A luminary of contemporary American letters, Louise Erdrich is celebrated for her poignant explorations of cultural intersections and Native experiences. Born in Little Falls, Minnesota, in 1954, she is of Ojibwe and German descent, and draws deeply from her rich heritage in her writings.
Over a prolific career spanning nearly four decades, Erdrich has consistently explored themes of identity, heritage, and the clashing of Native American and Euro-American cultures. She garnered international acclaim with her 1984 debut, Love Medicine, a multigenerational portrait of Native family life, and won the 2009 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her magical mystery novel, The Plague of Doves. Erdrich received the National Book Award for 2012’s The Round House, a bittersweet, coming-of-age crime thriller, and the Pulitzer Prize for 2021’s The Night Watchmen, a spirited drama based on her own tribe’s resilient history.
In a reading list for The Week, Erdrich offered 6 of her favorite books to transport and transform. From Walter Tevis’ treacherous world of tournament chess to Hans Fallada’s sweeping saga of Berlin life under Nazi rule, dive into her recommendations below. Check out the bookshelves of other great writers right here.
Louise Erdrich’s Reading List
Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
“World entered: an overpopulated New York City apartment. This book has a veneer of ordinariness but harbors a wickedly funny set of characters — an oversharing wife and a reticent husband united in devotion to their son, an autistic origami prodigy. A meditation on marital loyalty, the persistence of bad guests, and so much more.” -LE
“World entered: chess — specifically the suspenseful, treacherous world of high-stakes tournament chess as experienced by a prodigiously talented orphan. Will she conquer the Russians, or will her demons conquer her? The ending always moves me, so I try to forget the ending. That way, I can experience it again.” -LE
“World entered: the household of a Hungarian writer who must audition for the housekeeper she hires. The two women love and punish each other, though ultimately the writer fails Emerence, the housekeeper. Emerence is an immensely powerful presence whose vulnerability is so devastating that sometimes I read just the scenes where she triumphs.” -LE
“World entered: a crowded ocean liner whose cargo includes three rambunctious boys, an enigmatic prisoner, and a toxic garden. Every time I begin this book I feel like I’m embarking on an eventful but oddly comforting sea voyage.” -LE
“World entered: the kitchen of a humble couple in Nazi Germany. When their son dies, they do something small but extremely brave. At the bookstore I own, we keep this novel stocked because people who read it come back and need to talk about moral courage. What better subject these days?” -LE
Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen
“Worlds entered: the hayloft of a flood-surrounded barn. Or a convent where the prioress is both renowned for her wisdom and might occasionally transform into a sardonic monkey. Hemingway said in his Nobel speech that the prize should have gone to Dinesen. Was he right? You’ll have to read to judge.” -LE
(via The Week; photo by Ulf Andersen)
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