Oh, That Diamond

“Just grocery?” [said retired Navajo cop Joe Leaphorn to store owner McGinnis.] “They take anything else?”

“Took the blanket I had hanging on a rack in there, and some ketchup, and …” he frowned, straining to remember. “I believe I was missing a box of thirty-eight ammunition. But mostly food.”

“None of it ever recovered?”

McGinnis laughed. “‘Course not,” he said. “If the burglar didn’t eat it, you cops would have done that if you caught him.”

“You didn’t mention a diamond. How about that?”

“Diamond?”

“Diamond worth about ten thousand dollars.”

McGinnis frowned. Took another tiny sip. Looked up at Leaphorn.

“Oh,” McGinnis said. “That diamond.”

Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman, p.45

The Guilty Reader Tag

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

For the uninitiated, a “tag” is when a fellow blogger asks you to answer a bunch of questions, which usually revolve around a theme. I, for some mysterious reason, tend to get tagged by bloggers who are interested in books, writing, and reading.

This tag was created by  Chami @ Read Like Wildfire and passed on to me by my faithful friend The Orangutan Librarian, a fellow INFP who, like me, is also an expert in guilt. Maybe that’s why I love her sensitive and lighthearted book reviews and parodies.

One. Have You Ever Re-Gifted A Book You’ve Been Given?

Hmm. I don’t think so. But probably. I have been known to buy a book for myself, read it, and then a few years later, give the nearly-new copy to a fellow reader as a gift. And then, after they have enjoyed it, after another few years I have even been known to re-claim it.

Also – fun fact! – I was once given a book that eventually turned out to be a library book. It was pretty good, too.

Two. Have You Ever Said You’ve Read A Book When You Haven’t?

Photo by Marcela Alessandra on Pexels.com

I have definitely implied it.

Back in my college days, when I made an idol of being intellectual and was consequently a poser about it, I would talk as though I was familiar with philosophers like Plato, when I had not read their works but only heard about them.

(Hot tip: if you make an idol of your intellect, you will always feel like a dummy who is about to be exposed.)

Three. Have You Ever Borrowed A Book And Not Returned It?

Yes. I borrowed a book about children in history from a history prof, let it sit around unread, and then eventually returned it. At least, I thought I returned it. She was unable to find it, as was I.

Four. Have You Ever Read A Series Out Of Order?

All. The. Time. Some series seem to stretch on forever into both the past and future, having neither beginning nor end. *Ahem* Dragonlance!

Also, I love Tony Hillerman’s Navajo police procedurals. But they have a big flaw: they are not numbered as a series! Each one can be read as a standalone, but if you read more than a few of them, you realize that they develop over time. You have to read each book to find out where it fits in with the others in terms of Jim Chee’s disastrous love life, for example. I’ll bet that somewhere on the Internet, someone has listed them in order just for people like me.

Five. Have You Ever Spoiled A Book For Someone?

Um, probably, but I can’t remember. What I remember, of course, is when people spoil books for me. The most egregious instance was when a friend spoiled Things Fall Apart.

Six. Have You Ever Dogeared A Book?

Um, so, this is one of those habits that I have had to belatedly realize makes me uncivilized, and have had to train myself out of. (I won’t tell you the others.)

Seven. Have You Ever Told Someone You Don’t Own A Book When You Do?

Maybe, if I forget that I own it. Or, I might think that I own a book, but do so no longer.

Eight. Have You Ever Skipped A Chapter Or A Section Of A Book?

In nonfiction, all the time. Often you can see where a section is going (if you’re wrong it will quickly become apparent), or the author is laying out background that you already have.

In fiction, I occasionally skip atrocities.

Nine. Have You Ever Bad Mouthed A Book You Actually Liked?

Yes. I still feel bad about a review that did for a reviewing site, where I gave a very decent historical fiction volume 2 out of 4 stars just because the characters occasionally spoke like modern people. Once I got more experience, I got more fair with my reviews.

Moral: The Heart is Deceitful

So, it turns out that I have committed every single pecadillo on this list, from the harmless (forgetting I own books) to the prideful (posing as an intellectual). Not super surprised by this. Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.

But one question was left off this list: Have you ever been lost in a book at a time when, in the opinion of people around you, you should have been doing something else?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

I’ll post a quote about that tomorrow.

You post your book pecadillos in the comments.

Best to you all.

What My Favorite Characters Would Be Doing in Quarantine

Up till now I’ve tried to make posts that don’t mention you know what, because I figure that readers come to Out of Babel for fun and weirdness, not for more mentions of you know what. But, I saw this super fun tag over in the book nook of The Orangutan Librarian. I hope by trying it I’m not letting you down. As you can see, I’ve spun it a little, imagining how the characters would handle coronavirus in their own worlds.

Rules

  • Take 5 or more of your favorite book characters and imagine what they would be doing if they were quarantined with us in the real world.
  • You can have them be in their own squad if you want, or working on their own.
  • Tag 5 friends.
  • Link back to this post and credit Reader Voracious.

Narnia Quarantine

Wardrobe

The Pevensie kids, of course, would not even be here …

For some reason I imagine Edmund and Lucy quarantining with their cousin Eustace and his parents rather than being with their parents (who got stuck in Greece) or with Peter and Susan (who got stuck at their respective universities). Eustace, though less of a know-it-all since his first trip to Narnia, is still extremely well-informed about epidemiology, government policy, and all the latest economic and medical updates. His mother, Alberta, insists that everyone wear masks and gloves even inside the house.

Middle Earth Quarantine

two bare trees beside each other during sunset
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Gandalf the Grey would have caught the coronavirus early (because he travels a lot), come down with complications (because it hits old people the hardest), died, and been resurrected.

Sam Gamgee, humble, hardworking, and patient, would be the perfect person to quarantine with. He’s also a very resourceful cook.

Faramir and Eowyn would be climbing the walls, holed up in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith.

Tom Bombadil and the River Daughter are immune to human ills and they also take a long view of the death of much of the rest of the world.

Gimli would rather risk death than give up smoking.

 

Tony Hillerman Quarantine

Sacred Clowns book

Sadly, in real life, the coronavirus has hit the Navajo nation really hard. Tony Hillerman’s Navajo cop characters, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, would be reacting very differently. Leaphorn, who is older and more of a homebody, would be happily hanging out with his wife Emma at his home in Window Rock. Chee, who is young and restless, would be running around the reservation trying to help everyone he could. He would go to be with an older relative who is dying of the virus, making sure that the person is moved outside as per tradition and that they have someone with them. Though young and healthy, he would unexpectedly develop a bad case himself and would be found recovering in the hospital at the very end of the book, being visited by his girlfriend Janet or Bernie, depending upon where we are in the series.

Emberverse Quarantine

Corvallis

Junie and Mike of the Emberverse have already been through a society-destroying event that resulted in most people dying. Junie heads up a neo-pagan community near Corvallis, Oregon, and Mike runs a more specialized, military one just northwest of Salem. Since the Change destroyed all modern technology, the inhabitants of the Emberverse would probably barely notice the coronavirus. Fewer people develop the diseases of civilization (heart disease, diabetes) in their medieval-style world, living conditions are less crowded, and there are no nursing homes or hospitals. Probably all they would notice was a particularly bad seasonal flu endangering the few remaining old people. They’d be grateful that this sickness, unlike many, was not threatening little children. Junie would be using her herbology and caretaking skills to help as many of her subjects as possible. Because Junie and Mike both grew up in the modern world, before “the Change” happened, they are aware of germ theory and this would help them enforce hygiene on their people.

Agatha Christie Quarantine

photo of teacup on top of books
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Miss Marple has lived through two world wars. She would gamely go along with whatever deprivations and regulations the quarantine brought. She’s been through worse. If anyone complained, she would smile sweetly while silently judging you and simply say, “So many things are difficult.”

Hercule Poirot is already a bit of a germophobe. He would take enthusiastically to masks and hand sanitizer, but would become peevish when unable to procure the foods that he’s used to.  Whenever Hastings began to panic about the many unknowns, Hercule Poirot would calm his fears through the use of the Little Grey Cells.

P.G. Wodehouse Quarantine

alcohol bar blur celebration
Photo by Terje Sollie on Pexels.com

Airheaded bachelor Bertie could not stand not going to his club. He would beg Jeeves to come up with a way that Bertie could skirt the rules to get out and about. Jeeves would do so, knowing that within hours, Bertie would be back home with a horrible hangover that he would need to sleep off and then drink one of Jeeves’s miraculous restoratives. Jeeves knows that the coronavirus mostly endangers older people, so even if Bertie should become a carrier, there is little danger that he would infect anyone because even in normal circumstances he cannot be induced to visit his Aunt Agatha.

And … I can’t resist … Quarantine with my own characters!

architecture buildings city cityscape
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Nirri is, essentially, already in quarantine all the time. He broke his spine in a fall from the Tower of Babel, becoming paraplegic, and is now being reluctantly cared for by people with whom he does not share a language. He is the nightmare person to be quarantined with: arrogant, demanding, unable to communicate or be reasoned with. Though 130 years old, he is healthy as a horse and there is no way he is dying from this.  On the bright side, he is an accomplished musician. Give him a lute and he will entertain you all evening, even if you don’t understand the words to his songs.

Zillah is a born caretaker and the tribe’s resident medical expert. It was she who insisted they rescue Nirri. Though young and even middle-aged people don’t usually show symptoms of the virus, in a tribe their size there might be one or two who do. Zillah would spend herself caring for them, and then get sick herself (she is the tribe’s second oldest person, after Nirri). She would survive, cared for by her daughter Ninna, and the weeks when she was sick would be the loneliest of Nirri’s life.

You Sure You Wanna Do This?

If you do, I tag …

  • Jyvurentropy, who has been posting so much that I can’t keep up with her
  • Bookstooge, for his sarcasm
  • Colin, because I want to hear his thoughts
  • The hilarious Christopher Waldrop, even though I’m unable to comment on his posts
  • … and the always insightful Eustacia, if she has time to do this tag

The Seven Heavenly Virtues Tag

The Orangutan Librarian tagged me for this post that applies the “Seven Heavenly Virtues” to the world of our reading.

By the way. The Seven Deadly Sins are easy to remember, in groups of two, three, and two. There’s The World (Envy, Greed); The Flesh (Lust, Gluttony, Sloth); and The Devil (Anger … and the granddaddy, Pride). The seven virtues are the flip side of these.

Once when I was at university, the theme of our homecoming week was the extremely creative “We’ve Got Pride.” I will always love my fellow English majors who named their contribution to the parade “Beyond pride: the seven deadly sins.” They wanted to show that “[our university] also gots Envy, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, and Anger.” And of course it was true.

Onward.

CHASTITY: Which author/book/series you wish you had never read?

Hmm. It’s rare that I go on wishing I had never read a book. Usually if it stuns me with some horror, I hate it at the time, but as my mind assimilates the idea, I’m glad to have encountered it in a book so that I can grapple with that aspect of the world.

A good example is Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. A major part of the plot is a sexual assault. It’s described graphically. The creepy lead-up and the lengthy aftermath include scenes from the point of view of both the victim and rapist. When I read this, it was the first time I’d read a rape described in detail (or, at least, the first time I understood what I was reading). It was very traumatic, and it led to lots of crying and praying for women who were real-life victims. So, as you can see, it bore some good fruit almost immediately.

Later I read another book by Ken Follett in a completely different genre, and it also featured a serial stalker and rapist, with many scenes written from his point of view. At that point I decided that I would not read any more books by Ken Follett, nor would I ever get on an elevator with the man.

TEMPERANCE: Which book/series did you find so good, that you didn’t want to read it all at once, and you read it in doses just to make the pleasure last longer?

I don’t usually show temperance when it comes to serious, emotional reads. … OK, I actually don’t have much temperance at all. I once stayed up all night finishing Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow.

However, with comic series, I find that if you binge on them they can become wearing, whereas if you read one every once in a while, they are refreshing. For example, P.G. Wodehouse’e Bertie Wooster books and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.

CHARITY: Which book/series/author do you tirelessly push to others, telling them about it or even giving away spare copies bought for that reason?

Well this question will contain no surprises to anyone who knows me or has followed my blog for any length of time.

The Emberverse series by S.M Stirling: I recommend this often because it encompasses a wide range of interests. The first few books are post-apocalyptic, and then it becomes more of a fantasy series. I’ve recommended it to people because it’s set in the Northwest (Idaho, eastern Washington and Oregon, northern California). Recently I recommended it to someone who is interested in retro martial arts such as sword fighting and archery, because there is a ton of that in these books, including descriptions of how the weapons are made and gripping battle scenes. The research on these books is both wide and deep, from ecology to botany to anthropology to martial arts to Celtic mythology.

Til We Have Faces: A searing, emotional novel about friendship, identity, divided loyalty, and religion. One of C.S. Lewis’s less famous works.

The Everlasting Man (non-fiction): G.K. Chesterton discusses paganism and why it expresses important things about being human … with the cheery paradoxes that only he can bring.

The Divine Conspiracy(non-fiction): With wit and wisdom, Dallas Willard applies the Gospels in a fresh way (which we all need frequently). This is so well-written that it’s a pleasure to read, and you just sail through it even though it’s quite thick.

Now, go forth and read these!

DILIGENCE: Which series/author you follow no matter what happens and how long you have to wait?

Agatha Christie. She has such a large corpus of work that even though I think I’ve read all her novels, I’m never sure.

Also, the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.

Also anything by Tony Hillerman or Dick Francis.

It looks like formula mysteries are my genre for this.

PATIENCE: Is there an author/book/series you’ve read that improved with time the most, starting out unpromising, but ultimately proving rewarding?

Watership Down. It is gripping from the first, don’t get me wrong, but it is so long. Then when you get to the end, you discover that the author is doing things with it that only a really long book can do.

KINDNESS: Which fictitious character would you consider your role-model in the hassle of everyday life?

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Any strong, quiet, capable character who consistently takes care of others. Durnik in the Belgariad; Precious Ramotswe in The No. 1 Ladies series; Bardia in ‘Til We Have Faces; Sam Gamgee, Aragorn, Gandalf, Aslan. And, of course, Zillah from my own books.

Unfortunately my gifts and personality are almost opposite from all these characters. But I’ve always wanted to be strong, quiet, calm, and capable.

HUMILITY: Which book/series/author do you find most under-rated?

This is a hard one to answer because I don’t always have a real great idea of what other people are reading. How can I know that the gem I’ve “discovered” hasn’t also been discovered by a bunch of others?

Apparently Thomas Sowell has a bunch of great books about economics and society that have helped the people who’ve read them greatly … but I have not read them, only watched videos of him speaking. There are many such examples.

Now, Discuss

I hesitate to tag people because it seems to freak them out. But if you get inspired by any of the questions in this tag, please answer them either at your own blog or in the comments.

OK, American Southwest, You Win

I was always sort of attracted to you. My husband and I camped our way through you right after we got married, and it was interesting, but I didn’t commit myself because I didn’t think I’d be back. I thought the two of us were going to move to Indonesia. And indeed we did, and we learned its languages (a few of them) and explored its tropical, Southeast Asian landscapes and cultures, a world away from your deserts. But we didn’t, as I had expected, end up raising our kids there. Ultimately we ended up coming back to North America. American Southwest, I was getting pulled into your orbit.

Betataki cliff dwelling at the Navajo National Monument

Things only got worse when I discovered Thunderhead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and then the Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels of Tony Hillerman. (The first Hillerman novel I read was so sad, I swore I’d never read him again. But eventually, inevitably, I picked up another one, and then it was all over for me.)

Bought at the Navajo Cultural Center gift shop in Tuba City, AZ. They had many of Hillerman’s novels and I’d have bought them all if I could.

Yes, I know there is plenty of terrific nonfiction about you. But I always tend to reach for fiction.

Petroglyphs on Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Park, Southern Utah

And then, the final blow: We moved to the Intermountain West. Within driving distance of … you. And this last week, I got the opportunity to explore you with my children by my side. I got to drive through Navajo country, Dinetah, the land of my book friends Chee and Leaphorn, seeing the places and hearing the language that I had read about in their adventures. I can’t describe how this felt. It was like getting to visit Middle Earth or something.

Dinosaur prints near Tuba City, AZ

So, after this trip, you win, American Southwest. You have conquered me. I am hooked. It is not possible to learn everything about you … not even in one lifetime, and I am getting started late. But whenever possible, I will be back. I promise you that.

Kachina Bridge

I know I’m not the first outsider to fall for you. In fact, that’s another thing that I sort of like about the tourist and transplant culture surrounding you: you seem to attract people who are into art. I look forward to doing some paintings of you that are exactly like the bajillions of other paintings done by your other adoring fans.

Paintings of landscapes like this one.

And I promise, I won’t steal or “acquire” any priceless artifacts. I don’t want your relics or your pots, American Southwest. They wouldn’t look good in my house. They look best exactly where they belong: right in the middle of you.

The other side of Kachina Bridge. Can you spot the petroglyphs?

Book with the “Best Diverse Cast” (Calendar Girls Tag)

Whenever I see “Calendar Girls” I think of the hilarious British movie by that name, but in this case, it means a group of (girl?) book bloggers who treat a different bookish theme during each month of the calendar.  (So we will not be posing. I am sure you are relieved.) And this month, December, I was actually able to think of a book that fulfills the theme! 

Calendar Girls is hosted by NeverNotReading, who says of this month’s theme, “What I really like about this theme is it allows you to interpret diversity in whatever way is meaningful to you. Racial or ethnic representation, LGBTQ diversity, neurodiversity, whatever you’re passionate about, we want to read it too!”

Picking a book with a diverse cast felt somewhat arbitrary because so many of my faves have casts that are diverse in one way or another. Pearl Buck’s Pavilion of Women springs to mind, as do Ursula le Guin’s novellas set on the planet of Yeowe (navy-blue colored upper class, grey-blue colored underclass, red-brown foreigners with a very different culture coming from distant Hain).  Even the very Nordic Lord of the Rings has a main cast of four different species and minor characters that are even more diverse (Ents, anyone?).  And then there’s Clan of the Cave Bear, which features Neanderthals as main characters.

But here is the book I have settled on: Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman.

 Clowns is part of Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn series. It’s a mystery/police procedural series set in Dinetah, the Navajo homeland, which straddles the Four Corners region of the American Southwest.  Chee and Leaphorn both work for the Navajo Tribal police. Because of the way jurisdiction on Indian reservations is handled, they frequently have to work on their cases with Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado or Utah State police and/or with the FBI.

Books in this series usually take place on the Navajo reservations and the plot often turns on Navajo culture. That’s already “diverse” to an outsider like me. But it quickly gets deeper.  Chee and Leaphorn have each had a different experience of being Navajo. Leaphorn was of the generation that was sent away to boarding schools right around the time their adult vocabulary would have been developing. Consequently, his grasp on the Navajo language is a little shaky, and he thinks like a modern, secular white man. He doesn’t, in his bones, believe in Navajo cosmology. Chee, a younger man, was raised at home and enculturated, as per tradition, by his mother’s brother. He is a fully spiritual Navajo and wants to become a haatalii, or traditional healer, like his uncle (though Leaphorn, and others, feel the demands of being a hataalii would not mix well with a policeman’s schedule).

Sacred Clowns is even more diverse than the average Leaphorn and Chee book because in this case, the mystery takes place in Hopi culture, which is different from Navajo culture.  (For example, Navajos tend to invite everyone to their religious ceremonies, whereas Hopi ceremonies are held in secret and never talked about.)  In the opening scene, Chee is attending a Hopi cultural event that features clowns, which are supposed to show people their own folly. At one point, a Hopi clown mimes selling cultural artifacts to an outsider for a lot of money. He is clearly criticizing this practice, but Chee senses “there’s something I’m missing.”  When the clown first drags his little wagon of artifacts out into the middle of the square, the Hopi crowd falls silent. Chee wants to find out why, and this will get him digging into local politics and ultimately solving the case.

Chee isn’t at the top of his game during the event, however, because he is also there sort of on a date with Janet Pete. Janet’s father was Navajo, but she was raised on the East Coast by her Scottish-American mother. Chee really likes Janet, and he spends most of the book trying to find out whether it would be OK for him to get involved with her. The Navajo have an elaborate system of incest laws which prohibit you from marrying anyone whose clans have a historical connection to your own clans. Janet doesn’t know her father’s clans, and anyway the maternal clans are considered more important.

Meanwhile, Leaphorn, a widower, is planning a trip to China with his lady friend, who is a white anthropologist (Lousia Bourbonette – a French name: more diversity, and a romance between older people!).  He wants to visit Mongolia, because he’s read that his ancestors probably originated there.

And cramming in as many cultures as possible, there is another tribal cop, Harold Blizzard, who is Cheyenne.  About halfway through the book there’s a great scene where Chee and Janet Pete are at a drive-in movie, and Blizzard is there, sort of as a third wheel. The movie is an old Western called Cheyenne Autumn, which is a cult classic among the Navajo because the “Cheyenne” characters in the movie were actually played by Navajos. When they are supposedly speaking Cheyenne in the movie, they are actually speaking Navajo, and of course saying crude and saracastic things that were not in the script.  Chee, as the only person in the car who speaks Navajo, has to translate for Janet and Harold so they can understand why certain supposedly solemn lines are funny and why all the other (Navajo) moviegoers are laughing and honking their car horns. It’s this experience that gets Chee thinking about how much outsiders to a culture miss, and wondering what he was missing at the Hopi gathering.

Finally, when Chee consults some elders about Janet’s father’s clans, he gets an earful from them about how young people aren’t traditional enough. They are referring to the way that hataalii of Chee’s generation will sometimes break up the weeklong Navajo healing ceremonies over a couple of weekends so that people who work 9-to-5 jobs can attend them. According to the elders, this is not acceptable, but Chee will probably have to do it if he becomes a healer. He must struggle with how much he can adapt his ancestors’ culture and still remain Navajo.

All of Hillerman’s books do a great job exploring themes of culture and identity, but in this book he really outdoes himself.

I am your Sunshine Blogger

And you are mine.

So, the Sunshine Blogger award is given to bloggers by other bloggers who believe that the recipients spread sunshine. Imagine how surprised and thrilled I was to be given this award by Rachael Corbin at The Crooked Pen. Thanks, Rachael!

The Sunshine Blogger award is also a tag. If you get tagged, you must …

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
  2. Answer the questions.
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
  4. Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.
  5. List the rules and display the sunshine blogger award logo on your site or on your post.

So, Numbers 1 and 5 down, 2 through 4 to go.

Here were Rachael’s questions:

  1. What was the most transformative reading experience you have ever had?

I am going to leave out those times when I’m reading some passage in the Bible and all of a sudden something jumps out and punches me in the gut.  Or when it crawls into my head and becomes lembas that I feed on throughout the day. Some of you readers will know what I mean.

Other than that, my most transformative reading experience has been ‘Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.  I read it in college.  The tortured friendship between Orual and Psyche in the book closely mirrored a relationship that had been toturing me through the previous several years … though of course with a much more tragic yet satisfying ending.  Anway, it helped me see that some of the problems we were having were not purely my fault nor purely hers, but built into the nature of reality.  Also, Faces is just packed with insights and it’s set in an ancient pagan culture, which I love.  C.S. Lewis is under-appreciated for his ability to write horror, and there is plenty of that in this book.

2. What is a book you wish someone would write?

To be honest, it’s probably already been written.

I’m a sucker for well-researched fiction set in ancient cultures.  So I would love to read a book set in the heyday of the Anasazi … or Carthage during the Punic Wars … or a Noble Savage book where the noble savage is one of the Gauls during Caesar’s Gallic Wars … or What Was Really Going with Stonehenge.

I have seen people take a stab at some of these, but never as thoroughly as I’d like.  But, again, they are probably out there.  I just haven’t discovered them yet.

For example, Bjorn Andreas-Bull Hansen has written some novels about Vikings.  I think these are exactly the Viking novels I’ve always wanted to read … but they don’t exist in a language that I know! Aargh! (By the way, go to his site. Sign the petition to get his books translated into English.)

But I have, in my possession, waiting to be read, Pompeii by Robert Harris and People of the Silence (about the Anasazi) by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and Michael W. Gear.  I have high hopes for both these books.

3. Where is somewhere you really want to go, but have only read about in a book?

It would be shorter to list places that don’t match that description.

I guess my current #1 place would be Mongolia.  I had to research it for my first book, and it looks so beautiful.  It also resembles my home state a bit in the sense of being vast, treeless, high-altitude, and far inland. And I love the herding culture.  The food is gross though.  (Follow that link and scroll down to the heading “Exotic Nomad Foods.”) Also, my kids are extremely interested in the Mongolian Death Worm.

4. If you could have a book re-written, which book would it be?

1984.  I know, I know, the ending is integral to the book itself, but … still. I would like to see Winston hold firm at the end.  Or find out that Julia had.

5. What is a book you dislike that everyone else loves?

1984 and The Great Gatsby.  (Or, I guess people love these?)

6. If you had the power to bring any mythical creature to life, which creature would it be?

The Mongolian Death Worm.

Just kidding.  I don’t know.  Maybe Grendel so I could find out whether he was really a T-Rex.

7. Where is your ideal reading spot?

When I am reading, any spot becomes ideal.  (Car, bus seat, middle of a party …)  But I prefer to be comfy (plushy chair or sofa) with a view of the outdoors and some place to set my coffee.

8. What is the most disappointing book you have ever read and why?

OK, I am going to pick on one particular book here, but it’s representative of a whole category of disappointing books.

The Sign by Raymond Khoury, 2009.   This book was disappointing for many different reasons (see my full review of it here).  But the main reason was this: it promised mystical adventures but delivered only international intrigue. 

It is not the only book that has this problem.  It’s just the only one that I happen to be able to remember the title of.

9. What is your favorite genre of book and why?

Ancient mysteries/historical fiction set in ancient cultures.  But I don’t read a lot of this genre for two reasons.  Firstly, it’s kind of hard to find.  Too often, purported “ancient mysteries” books end up being modern thrillers.  (See above.)  And when I do find a book that scratches this itch, I have to be careful.  If I’m writing my own version of this genre at the time, I don’t necessarily want to be pulled into another world until my own has gelled.

So what I end up reading a lot is mysteries, especially mysteries with an anthropological bent like those by the wonderful Tony Hillerman.

As for why the “ancient mysteries” genre is my favorite (also why I like my mysteries to be anthropological), I can do no better than to quote the following poem from C.S. Lewis, titled, “To Certain Writers of Science Fiction”:

Why did you lead us on like this

Light-year on light-year, through the abyss,

Building, as if we cared for size,

Empires that covered galaxies,

If at the journey’s end we find

The same old stuff we left behind …

Well-worth Tellurian stories of

Crooks, spies, conspirators, or love,

Whose setting might as well have been

The Bronx, Montmarte, or Bethnal Green?

Why should I leave this green-floored cell,

Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell,

Unless, beyond its guarded gates,

Long, long desired, the unearthly waits:

Strangeness that moves us more than fear,

Beauty that stabs with tingling spear,

Or wonder, laying on the heart

That fingertip at which we start

As if some thought too swift and shy

For reason’s grasp had just gone by?

10. If you could make one book required reading, which book would it be and why?

The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton.  I almost listed this one as my transformative book because it set me free to love paganism while still remaining a Christian.  I think everyone should read it because there is a ton of misunderstanding out there about the pagan roots of all cultures, and this book clears that up in such a beautiful, lyrically written way even though it’s nonfiction.   

One major qualifier.  Chesterton frequently lapses into anti-Semitism and it’s really jarring, not to mention inconsistent with his usual generous way of viewing the world.  (TEM was published in 1925, before the Holocaust.)  Also, as this book was written almost 100 years ago, Chesterton can come off as overly focused on the West and a bit insensitive and ignorant about non-Western cultures.  Nevertheless, his insights about paganism can be fruitfully applied to any traditional culture, and I think they ought to be.

Other than that, I heartily recommend this book.  I am thinking about doing a Hallowe’en post that relies heavily upon it.

11. What is your favorite bookish ship? (noncanonical and crack-ships are acceptable answers)

Haha, so at first I was going to name the Dawn Treader from Voyage of the Dawn Treader because I don’t read a lot of sea stories …

For those who aren’t up on fan fiction terminology (as I barely am), a ship is when you imagine two characters from a book or books getting together as couple.  (Short for “relationship.”)  Non-canonical ships are pairings that didn’t happen in the original book or series.  “Crack” ships are pairings that you would have to be on crack to even think of.

I am not a big noncanonical shipper. I just enjoy the ships as they show up in the books.  But, I did always think that rather than going off to live with the dwarfs and eventually get kissed by the Prince, Snow White ought to have run off with the huntsman.

Now, here are my questions for you …

  1. What kinds of non-fiction are you most likely to read?
  2. What is your culture crush? If you are a book blogger, you must have at least one. But please feel free to list more than one.
  3. What one currently living writer would you most like to have lunch, a beer, or coffee with?  (Pastors count if they have written a good book or two. Bonus points if it’s a pastor you could have a beer with.)
  4. What genre do you think is not your favorite, but find yourself picking up again and again?
  5. Sex scenes: poetic, explicit, or none at all?
  6. Favorite animal protagonist from a book or series?
  7. Have you ever stopped identifying with the point-of-view character in a novel, and what caused it?
  8. Did you then finish the book, or put it down?
  9. Dream vehicle from real life or fiction.
  10. If you currently have a Work in Progress (or are pitching a recently finished one out), give us your one-sentence hook for it.
  11. Post a favorite poem or fragment of poetry. If you don’t read poetry, then song lyrics count.

By the way. Commenters, if one of these questions really pulls your chain, feel free to answer it in the comments.

The following bloggers are my sunshine:

Kathleen Rollins of Misfits and Heroes

R.S. Rook of The Rookery

David of The Warden’s Walk

Black Sheep of Not Sheep Minded

Jen of “Of Time Storms and Tourniquets”

Book Stooge

Ed Mooney of Ruinhunter

Devouring Books

Katie Jane Gallagher

Jaclyn of Tiny Ticky Tacky

Colin of ColinD.Smith.com

A Quirky, Personal, Annotated Reading List about Native Americans

Do You Get “Culture Crushes”?

I admit it: I get “culture crushes.”

My earliest and most enduring culture crush has been on Native American culture.  This started very early, perhaps by the time I was five.  By the time I could read on my own, I was on a sharp lookout for any book with an Indian on the cover.  That was all it took to make me pick up the book and devour it. 

Here are some of the books I’ve discovered … as a kid, and then later, as an adult. 

This is an incomplete list on two counts.  First of all, there are obviously many fine books out there, by Native and non-Native people alike, that I have yet to discover and read.  Secondly, this isn’t even a complete list of all the books I’ve read on this topic.  I can think of at least six seven eight twelve other books that I remember vividly, but can’t remember enough about the titles to track them down. 

As A Kid

  • North American Indians, by Marie and Douglas Gorsline, Random House, 1977.  This book was the introduction to Native American tribes and their lifestyles for my siblings and me.  It’s a good overview of the different cultural regions of North America, including a map at the beginning of the book.  For each region, it names one or two of the best-known tribes and gives a few pages of details about their lifestyle, beautifully illustrated.  The last page of the book is about sign language, which it says functioned as a lingua franca for the different Plains tribes.  It includes a number of illustrations of the different signs.  What could be more fun?
  • Runner for the King by Rowena Bastin Bennett, 1962. I must have been seven years old when I read this book.  It featured my two favorite things: Indians, and the word “king.”  It takes place in the ancient Incan kingdom, but I didn’t know that at the time.  All I knew was that it did not disappoint. The boy on the front cover runs through rugged mountain landscapes.  He encounters a fellow runner who has been beaten and tied up by enemies, so the boy must run the next messenger’s leg of the journey as well as his own.  He has to climb over a rock slide.  At last, he makes it to the king with his message and is personally honored by the king. I now realize, looking at the drawing, that the boy’s face on this cover does not look particularly Incan.  It looks more like Peter Pan colored reddish brown.  But at the time, this boy – particularly this picture on the cover – instantly became my standard for fitness and beauty. 
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Scholastic, Inc., 1935, 1953, 1963.  This is the Little House book in which the Ingalls family go into “Indian country,” homestead there for less than a year, and then are moved out by changing government policy, not too long after the same government has forced the Indians to leave.  This book has been called racist, but that is a foul slander.  It portrays a lot of complexity in the Ingalls family’s experience with the Indians.  Charles Ingalls, Laura’s “Pa,” in particular clearly respects the Indians.  He gently rebukes some other settlers when they speak of the Indians in a dehumanizing way, and he talks with enthusiasm about a buffalo hunt: “Now that’s something I’d like to see!” There is also a scene where Pa has been hunting a wildcat that he knows is hanging around the creek.  He needs to find and kill it so that it doesn’t attack his family.  He meets an Indian man, who gives him to understand with signs that three days ago he found the very cat and shot it out of a tree. 
  • Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla, illustrated by Peter Buchard, Scholastic. Squanto’s story is truly an incredible one.  The scene I remember best from this book is that of Squanto trying to sleep on his first night in a British room.  The bed is too soft and uncomfortable.  Finally he sleeps on the floor.
  • The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.  An Indian boy and his father befriend a white boy who has been left on his own to manage the family’s new cabin until the rest of his family can join him.  The Indian boy teaches the white boy wood lore and such things as the signs that the different clans leave on trees.   The white boy teaches the Indian boy to read.  The Indian boy is really offended by the role of Friday in Robinson Crusoe, which rocks his new friend’s world.  
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.  I don’t remember this one very well, but I think my second-grade teacher read it aloud to us. It’s the story of an incredibly tough and resourceful girl surviving on her own on an island.
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators, which just makes this book all the better.  This book is not primarily about Indians, but they do play an increasingly big role as the book progresses. Caddie befriends them and then ends up sneaking across the river to visit them and head off a conflict.
  • Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. Omri owns a small metal medicine cupboard that can bring his plastic toys to life.  When it does, he discovers that they are not toys but have actual lives and personalities of their own.  This series is one of the most poignant I’ve ever read.
  • I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1973. This one barely makes it into the “childhood” category.  I read it in seventh grade, in a year when we read many books set in other cultures (such as The Good Earth and Things Fall Apart). And I Heard the Owl definitely belongs in that august company.  It rises to the level of literature.  Owl tells the story of Mark, a young priest who goes to serve a small Indian community in remote British Columbia.  My favorite scene is the one in which he suddenly realizes that some of the women are talking about him, in front of him, and protests that they’ve got their facts wrong.  He has acquired a passive knowledge of the language without really trying.  He must have quite a gift for languages indeed, because those coastal Native languages are really complex.

As An Adult

  • The Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee series by Tony Hillerman. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee both work for the Navajo Tribal Police. Joe is a tough old cynic. Jim is a young visionary. “Tony Hillerman was the former president of Mystery Writers of America and received its Edgar and Grand Master awards.  His other honors include the Center for the American Indian’s Ambassador Award, the Silver Spur Award for best novel set in the West, and the Navajo Tribe’s Special Friend Award. He lived with his wife in Albuquerque, New Mexico.”  — From the jacket of A Thief of Time, Harper, 1988, 1990, 2000, 2009. Update: Tony Hillerman’s daughter, Anne Hillerman, is now continuing the Leaphorn and Chee series. I just finished Cave of Bones (2018) by her. It’s really good. Chee has married a fellow Navajo police officer, and Leaphorn is living with a white woman since his wife died of cancer earlier in the series. Anne Hillerman incorporates even more Navajo terms into the books than her father did, and the greeting (Ya’at’eeh) is now spelled with even more diacritic marks.
  • The Grieving Indian by Arthur H. and George McPeek, 1988.   Arthur H. is a Native pastor, recovering alcoholic, and boarding school survivor.  He has many excellent insights about unresolved grief, which he believes is the root cause of most of the problems facing Native individuals, families, and communities.
  • Bruchko by Bruce Olson, Charisma House, 1978, 2006.  Bruce Olson goes to live among the Motilone Indians of Colombia.  After much fruitless struggle to integrate, he is befriended by a remarkable young man his own age who tells Bruce his “heart name.”   In time, Christ comes to the Motlione in a way that is very organic to their culture.  This book is filled with goosebump-raising moments.
  • Black Elk’s Vision: A Lakota Story by S.D. Nelson, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2010.  Black Elk grew up in the Lakota tribe.  At the age of nine, he was given a troubling vision that essentially invited his tribe to choose life rather than bitterness.  He did not share this vision with anyone for several years.  He was present at the battle of Little Bighorn, and later traveled to England as a dancer in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.  Besides the illustrations done by the author, the book includes a historical drawing done by Red Horse and many authentic black and white photographs. 
  • Windigo Island by William Kent Krueger, 2014. Girls are disappearing from the Ojibwe reservation. Cork O’Connor goes off to find one of them, and ends up in North Dakota.
  • Thunderhead by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston. A team of archaeologists discovers a lost Anasazi city and figures out what wiped the Anasazi out. There are no modern-day Indians among the main characters in this book, but near the end, one does play a key role.

Children’s Books Discovered As An Adult

I also love Little Runner’s mom.
  • Little Runner of the Longhouse by Betty Baker, pictures by Arnold Lobel, an I Can Read Book by Harper & Row Publishers, New York & Evanston, 1962.  Little Runner is an extremely relatable Iroquois boy whose main goal in life is to get some maple sugar.
  • Rabbit’s Snow Dance by James & Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Jeff Newman, 2012.  This legend explains why rabbit, who started out with a long, beautiful tail, now has a short, fuzzy one.  It also explains why cottonwood trees are full of “cotton.”  Like many Native legends, it contains a not-so-subtle warning about being proud, wanting our own way, and not listening to warnings from our elders.  “I will make it snow!  A-zi-ka-na-po!”
  • A Salmon for Simon by Betty Waterton, illustrated by Ann Blades, copyright 1978, first Meadow Mouse edition 1990, first revised Meadow Mouse edition 1996, reprinted 1998. A Meadow Mouse Paperback, Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, Toronto, Ontario.  Simon, who lives in a village on the Pacific coast of Canada, has been trying all day to catch a salmon.  When he sees one drop from an eagle’s talons, he has to decide whether to eat it or save it.