When Jenn tells me a book is possibly her “favorite book of all time. seriously. FAVORITE,” I read it, quick. It took me 48 hours from her declaration to acquire and read Books & Islands in Ojibwe Country by Louise Erdrich, and of course Jenn is largely right. I love Erdrich, and this book is fantastic. For fans of Erdrich, it offers an insight that’s not found in her other books (think the personal nature of Shadow Tag, but without the darkness and pain of that book). For those who haven’t read her yet, it’s a fantastic extended essay, and an American memoir of real substance.
What I loved best about it is the overarching question, which Jenn also notes: “Books. Why?” She offers a number of specific answers throughout the book:
"Because our brains hurt."
"I can take home along anywhere in the person of a book, and I do."
"Because they are wealth, sobriety, and hope."
Meandering off to explore the geography and history of Ojibwe Country, her family, the language of Ojibwemowin, the resurgence of traditional belief, her internal life—Erdrich always returns to this idea. Books. Why? This loose focus is meditative, calming, and radical. So much of the subtext of our conversations about books these days contains this same question, but in anger. Why does this person get to write books? Why do people read those books? Why would you like that book? Why does anybody review books? Why don’t more people read? Books. Why?
Erdrich’s book doesn’t answer these questions, deflating them, and for me, exposing the fear underneath. Instead, she drives at the deeper whys of books. Because we need them, because they’re there for us, because they endure. Because your friend will make you read one and it will feel like your souls are sharing a small room together, happily. Just because.
TODAY I am a writer, but I also see myself as something of a landscape artist. I paint pictures of scenes for inner-city youth that are familiar, and I people the scenes with brothers and aunts and friends they all have met.
i was working the register last week at our Jersey City store when PK came in, doing his morning errands. we talked about his new gigs. he complimented me on a recent pick in the staff newsletter, and he listened while i gushed about Red or Dead. he special ordered a few books. before he left he gave me a hug and kissed my hand because that was how PK rolled — he was a gentleman, through and through. after he left, i told a coworker who had just met him, “you should get to know him if you can; he’s a force.”
i can’t remember the first time i met PK, but i can remember pretty much every party we were ever at, because you knew when PK was at a party (as you can tell from the above picture of him — on the left — with an author). he was as much a force on the dance floor as he was surrounded by books, telling you what you absolutely had to read next.
i don’t really know how to end this. there are many who knew him better than i, and i can only begin to imagine the loss they are facing. when i heard the news of his passing today, all i could think was: but i’ve got books for him.
via shelfawareness: Re Paul Kozlowski: per @JATardiff: viewing Sun., 6/29, 2-6pm, Faille Memorial Home,Hoboken. Donations to WBGO.org. Condolences.
Came out to Vegas for Annual early to see some family. Nothing will make you feel more separate from the book world, such as it is, than wandering through a thicket of beeping slot machines every time you go to get coffee. Just feels like you’re floating outside the real world.
But this horrible news brought me abruptly down from the neon clouds. PK was one of the greats, both in his love for books and just in being a stand-up human being. It’s just impossible to believe he’s gone. Heartbreaking. And a loss for everyone, even if you didn’t know him, because he cared about books (and people) in a way that we could really use more of. Godspeed, PK.