Between reading Sacred Ground and “Drums” recently, and having to move parts of The Pile to see the TV, I figured I should pull something out of it for today. That was The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie. It was more appropriate than I realized to follow Trio of Sorcery in that it’s not a novel, but a series of vignettes featuring characters in a number of situations.
Typical for Alexie’s work, the stories range from hilarious to horrifying and everything in between. I often wonder, reading his books, whether I should laugh or cry. Then I realize that I should do both. There’s a lot of bluntness, a lot of sex, a lot of assholes, and a lot of tales that don’t need a beginning, middle, or end. They’re snapshots into people’s lives, though I doubt any of them are actually based on true stories.
It was a lot less weird and depressing than Reservation Blues was – I didn’t keep that one. I’ll keep this one.
Sherman Alexie is proud of his heritage and wears it boldly. If his characters are terrible people, it’s because not all people are saints. If his characters are confused, it’s because nobody knows all the answers all the time. It doesn’t have anything to do with being Native American, and yet all of his Indian characters bleed Indian, and exude something that just indefinably cements their status as Indian.
I’m not, as I’ve mentioned. And so I know, reading this book, that Alexie wrote it and made Native Americans accessible, but that no non-Native could ever fully understand what he wrote. I try to be open-minded, but really, I don’t have the background to completely appreciate what I’m reading here. That doesn’t keep me from enjoying it, but I’m not stupid enough to think I’m any kind of expert.
I first read Sherman Alexie in college – Flight was one of the course books in my Native American Literature class. (And yes, trust me to find a way to get that Non-Western Civilation credit from a lit class instead of a history class.) I also learned that I’d been exposed to him even earlier, having seen Smoke Signals in class in…gradeschool, I think. The room I remember seeing it in makes me think fifth grade, but I could be wrong.
Reading some of the vignettes in this book makes me think that Native Americans and Jews have some things in common. And that may be true, but I know that any of the characters in this book would tell me that I’m just fooling myself, because I live in white middle-class America. They’d be right, there’s a lot that I don’t know or understand in the world.
This post is rambling a lot more than usual, sorry. So I’ll just reflect that having this blog has changed how I look at what book I’m going to read next. I start thinking what I would say about a particular book, how it does or doesn’t relate to the previous one, etc. I’m trying harder to not finish books on my lunch break, though really, that’s something I have always tried to do. Except for books in a series, I don’t mind (too much) if I finish one and start the next on lunch. I mind more if they’re both large and heavy hardcovers that I get to carry into work with me.
On an unrelated note, I am running low on shelf space. Again. But I’m mostly finished with the pruning I undertook in the early months of the year, so I guess I’m going to have to move manga around until it’s all stacked horizontally and stored so I can’t read the spines. I really despise putting anything other than manga on its side, and I’d prefer to not have to do that with the manga either. I look forward to the day when I can put shelves directly on the wall and make them as long as necessary.