The main reason I have a house is to shelter my books and the main reason I bought THIS house is that it has one long wall I could put bookshelves on. In fact, there are bookshelves on every wall in the main room. Over the years, since I moved a lot, I went to a module concept of frames and shelves. The shelves are all as long as a 1”X 12” pine board can be without sagging and the frames are 7’ 6” tall which is the height of most modern apartment ceilings. This house has an 8’ ceiling so my eventual intention is to fill in that top space. In the meantime it’s a spider penthouse.
The section above is my Indian books, mainly Blackfeet. I thought that instead of posting another bibliography, I would pretend you had come to visit and we could pull books down to look at them. If my camera will cooperate, I know that there are blog people out there who love to look at bookshelves and piles of books. The ones that are sideways are that way because I’ve had them down for reference recently. (The Navajo rug is a valued gift from a valued friend.)
You’ll see that I ignore the US/Canada border, Homeland Security be damned. And I value ALL the Hungry Wolf books from the very beginning -- including the homemade stapled ones and the ones that Beverly wrote by herself. My four Hungry Wolf archive books and some others are on a separate “tall” shelf. I do not scoff at Doug Gold’s “A Schoolmaster Among the Blackfeet Indians” -- I just note he was embedded in his times, which were close enough that his daughter lives in Valier just down the street a ways. I’m an includer.
I had “Mean Spirit” down not long ago because it is about the oil boom in Oklahoma that set off waves of murder that made the modern jogger murder look incidental. The Oklahoma murders were systematic marriages by predatory whites (sometimes Indians) to eventual inheritors of oil fortunes and then the sly destruction of all intervening inheritors. The first comparable murder here has got to be Marie Heavyrunner. A big check came to Marie -- then she disappeared only to be found months later under her own house. The murderer has been tried and incarcerated. The fate of the check and estate was not investigated -- at least not the last I heard.
“Red, White and Black” was helping me figure out how to write an entry about NA demographics for an encyclopedia being compiled. No one wanted to take on what they thought would be a boring matter of graphs and numbers, but the subject is revealing and dynamic -- a key to a lot of things. Huxley’s classic “Doors of Perception” was down because I was writing about “entheogens” -- spiritual experience enabled by drugs -- for my manuscript about liturgy: “The Bone Chalice.” I include analysis of Blackfeet ceremonies. They didn’t use substances so much as meditation, fasting, thirst, high exertion or self-torture, so I didn’t spend much time on Huxley.
I take down the two studies of GLBTX customs among the original NA tribes, put them back up, then end up pulling them down again. “The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture” by Walter L Williams is well-known and often used for reference. “Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender, Identity, Sexuality and Spirituality” is an anthology of essays. Mostly I take them down when I have visitors with questions. They are a little shy, since I am straight. They are reassured when they see “The Fancy Dancer” by Patricia Nell Warren, a Montana writer shunned by the “nice” Montana literati. But I have to make sure they don’t leave with my copy because this book about a priest and a motorcyclist (a leatherman) is PASSIONATELY loved by the people who found it at the right stage of their lives. I gave her other novels, equally powerful, to a man who will loan them around the state where they’ll do some good. They’re not about Indians, just gay young men.
You’ll see some spiral bound “books” and binders. For me they work better than folders in file cabinets where pages can slip out. I’ve learned to download some manuscripts and then get them bound at a business supply big box store. I use a lot of clear sleeves in the binders. For Indian materials, esp. contemporary issues from mags and newspapers, this is a necessity. It’s not that there aren’t writers out there creating books, it’s that the publishers are so short-sighted, academic presses included, that they won’t fund what they think won’t reflect well on them. I’ve put my own Blackfeet books on www.lulu.com/prairiemary/ and set some of them so you can download pdf’s for free.
I hope I’m answering the two questions I’m asked most about my books. The first is, “Have you read all these books?” The second is “If you have read these books, why do you keep them?” These people are usually reading in what has come to be called an “immersive” way. They read for story, to escape into another world, to “become” other people. Many of them read three to five books a week, will repeat-read a book they really like, and hunt for books by the same writers. They like fiction, biography, accounts of disasters. This is where all the ebook action is. They're often library users who don't buy or keep books.
This kind of book stream was the goal of many NA writers writing during the American Indian Literary Renaissance of the Seventies: Welch, Erdrich, and Alexie managed to pul it off, though probably not so well as Hillerman. The whites who write about Indians, immersively playing into the Wannabe Tribe and what they stereotypically want, are the ones who really cash in.
There are books on my shelf that I really dislike, though I’d be a fool to point them out to you. They tend to be highly political in a romantic way -- that is, the point of view that thinks the world should be forced into an ideal, according to the plan THEY want. Very self-righteous, entitled, indignant, and naive. I am NOT talking about Vine Deloria, Jr. or even Ward Churchill. But I don't mind saying that Richard Lancaster was a monster who should have been nailed.
When I buy NA books, I’m mostly after theory and history. I don’t care whether or not they are written by Indians, though it’s great when they’re by friends. I wish there were more overviews like “Smoke Signals,” a terrific sampling of the outstanding writers of the Renaissnce period. I wish Carter Revard were better known. Leslie Marmon Silko did some crucial work, still relevant in PTSD circles. Ted Bennema is currently recovering invaluable material about the ecology of Plains tribes. Hugh Dempsey seems to penetrate the glass wall at the border between Canada and the US, thank goodness. In fact, one of the best things about focusing on Blackfeet is that it is ecologically based rather than nationally. Nations are frail containers.
Nothing is more personal than one’s books. No one should try to tell you what you want or how to read. The problem, as always, is discovery -- what’s out there? The best moment is finding a book that was totally unexpected but hits you dead center. I’m finding they are most often used books. Insert song: “The sadder but wiser book’s the book for me . . .” You remember, "Music Man?"