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Louise Erdrich anchors her newest novel and Booklist’s Top of the List winner for Adult Fiction, The Sentence, to her bookstore in Minneapolis, Birchbark Books, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The many-faceted, funny, anguished, and enrapturing story involves a ghost, Native American and Métis (people of Indigenous and European ancestry) history, incarceration and post-prison challenges, bookstores as sanctuaries, and how reading books can save one’s life. These novels each engage imaginatively with some aspect of Erdrich’s setting and themes.
The Beginner’s Goodbye. By Anne Tyler. 2012. Knopf, $24.95 (9780307957276).
Aaron is devastated when his doctor wife, Dorothy, is killed in a freak accident, but she soon begins to visit him from beyond as he continues to work at his family’s small press, which publishes the Beginner’s series, little how-to books that Tyler astutely uses to illuminate how ill-prepared we can be for life’s relentless demands.
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted. By Robert Hillman. 2019. Putnam, $26 (9780525535928).
A lonely man whose wife has left him, taking her young son to a religious commune, is buoyed by the arrival of charismatic immigrant and Holocaust survivor Hannah, who opens a bookshop in his quaint little Australian town.
The Bookstore. By Deborah Meyler. 2013. Gallery, $16 (9781476714240).
Art history scholarship student Esme Garland from England finds herself pregnant and alone in Manhattan, so she takes a job in a secondhand bookstore, where she finds a kooky and loving alternative family.
The Break. By Katherena Vermette. 2018. Anansi, $16.95 (9781487001117).
Vermette portrays four generations of Métis women in a saga rooted in violence perpetuated against Métis communities.
The Freedom Artist. By Ben Okri. 2020. Akashic, $30.95 (9781617757914).
Man Booker-winner Okri conjures an unspecified time and place in which a persistent young woman, Amalantis, is arrested for asking too many questions about a society in which myths, art, books, and bookstores have all been eliminated, leaving citizens trapped in the Prison, a loss of imagination and curiosity.
The Girl Who Reads on the Métro. By Christine Féret-Fleury. 2019. Flatiron, $22.99 (9781250315427).
Juliette is feeling blue and isolated until she stumbles into a used bookstore run by Soliman, an eccentric introvert with a charmingly extroverted young daughter, Zaide. Like The Sentence, this ode to books and bookstores comes with a suggested reading list
The Gringo Champion. By Aura Xilonen. Tr. by Andrea Rosenberg. 2017. Europa, $17 (9781609453657).
Liborio has been beaten down by relentless abuse, violence, and suffering. His salvation comes in books, love, and boxing. Xilonen’s spectacular debut races along parallel story lines: Liborio’s fate after he is left bereft in the U.S. when the bookstore where he works is destroyed, and the prequel tale of his life in and flight from Mexico.
Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee. By Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior. 2nd ed. 1997. New Press, $19.95 (9781565844025).
Smith and Warrior provide a richly researched yet fast-moving look at the brief but passionate and paradigm-shifting Indian rights movement between 1969 and 1973, profiling leaders and chronicling key actions, including the gutsy takeover of Alcatraz.
The Translation of Dr Apelles. By David Treuer. 2006. Graywolf, $16 (9780307386625).
Dr Apelles is a Native American translator of ancient Native American texts when he isn’t working in a vast library, until a new translation project, a mythological tale about two orphaned Native Americans, sends him into a tailspin.
When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky. By Margaret Verble. 2021. HMH, $27 (9780358554837).
At Nashville’s Glendale Park Zoo in 1926, Two Feathers, who is Cherokee, and her diving horse, Ocher, fall through the pool into the caves below, which are actually pillaged Native American burial grounds, a plunge that engenders otherworldly interventions.
Work like Any Other. By Virginia Reeves. 2016. 272p. Scribner, $25 (9781501112492).
When former electric company employee Roscoe taps illegally into the grid in the Alabama countryside, he lands in prison, where he finds a refuge in the library while surrounded and threatened by constant brutality.
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