Friday, November 23, 2007

Bonus points

I always enjoy learning things. That’s why I’m a book editor, I guess. You can’t help learning things from good books, especially from well textured fiction like Thunder Bay by William Kent Krueger in the current Select Editions, which threads fascinating background elements that really enrich the experience of the story.

We call these bonus treats—the parts that inform while you’re being entertained—“plusses.” In Thunder Bay, there are many of these plusses. But the two that stand out for me are (1) the detailed and often breathtaking evocation of the Canadian wilderness; and (2) Indian lore. Native American life and history are, of course, endlessly fascinating.

Krueger’s description of an Ojibwa medicine man made me want to learn more about the tribe, also called Chippewa, and its related group, the Algonquin. One of my very favorite books when I was growing up was A Pictorial History of the American Indian (1956) by the noted anthropologist and author of the 1930 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Laughing Boy, Oliver La Farge. This weekend I’m going to rummage around in my many boxes of books at home—there are never enough shelves in a book editor’s house—and retrieve that fine reference and see what La Farge wrote about the Ojibwa.

Another informative, fun novel in this vein is Steve Hamilton’s Blood Is the Sky (2004). Similar to Thunder Bay, this suspenseful mystery/adventure (featured in Volume 6, 2004 of Select Editions) is set in Michigan and Canada and features life on the rez—in this case, the Bay Mills Indian Community located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This naturally calls to mind Tony Hillerman's novels. His literate, best-selling mysteries set in New Mexico celebrate Navajo culture. Still another favorite is Hal Borland's When the Legend’s Die. Set out west in rodeo country, it was first published in 1963, and depicts the American Indian experience with sympathy and unforgettable drama. It is well worth a read, or many reads, for that matter.

If you have any special favorites like these let us know! We can start a book-club list..


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