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Sometimes the memory of a book is better than the book itself. It can be a little heartbreaking to reread a novel that greatly impacted you in your teenage years only to discover that the main character is whiny, narcissistic, selfish, and deluded. Or, you might realize that the language you thought was so fluid and poetic is actually sappy, overworked mush. Wuthering Heights is among one of my favorite novels, but I read it twenty years ago. I have a sneaking suspicion that the melodrama would induce more than a healthy amount of eye rolling from me were I to revisit it today. I need Heathcliff to remain who he was to my 17-year-old self.
Another book that I often consider instrumental in making me a lifelong reader is Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. I read it my freshman year in college and promptly changed my major to English and started doing that thing that English majors do when they read. You’ve probably observed it--we read a sentence, sigh dramatically, and then stare out a window for a while. Imagine my sheer joy at being asked to coordinate a library program featuring one of Erdrich’s novels. Immediately landing on Love Medicine, I began rereading and rereading again. And, the book trumped the memory of the book—by far.
Love Medicine is a novel in stories, told from the perspectives of members of the Kashpaw and Lamartine families of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Like all family narratives, the accounts are emotionally charged, intimate, flawed, and fragments of a whole. The novel’s structure makes the reader an active participant in these stories, as we listen and try to make sense of what we are hearing. And, reading Erdrich is like listening. The language is at once ethereal and earth-bound. You will find yourself reading sentences aloud to your partner, friends, coworkers, and poor, unsuspecting strangers. You will realize in the middle of your work day that you are thinking about how much you love Lulu Lamartine. You will laugh out loud thinking about Dot Adair as a member of the “has-been, of the never-was, of the what’s-in-front-of-me people.”
Yes, sometimes the memory of a book is better than the book itself. But, sometimes you get to fall in love all over again, and that’s a wonderful thing. Join us for Novel Talk on Monday, March 26th at 7 p.m. at the Central Library, where a distinguished panel of experts will discuss Love Medicine. See if you fall in love a little bit, too.