a single mother at seventeen.  These more oppressive aspects of the book are offset by moments of joy, friendship, spiritual curiosity, and her awakening to music, theatre, and poetry at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.  Harjo’s memoir is one or resilience, but she does not make the journey alone.  For me, the most telling and significant moments in the book came through quick glimpses of kindness – fragmented memories of people barely known or just passing through – whose kind words and actions pulled Harjo forward with hope.

I’m also reading Sherman Alexie’s Blasphemy (2012), a collection of old and new short stories that are gritty, hilarious, disturbing, and strangely compassionate.  Alexie’s poetry, fiction, and screenplays will not fit easily into a particular aesthetic box.  Just when you think you have his style and stance in the world figured out, well, he changes it on you.  Over the years, I’ve been interested in ways Alexie confronts environmental issues, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, while slipping free, shattering, and occasionally mocking stereotypes that have been attached to indigenous peoples in the U.S.  I’m enjoying stories from the past such as “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” and “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” while adding “Cry Cry Cry” and “Green World” to my new list of favorites.  If you only have time for one or two stories from this bulky collection, I recommend his closer, “What you Pawn I Will Redeem,” possibly his best short story to date.

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2 responses to “Summer Reading, Part 3

  1. All the choices sound great! I hadn’t heard of any of them. I’m adding them to my reading list. Thank you for recommending them!

  2. Perhaps the “Summer Reading” suggestions could be carried into the fall with “Autumn Reading” titles (maybe readers could find time at Thanksgiving to get in a quick non-course related book or two?). I’ll start the “autumnal readings” with Barbara Pym’s uncharacteristically tragic “Quartet in Autumn.”

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