Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite authors, but it’s been more than a decade since I’ve read one of her novels. This is not to say that I’ve overlooked her moving novel Plague of Doves, the gripping Shadow Tag, or what many consider to be her magnum opus, The Roundhouse—I just experienced them without my eyes ever glancing at their pages. The secret to my literary consumption is a smartphone loaded with audiobooks. As a member of a tribal college’s humanities faculty, enjoying well-written books is more than a hobby for me—it’s a stress-reducing activity that deepens both my personal empathy and disciplinary knowledge. As someone who travels between campuses and who plays chauffeur to four young sons, my weeks are filled with hours traversing the northeastern Wisconsin pavement. It was during many of these commutes last month that Louise Erdrich herself read me her heart-wrenching new novel, Larose—an experience I wish upon you all.
I’m proud to admit that I’m a full-fledged, library card-carrying audiophile. I’m always itching to listen to audiobooks on my smartphone. My hope is that you’ll load up your preferred audio player and join me in listening to the engrossing power of well-read stories.
Oh the books I could recommend to you! In literature alone, you could enjoy a semester’s worth of fantastic prose. Sherman Alexie’s (Spokane-Coeur d’Alene) recent works are all ready for you to click, some of which he narrates himself. Linda Hogan’s (Chickasaw) haunting book, People of the Whale, is also waiting for you to give it a listen, as is Richard Van Camp’s (Dogrib) powerful novel, The Lesser Blessed. The classics are equally ripe for your playlist. N. Scott Momaday’s (Kiowa) House Made of Dawn and Leslie Marmon Silko’s (Laguna Pueblo) Ceremony are always cathartic, be it the first or the twentieth time you’ve heard them.
If you love genre fiction, there is a wealth of great stories. Nearly all of virtuoso suspense writer Martin Cruz Smith’s (Pueblo) books are available in audio format, including his forthcoming October release, The Girl from Venice. The same is true of Daniel H. Wilson’s (Cherokee) speculative fiction works, including the chilling Robopocalypse series and his novel on superhuman medical technology, Amped. I know you could make a great October playlist using the works of Stephan Graham Jones (Blackfeet). I suspect that listening to his novels Demon Theory, Growing up Dead in Texas, and Zombie Bakeoff will put you in the mood for a fright-filled Halloween.
There are also many non-fiction texts that’ll enrich one’s time. Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Mayflower and The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn are both fascinating works to start with. I’d also recommend Thomas Power’s masterpiece, The Killing of Crazy Horse, which is both exhaustive and illuminating. S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and well worth your time.
Since this is an election year, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend some of the books written by the current and prospective leaders in American politics. Presumptive presidential nominees Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump both have audiobooks that could help inform voters as to where each stands on a variety of issues. The same is true of books by both Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Influential U.S. senators such as Cory Booker, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Elizabeth Warren all have committed their thoughts to audio files, and hearing them collectively helps illuminate the issues that both divide and unite our nation.
There are certainly a lot of great stories to listen to, but for now I’d like to turn your attention back to Erdrich’s mesmerizing Larose. In the first dozen pages of the novel, Landreaux Iron accidently kills his neighbor’s son while hunting a deer on the edge of his property. Landreaux’s wife is the half-sister of the deceased boy’s mother. Following an ancient means of retribution, the Irons give their own young son, and the novel’s namesake, to the grieving parents saying, “Our son will be your son now.” Set between 1999 and 2003, the novel juxtaposes a layered story about speculation, justice, perceived slights, and bad decisions both in North Dakota and in the United States’ reasoning to initiate the second Iraq war. As always, Erdrich’s novel is a multigenerational story that uses humor and grit to talk about issues both within and outside of Indian country. In short, it’s everything you’d want in an audiobook. It’s also a novel that I hope you’ll listen to because I’m certain it’ll be your gateway into a world of well-read stories.
Ryan Winn teaches English, theater, and communication at College of Menominee Nation, where he has been recognized as the American Indian College Fund’s Faculty Member of the Year.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the Inquisitive Academic or any other opinion columns published by the Tribal College Journal (TCJ) do not necessarily reflect the opinions of TCJ or the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.