Round House Discussion Journal

RoundHouseCoverRound House by Louise Erdrich was easy to read.  That was the last question I asked, and the consensus seemed to be positive, even if not everyone liked the book. One member was incredulous that thirteen year olds could be so mature.  We started the meeting discussing the age of the narrator, drinking, driving, and sex. We wondered if this was something distinctive to Native Americans, but some of us remembered our own early teen years while another wondered if this freedom isn’t common in white families with two parents working.  Our own experiences growing up—rural, urban, protected, wealthy, poor, free—have a profound impact on our reading and acceptance of a story, and this was clearly evident in a thoughtful discussion in which members referred to each other’s comments with respect and consideration.

One member felt that the tragedy of alcoholism and hopelessness on reservations was treated too lightly in the book. He referenced a recent article in the Review Journal about increases in suicides among Native Americans. Everyone understood that the author’s main concern in writing the book had been Indian law and jurisdictional issues – especially concerning violence against Native American women. We spent a good amount of time discussing respect and violence – how Americans seem to admire rudeness and be obsessed with crime, about the impact of violent video games and the value of positive role models.

Growing up, seeing our parents suddenly as old and flawed, facing Wiindigoos, spirituality and belonging: so many themes and characters that some of us found the book a bit hard to keep straight. One of us said that reading about the camaraderie made her wish she had been a boy growing up! We all agreed that Cappy was a true friend and felt the sorrow of his loss. We could have kept discussing. In many ways, we only touched the surface.

As I read Round House, I could not help but see connections to many other books I have read, in and out of the Book Bistro. The impact of reading on my understanding of the world around me and the variety of people I meet and serve in the library is profound and one of the most valuable, even when I read strictly for pleasure and when a book seems forgotten as soon as put down. I handed out a list of the many books long-time members may have read over the last several years and I encourage all readers to take an opportunity to stop and think about what they have read—as an exercise for the brain as well as because what we read has become a part of us, good and bad, and this shared community experience brings us all closer together.

  • Other Works Discussed:
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Jeremiah Johnson (DVD)1972; Robert Redford; Sydney Pollack (Director)
  • Stand and Deliver (DVD) 1988; Edward James Olmos
  • Stand by Me (DVD) 1986; River Phoenix (based on the short story “The Body” by Stephen King)
  • This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian Discussion Journal

We started the discussion about Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-AbsolutelyTrueDiaryBookCoverTime Indian by listening to a few passages from the audiobook, read by the author. One member had recommended the sing-song, story-telling rendition, which is particularly effective in bringing the narration to life. I then mentioned the book as a winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young Adult fiction, which prompted the questions: What makes a novel young-adult versus adult? Illustrations? Style? Audience? Economics? Geography (mentioned by a member after the meeting)?

When I finally got around to asking if anyone wanted to share first impressions, the room was silent. This was the first time in 18 months that no one spoke up! Slowly, we began discussing the young-adult focus, friendship, poverty, and personal experiences. One member wondered how many of us had ever thought of Indian reservations as the Rez before. Human greed, current events, books and movies — as usual, I found new and interesting perspectives throughout. Clearly most, probably all, members enjoyed the book — but the discussion was challenging. We were just hitting our stride as it was time to go. One member brought up the author’s strong emphasis on the destructive prevalence of alcoholism. Someone mentioned the changing perceptions of names, lyrics, and slurs. Another mentioned that he has read much about Native Americans, but that he learned more about life on Indian reservations from this book than from any other.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is an engaging and powerful novel – as straightforward as its title – filled with humor, tragedy, hyperbole, and truth. I would definitely categorize the book as young adult; but, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, or To Kill a Mockingbird, it should be read by adults. Although I wouldn’t want to lose anything shared, I wish we could have kept discussing! But we can always do so, here, or on our own, with family and friends. The thing about a good book is that it can – and should – be passed around and brought up again and again and again.

So, if you were unable to attend the meeting or would like to add your thoughts about the book, please comment here and continue the discussion!

  • Other works mentioned:
  • Zelig (DVD) Woody Allen, 1983
  • Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, 1996
  • Rabbit Proof Fence (DVD) 2002
  • Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, 2003
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1960
  • The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, 2011