Palate Cleanser in the Bookisshh Life

So if you’re bookish, but not necessarily Bookisshh, you kind of have your favorite genres or authors. Maybe you’re into Literary Fiction (like me), or juicy Romance or thrills and chills Thrillers (unlike me)? Perhaps you’re a dad reader and stick to Non-Fiction reading only. I definitely do during Non-Fiction November, but that’s another blog post.

So you read, read and read and then maybe you have a reading hangover or hit burnout. Then you just don’t know what to read and after a few attempts, push your panic button because you’re feeling like you’ve lost your reading zen or capacity to sustain reading. This is a new normal for many people so don’t feel alone but definitely feel empowered to strategize how to get back your book train.

In situations like this bookish people in the know turn to works that are palate cleansers. Similar to a Michelin starred meal, books are feasts for the imagination varying in sophistication and ingredient all things being of the literary sort. Also similar to a Michelin starred meal, a great bookish feast can benefit from a palate cleanser, a small bite that differs in flavor profile, temperature, texture and presentation. This palate cleanser delights and redirects the taste buds and imagination, creating opportunities to savor and be inspired in new ways. New reads can cleanse a palate and cure book hangovers too.

There is no single strategy for palate cleansing. Some approaches include trying a new genre you haven’t read. For me this might include a thriller, mystery or a romance. Or maybe take on an author you’ve never read from another country whose work is translated into English. Why not jump from fiction to non-fiction, or grab a memoir by a person you think you’re not interested in? The strategies are endless… Certainly reach out if you need some ideas you can message me in the comments or find me on Instagram: @Bookisshhh. There’s one caveat—you have to open your mind, sustain your openness, and read patiently.

In this edition of Bookisshh I will share a recent palate cleanser that changed the game for me. I went with an author I’ve heard of who owns a really cool bookstore (which I wouldn’t mind doing), and whose work interweaves the lives and concerns belonging to First Peoples of the United States. If you guessed Louise Erdrich, you are correct. Enjoy!

This is the first novel I have read situated during the Covid pandemic and the horrific murder and world response to the murder of George Floyd. Being past the intensity of Covid and the international learning simultaneously experienced by all, I was hesitant to read, The Sentence for fear of being triggered by things potentially deeply triggering. THIS DID NOT HAPPEN AT ALL.

Reading The Sentence reminds and requires people to do the uncomfortable work of remembering, acknowledging, negotiating, mourning, forgiving, repairing, reevaluating, evolving and healing forever when it comes to ensuring and guaranteeing equity for humans and the planet alike. Talk about a tall order and Erdrich pours her readers into a walkabout into the lives of a group of Minnesotans as they engage and contend with the work mentioned above and while doing so make readers, cry, laugh and grow.

Erdrich is conscious of her readers and their various lived experiences as well as the greater challenges of loss and survival on many levels. She notes the loss of culture, history and agency on behalf of First Peoples and how these social and historic disruption intersect marginalized groups today as they try to gain equity and parity within the opportunity structure. Erdrich uses her protagonist, Tookie to guide readers to the fringes of reservation communities and larger Minnesota without soapboxing, platforming, mansplaining or inducing blame, shame and guilt. Readers simply fall in with Tookie and the cast of characters walking in their shoes in a super relaxed and clear experiential way.

The Sentence is centered at Birchbark Books, a real bookstore owned by author, Louise Erdrich. Birchbark Books like many independent bookstores is a center for community and where relationships are built as books are pressed into the hands of voracious readers dedicated to authorship of all genres. What makes this bookstore special is that it’s haunted by Flora who is trying to discover and claim her indigenous heritage but stumbled into grave warnings from the spirit world and is trying to signal Tookie and other booksellers from beyond. Flora sends messages by pulling titles from the shelves or moving things on the table to communicate and when that doesn’t work, she enters the real former church confessional booth that is permanently installed in the store and serves as a cozy space and rotating art installation.

As the pandemic has shut down the world, the bookstore remains open and books are pressed into car windows, onto front porches and outside tables as community members try to escape the present and/or make sense of the world. The moments when readers seek and receive books is soul warming. Thank goodness for and please support Independent Bookstores..

Readers cover a lot in this book. Readers get a look at female incarceration and how one person’s jailing was a mistake and while there was no one to fight on her behalf, books saved her from the insanity of long term solitary confinement for a crime she didn’t commit but unknowingly enabled. Readers also experience forgiveness in the relationships that emerge from this mistake including husbands, stepchildren and newborns born amid protests and fluid relationships. It’s quirky and political but neither entirely.

There’s just so much packed into this fast paced, historically grounded, whimsical and profound book. Relationships are fluid. Friendships have boundaries. Couples understand one another in both the said and unsaid domains. People are struggling against marginalization, patriarchy, institutional, historical and structural racism. The world is evolving and dying at the same time. Prior to “Everything Everywhere All At Once” Erdrich accomplishes this simultaneity of life without overwhelming, exhausting and unnecessarily increasing page count.

I’ll spoil this book by saying there’s a happy ending and if you’re here reading this, you are having a happy ending because you are here even with the silly ups and downs of daily living! So if you’re stuck try something new and if you don’t know how to do that, please reach out, I’ll gladly offer an amuse bouche (palate cleanser) for your bookish brain.

I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time —Joseph Beuys

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