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Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  776 ratings  ·  107 reviews
For more than twenty years Louise Erdrich has dazzled readers with the intricately wrought, deeply poetic novels which have won her a place among today's finest writers. Her nonfiction is equally eloquent, and this lovely memoir offers a vivid glimpse of the landscape, the people, and the long tradition of storytelling that give her work its magical, elemental force.

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Hardcover, 192 pages
Published June 1st 2003 by National Geographic
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Jan 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Really 3.5 stars. Somewhere on Rainy Lake, which borders Minnesota and Canada and reaches further north into the wilderness, there is one island among 1600 that has on it over 10,000 books. An Ojibwe bibliophile collected these over the course of a long life. Now, if you've ever paddled in the Boundary Waters Wilderness, or if you ever do, think about that. The is very harsh country. Winters can be bitterly cold and snowy and summers are often wet and rarely overly hot. It's also quite beautiful ...more
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This memoir transported me to places I would love to visit.

And I feel like I have with the wisdom and knowledge to have some understanding of the painted rocks and the messages they still share hundreds or thousands of years later.

I particularly connected to the Ojibwe tradition of storytelling and was absolutely amazed by the wealth of the language. A language you could learn all your life and never completely conquer.

Erdrich's travels with her small daughter from island to island and her
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: native-american
I enjoyed reading this book in anticipation of spending a week at Mallard Island. Louise Erdrich writes about her time there on pages 100-131. Her love for books--Mazanibaganjigan in Ojibwe--comes through as both a cultural practice dating back to 2000BC in North America and also as a current obsession that engages her wherever she travels. I loved reading this book, not only because of the place, the books, the language, but also because her baby is with her throughout her travels. I love the ...more
Apr 29, 2012 rated it liked it
A good one-day read. Based on Erdrich’s trip to islands in Lake of the Woods (northern Minnesota and southern Ontario), especially the island where the Ernest Oberholtzer foundation is located. Oberholtzer was a friend of nature and the Ojibwe people. At his death, he left behind a large book collection that Erdrich introduces to us. In addition, she gives us interesting commentary on Ojibwe rock art, language, and culture throughout the book. One of my favorite examples is her discussion of ...more
This is another book I can't really describe - perhaps the non-fiction equivalent to If on a Winter's Night, though not nearly as strange. It's almost a thought journal, with observations on motherhood and riding in a canoe, on driving an old and beloved vehicle, on reading and wood ticks and the peculiar joys of Anishinaabemowin. It reads as if free-form, but it's clearly thought out and organised. If you're interested at all in the culture and language of the Ojibwe or the northern woods, you ...more
Logan Streondj
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very cute short narrative non fiction taking us to various islands in ojibwe country and talks about the authors love of books, as well as her baby on the adventure.
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Warming, calming, lovely spiritual tones to this story. I particularly loved the concept of, “The books we bring to strange places become guides and prevailing metaphors, catch-alls, lenses for new experiences.” A very timely thought at this place and stage in my life....

I also loved the description of the difference between the bibliophile and the I work on gracefully letting go of treasured books in my life and letting them find their way to their new homes.
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I had never read anything by Louise Erdrich before, but I knew right away, from the first paragraph --
My travels have become so focused on books and islands that the two have merged for me. Books, islands. Islands, books. Lake of the Woods in Ontario and Minnesota has 14,000 islands. Some of them are painted islands, the rocks bearing signs ranging from a few hundred to more than a thousand years old. So these islands, which I'm longing to read, are books in themselves...
--that I had to read
Jul 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I bought this signed copy at Louise Erdich's bookstore as a treasured gift. It was a book that my husband read before I got a chance to read it! This despite the fact I have read so many of her books, but I had not read this. It was a beautifully written journey into Northern Minnesota, a baby in tow, discovering pictured rocks, and Ojibwe history. You need to read this to appreciate all the lore that Louise Erdich brings to her writing, and the parts she shares with readers about herself. Very ...more
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Cogent meditation on culture and language to stretch the heart and mind! An island of books! I wish I hadn't taken it back to the library today so I could go back and live in the book again now.
Dan Clore
This thin volume makes fast and fascinating reading as the author explores her ethnic background and books. Here's some quotes:

"As I stand before the painting, I come to believe that the horned figure is a self-portrait of the artist. Books. Why? So we can talk to you even though we are dead. He we are, the writer and I, regarding each other."

"Ojibwemowin is also a language of human relationships. Two-thirds of the words are verbs, and for each verb, there are countless forms. This sounds
Vel Veeter
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cbr-9
I am not sure I would recommend this book to someone as a starter for Louise Erdrich. I do think I would recommend it as an interesting journey around upper Minnesota/southern Ontario/Manitoba. And I would definitely recommend it to someone seeing a somewhat more open side of Erdrich.

In this short travel narrative, Louise Erdrich travels around the physical terrain of Ojibwe Country at the intersection of Manitoba, Minnesota, and Ontario, but also in the more metaphysical world of history,
Jaime Morse
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It’s hard to reduce the intimately personal interest from this book so I’ll make the most of this VERY FIRST REVIEW for #TheScript.
Well-known and prolific #Ojibway #German author, #LouiseErdrich employs a smooth and easy-going style of writing. #Erdrich can make the most mundane seem interesting and the most intimate moments near tangible. Her writing is captivating in a way that curiously glancing through a window during a family dinner time on your evening stroll can be. Out of basic
Catherine Newell
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
As someone recently remarked on a fantastic hour of the NPR show 1A -- in an episode devoted to romance novels (which I don't read, but really: it was a wonderful episode!) -- "The world is a dumpster fire and sometimes we just need something with a happy ending." Or words to that effect. While this book doesn't have an ending, per se, it gave me that same sense of lightness and joy.

Books, indeed!

I am so grateful to have fanned out across the Lake of the Woods with Erdrich and her family, to
Aimée Medina
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I learned so much about the Ojibwe culture and the Islands of the Ojibwe Country. This book was a lovely mix of part memoir, essay, and her love of books. I flew this treat of a conversation with my favorite author. If you love learning about other cultures and a lover of books, read this book. My favorite quote was at the end when she asked the question: What book would you take to a desert island? To have only one book to read over and over. Her solution was a dictionary. She also answers the ...more
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Spending every summer vacation of my childhood in northern Minnesota, it was common for us to go to Powwows, as were on the edge of the Chippewa (Ojibwe) National Forest. So, that tribe is near and dear to my heart, which is why I love Erdrich's books and bookstore. This story tells of her trip back to Canada, to visit the land of her ancestors. Lake of the Woods is home to two special islands. One with ancient painted rocks, and one where a kind, old, eccentric man collected thousands of books. ...more
Sarah Rigg
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poc-authors
Part of a National Geographic literary travel book series, this is an account of traveling to Lake in the Woods in Minnesota and Canada, visiting the rock paintings of the Ojibwe tribe with her baby and the baby's father. These paintings are like "books" to the Ojibwe. She also visits a museum made of the library of an white man who loved native culture and collected many books and about natives. It's very much a meditation both on place and about the importance of books. A delightful book from ...more
Kate McCartney
Erdrich takes a journey out of love of books and her people. An incredible journey through an region I didn't even know about and it's importance to a people almost all but physically removed from it. The treatment of the First Nations through Canada and the United States is tragic.

Another book I may not have gotten around to reading if not for the Read Harder Challenge.

2017 Read Harder Challenge- Read a book about books
While I'm not usually a huge fan of books about books, I did really like how Erdrich drew from Ojibwemowin, Ojibwe culture, and the natural landscape to talk how they inform each other, how the Ojibwe have always been bookish, and her own experience with books. This had a hazy, stream-of-consciousness feel, as if Erdrich was quite in the middle of all this as she wrote with little editing (not in a bad way), and I enjoyed her gentle humor whenever it popped up along the way.
Mary Waugaman
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is excellent for anyone who wants to know more about the craft of storytelling and the mechanics of language. The author tells us the story of her pilgrimage to an island dedicated to books. As she travels she reveals her perspective of literature and the story of her people, the Ojibwe. She encapsulates her journey so well you can almost trick yourself into believing you’ve been to the island too. Thank you, Louise Erdrich.
John Geary
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting book, it’s part travelogue , part memoir, part collection of essays and observations about disappearing culture. Easy book to read, but one that gives pause to think about many of the ideas presented in it.
One of the best things about it is the fact that it mentions other books - giving me ideas for at least four other books that I would like to read!
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-books
I got this on Kindle from the library. I love Louise Erdrich’s writing and while there was a certain unfinished/journal exercise quality to this book, I loved it anyway. She’s so descriptive and I love her gentle incorporation of her mothering into her tale. I liked learning about the Ojibwe language and reflecting on culture, time, and place.
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A slim volume recounting her road and canoe trip in the early 00s with her late life baby through what white people call Lake of the Woods, ancestral home of the Ojibwa, her mother’s people. She asks throughout the book: “Books. Why?” One of her answers: “So you can talk to people without having to meet them.” This intimate volume feels like you’re hanging out with her. Captivating.
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting peek at her life and background. Short memoir style takes you to a few places that are meaningful to her, and shows how important her heritage is to her. Beautiful descriptions bring sacred rock paintings to life, and make you want to visit the island of books. Overall helps explain "where she's coming from" re: the settings and peoples that feature in her novels.
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for any Erdrich fan. Like one of the previous reviewers, I bought a signed copy of this book while on vacation in Minneapolis at Birchbark Books. Erdirch takes readers on a physical, personal and spiritual journey through northern Minnesota and Canada in characteristic compelling and lyrical prose.
This was a great read. I loved all the little details and her journey from Red Lake to Lake of the Woods. The descriptions she gave were excellent, along with the stories related to the rock paintings.
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I really wanted to love this book, but I really had a hard time keeping track of all the details and pronunciations - I spent a good bit of the reading time looking things up. The story feels rather disjointed as well, she jumps around a bit. For me, this was not the best of Louise Erdrich.
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have to say I didn't love the first Erdrich I read, but I am so glad I picked this up from the library. Books and islands? Hard to argue. I loved her memoir voice; learning about the bookstore she runs; her reflections on being a mother later in life. A good prep for the book I'm reading now.
Aingeal Stone
A memoir, short, describing her visits to Lake of the Woods' islands, her relationship to books, her relationships with her lived ones, and on being 48 year old mother of an infant. Very good.
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Touching, especially the sections about her baby.
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Karen Louise Erdrich is a American author of novels, poetry, and children's books. Her father is German American and mother is half Ojibwe and half French American. She is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation (also known as Chippewa). She is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant Native writers of the second wave of what critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American ...more
“We have a lot of books in our house. They are our primary decorative motif-books in piles and on the coffee table, framed book covers, books sorted into stacks on every available surface, and of course books on shelves along most walls. Besides the visible books, there are books waiting in the wings, the basement books, the garage books, the storage locker books...They function as furniture, they prop up sagging fixtures and disguised by quilts function as tables...I can't imagine a home without an overflow of books. The point of books is to have way too many but to always feel you never have enough, or the right one at the right moment, but then sometimes to find you'd longed to fall asleep reading the Aspern Papers, and there it is.” 53 likes
“There was a time when I wondered—do I really believe all of this? I'm half German. Rational! Does this make any sense? After a while, such questions stopped mattering. Believing or not believing, it was all the same. I found myself compelled to behave toward the world as it if contained sentient spiritual beings. The question of whether or not they actually existed became irrelevant. After I'd stopped thinking about it for a while, the ritual of offering tobacco became comforting and then necessary. Whenever I offered tobacco I was for that moment fully there, fully thinking, willing to address the mystery.” 3 likes
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