Wednesday, June 17, 2015
June 17, 2015: AmericanStudies Beach Reads: Alexie’s Diary
[Each of the last few years, I’ve helped kick off summer with a series on AmericanStudies Beach Reads. If it ain’t broke and all, so here’s this year’s edition! Please share your responses and beach read nominees for a weekend post that’ll put its toes in the sand!]
On three salient facts about Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007).
1) It’s Alexie’s best book: And that’s high praise indeed. I can’t quite believe I’ve never written about Alexie in this space before, but a quick search of the blog reveals that indeed I have not. Which is an outrage, as he’s one of our most talented and compelling contemporary voices—equally adept at fiction and poetry, as well as a prolific Tweeter and a pretty great interview to boot. So I’m sure this won’t be the last time I’ll write about Alexie—but as of this moment in mid-2015, Diary stands out as the best book in this great author’s impressive career.
2) It’s a Young Adult novel: To some, those who dismiss Young Adult books as something less than Literature-with-a-capital-L, this fact might seem contradictory to my first one. But indeed, Alexie’s Diary provides a compelling case for exactly the opposite position, as it is both a Young Adult book and one of the great American novels of the last decade (and beyond). Which is an important and good thing on two interconnected counts: it reminds us that great art defies categorization or limitation, demanding that we engage with rather than circumscribe it; and it likewise highlights the ability of great art to reach many different audiences, including if not especially younger ones.
3) It’s one of our most “challenged” books: Perhaps because they recognize and are frightened by that last point, the ability of great art to reach and impact young audiences, many parents and other community members have “challenged” the place of Alexie’s book on educational syllabi and curricula, seeking to keep it out of the hands of our young readers. As I’ve written before, challenging a book’s place in school isn’t exactly the same as banning or censoring it; not all books should be read by all age groups or in classroom settings, after all. But to my mind Alexie’s book is precisely one that should be read by young readers, in educational settings where they can discuss and respond to it communally. So first things first: read it on a beach this summer, and then share it with your local middle school if you agree with me!
Next Beach Read tomorrow,
PS. Other Beach Reads you’d share?