Books and Islands: Louise Erdrich in Ojibwe Country

Books and islands.

If there is a valid reason for my falling so hopelessly behind in this year’s reading challenge, it is my love of libraries. I once heard the editor-at-large (whatever that means) of a prominent literary journal speak about his reading habit. He urged the small group of ambitious college students around him to read widely and randomly, to let curiosity drive the reading.

Though I didn’t like this man – or the dinner at his home that was conducted as if we were meeting the President – I very much agree with his comments on the reading life. And since most curiosity-driven readers don’t have access to enough books to satiate themselves (and is it even possible?), we turn (with joy, with trepidation) to libraries.

So giving myself over to Louise Erdrich’s Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country this past week was a guilty pleasure. This book doesn’t count toward my goal of 60 owned books read by December 31st, but I really can’t be bothered with such trifles. I had this book in my hands! In hardcover! And then I opened it…

This little volume, first published in 2003 as part of a National Geographic Literary Travel Series, gives lovers of Erdrich’s novels a welcome insight into who she is as a reader, as a mother, lover, traveler, and bookstore owner. It explores Ojibwe culture – past and present continuous – as someone who has one foot in and one foot out. This insider/outsider perspective is one I cherish in writers.


Image from; interesting enough, most of the map images I found were through fishing lodge websites.

Erdrich travels through Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake (lower right in the above map). In Lake of the Woods, she travels with her partner and their daughter through islands containing sacred rock paintings, some of which are thousands of years old. Then, in Rainy Lake, our author and her infant daughter visit an island where one Ernest Oberholtzer collected and stored thousands of books in his cabins.

Finally, Erdrich returns home to Minneapolis, where she considers how her independent bookstore, Birchbark Books, is also a sort of island filled with books.

And I’m off again. I’ve just discovered that attached to the Birchbark Books page there’s a wonderful little blog, where Erdrich has recently posted about the election.

Today I’m thankful for the many travels of my life thus far: by land, by river, by air, and yes, by book.


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