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Saratoga Reads announces new book of choice

September 15, 2014

The Round House by Louise Erdrich has been selected by public vote as this year’s book of choice for Saratoga Reads, a Skidmore-Saratoga community reading program now marking its 11th year. Saratoga Reads has also released a list of related books recommended for young readers of all levels.

Round House cover

The Round House, Erdrich’s 14th novel and winner of the 2012 National Book Award for fiction, transports readers to a literary terrain that Erdrich has used in a number of her works—the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation, a place where contemporary Native Americans and their white neighbors navigate complex interrelationships.

The narrator of the book, Joe Coutts, is one of Erdrich’s most memorable characters, a 13-year-old boy who hunts for the perpetrator of a violent crime that took place on the reservation. Though this story of family, friendship, and the search for justice stands on its own, it fits squarely in the writer’s overarching, interconnected literary vision.

The Round House is infused with Erdrich’s trademark narrative excursions into a world of spirit and tradition still central to Native American cultures. Set in 1988 and driven by contemporary issues of tribal criminal jurisdiction, the book probes the life of marginalized Indians living on the reservation.

Wrote Ron Charles in the Washington Post, “Book by book, over the past three decades, Louise Erdrich has built one of the most moving and engrossing collections of novels in American literature. Few writers have done as much to help modern readers consider the position of Native Americans within a national culture that has denigrated, ignored, and romanticized them.”

Erdrich Louise
Louise Erdrich 
(credit: Paul Emmel)

Maria Russo in the New York Times Book Review wrote, “The Round House represents something of a departure for Erdrich, whose past novels of Indian life have usually relied on a rotating cast of narrators, a kind of storytelling chorus. Here, though, Joe is the only narrator, and the urgency of his account gives the action the momentum and tight focus of a crime novel, which, in a sense, it is.”

Said Tabitha Orthwein, chair of the Saratoga Reads board, “Through Erdrich’s words and Joe’s voice, The Round House provides our community the opportunity to explore contemporary Native American culture as well as contemporary issues that know no boundaries. This book gives us a springboard for exploring topics such as justice, revenge, and coming-of-age, as well as the more sensitive, difficult topics of domestic violence, rape, and murder. Fiction has tremendous power to help us delve into real issues in our lives.”

Some 343 votes were cast by the public in selecting this year’s book from among five contenders. The other four books on the ballot were Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, and People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

Junior companion books for 2014­–15

To engage young readers of all levels, Saratoga Reads has developed a list of “companion books” to complement The Round House. We encourage families to read together and discuss these related books.

The top choice for the grades 4–6 is The Heart of a Chief by local author and educator Joseph Bruchac. In this story an 11-year-old Penacook Indian boy living on a reservation faces his father's absence, a controversy surrounding plans for a casino on a tribal island, and insensitivity toward Native Americans in his school and nearby town. As he confronts these issues, he finds himself taking his first steps toward leadership.

The other top junior books were written by Cynthia Leitich Smith, a New York Times best-selling author known for her fiction for young readers. She is a tribal member of the Muscogee (Creek) nation.

In the category of picture books (grades K–2), the selection is Smith’s Jingle Dancer, with illustrations by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. The book tells the story of Jenna, a member of the Muscogee Nation who borrows jingles from the dresses of several friends and relatives so that she can perform the jingle dance at the powwow. The book includes notes about the jingle dance tradition and its regalia.

For grades 2–3, Saratoga Reads recommends Smith’s Indian Shoes. In this collection of interrelated stories, Ray Halfmoon, a Seminole-Cherokee boy, gets help from his grandfather in finding creative and amusing solutions to life’s challenges.

The top choice for grades 6–8 is Rain Is Not My Indian Name. Tired of staying in seclusion since the death of her best friend, a 14-year-old Native American girl takes on a photographic assignment with her local newspaper to cover events at the Native American summer youth camp.

Saratoga Reads is a Skidmore College-Saratoga collaboration. For more information, visit

To learn more, visit our table at the Saratoga Native AmericanFestival, Sept. 20–21, at the Saratoga Spa State Park.

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