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Read up on Native culture

Tom Zebarth

The vacation season is upon us, as evidenced by the U-turns in the middle of Main streets throughout Summit County. We love all of you visitors, but it would be nice if your operation of a motor vehicle looked a little more like the right answers in the Colorado Driving Manual. But enough of that. You want books for summertime entertainment. How about something about Native Americans?

I have three authors for you that I find entertaining and escapist. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can put your mind on autopilot when you read them, but rather that Native American culture is not like anything else on the planet. I sometimes wonder why our students need to study foreign cultures overseas, when we latecomers understand so little of the natives of this country. The first author I recommend is an old favorite, Tony Hillerman. If you’re not already familiar with the Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn mysteries, you’ve been missing classic reading entertainment. The protagonists are members of the Navajo Tribal Police, and much of the action occurs in the reservation lands to our southwest, so there is a familiar feel to the scenery of Shiprock and Farmington. I believe there are 18 books in the series, with “The Sinister Pig” the latest on my “to read” shelf. If you are just getting into Hillerman, do yourself a favor and start as close to the beginning of the series as you can. (Ask your local book dealer or go online to http://www.Amazon.com and find out what the series sequence is. Guys aren’t helpless, after all.)

There have been some excellent productions of a few of Hillerman’s novels for public television, so those of you who don’t prefer to read can enjoy the work in a more visual format. By the way, Tony Hillerman has been awarded the Navajo Tribe’s Special Friend Award, which I believe solidifies his credentials and verifies the authenticity of his work. The second author is Peter Bowen. He writes the tales of Gabriel Du Pré, a Métis Indian fiddler and cattle inspector in Montana. These also are mysteries, but sometimes they are more. Du Pré not only sorts out the clues and finds the bad guys, but also is the source of retribution and justice, of sorts. I’m currently reading “The Tumbler,” which I believe is the 11th in the series. It has a good cast of characters, good plots in a familiar setting for westerners, and a lot of humor – some of it corny – but guys like humor without the frills.

I don’t ordinarily go for short stories, but I recommend Sherman Alexie’s work. (Note to parents: Readers need some life experience to appreciate what the author is doing. Feeling like a stranger in your own land must be painful, and many of these stories contain elements of pain and alienation.) In “Ten Little Indians” Alexie has presented a marvelous set of snapshots of life as the modern Spokane Indians view it – fictionally, of course. (At least I think; I’m a naive white guy – Alexie may be laughing his butt off at the bill of goods he’s sold me.) Don’t have time to read all of it? Then pick this book off the shelf the next time you’re in the library, go to page 96, and read just the six pages of “Do Not Go Gentle.” Then tell the librarian I said it was OK to cry, and laugh aloud, in the library when the material is that good.Alexie is an American treasure, and his short stories might be just the thing for your summertime reading entertainment.


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