Ghost Singer (1994) - Anna Lee Walters
I read Native American literature occasionally; I'm one quarter Seminole and love the culture of Native America, even as I realize I'm far too cosmopolitan to ever really fit there. This book is a history/thriller about the mysterious deaths of some Smithsonian researchers who are investigating Native American relics. Could the deaths have been caused by vengeful ghosts? I hope you don't really care, because you never find out. There are better books than this to read to really get a window on the strange spiritual perspective of the Native American community, such as Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, about a returning war veteran haunted by an oppressive evil. There are also better books to read to get a window on the historical victimization of Native Americans, such as Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan, a fact based novel about the wholesale murder of Native Americans in Oklahoma in the early twentieth century in order to steal their oil rights. I found this one pretty poorly written and frustratingly pretentious in its structure. Skip this one.
The White Deer (1945) - James Thurber
I refuse to defend Thurber at this late date. If you don't know he's a genius yet, you just need to read about a page of him before you tumble to the fact. This short novel is about a king and his three dimwitted sons and their efforts to carry out epic quests in order to win a fair maiden's hand. It is, per usual for Thurber, hysterically funny, completely silly, beautifully innocent and entirely pleasurable. There's nothing like reading Thurber to make you absolutely love everything about life. This is one that I rarely hear talked about, but it's a masterpiece. Great illustrations too.
One Stick Song (2000) – Sherman Alexie
Alexie is my favorite Native American author. He writes bracingly angry, bitter and sarcastic poetry, filled with gripping one liners that stand up and slap you in the face. He’s capable of great tenderness too, but mostly his meditations run towards the degradations faced by Native Americans, both in the past and the present. This slim book of poetry isn’t his best book; that would be First Indian on the Moon, which contains Tiny Treaties, a poem cycle that looks at love between an Indian man and a white woman through the prism of “500 years of continuous lies.” I’m the product of a relationship between a white man and an Indian woman so I find Tiny Treaties particularly poignant; I think it’s maybe the greatest work of American poetry since the 1970s. This book has some good things in it, particularly Open Book, a vitriolic rant about poetry that lies and poets that are assholes. Alexie has written some good fiction too, particularly the short story collection, set on his own Spokane reservation, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and the strange, grim murder mystery, Indian Killer; he also authored the screenplay for Smoke Signals, a wonderful indie film from the late nineties based on a couple of stories from TLRATFIH, which is a movie everyone should watch; it perfectly captures the rhythms of the modern Native American culture, a culture most people don’t know a whole lot about. But his poetry is still where he does his best work.
Auntie Mame (1955) – Patrick Dennis
Dennis’ book is a journey in growing up under the tutelage of a completely insane and vivacious aunt. It’s inspired more than a couple of movies and a hugely successful musical. Of the films, I think the Rosalind Russell version has some pep, but avoid the others. But the book is even better and more hilarious. There are several notable set pieces that are excised from the film due to their more adult nature; a riotous chapter involves Mame taking in a brood of British war orphans and it’s sidesplittingly funny and bracingly unpolitically correct. The book is a real joy to read; I enjoy the Russell film quite a bit, but Mame should always be approached uncensored, so get the novel.
Father of the Bride (1949) – Edward Streeter
This warm, somewhat witty novel inspired the original Spencer Tracy films, of which there were two, and then the marginally funnier Steve Martin films, of which there were also two. The book is slight, forgettable, somewhat pleasing to read, but impossible to carry in the mind. Rather like all the film versions, in point of fact. The novel has been pretty well eclipsed by the movies; I suppose that’s fair enough. Tracy and Martin are both very good in the titular role and they bring a greater warmth to the role than one finds in the novel.