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Ceremony (thoughts)

December 17, 2010

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko left me a gushing fangirl mess. Honest to God, I squealed out loud when I read the first page:

Ts’its’tsi’nako, Thought-Woman,
is sitting in her room
and whatever she thinks about

She thought of her sisters,
Nau’ts’ity’i and I’tcts’ity’i,
and together they created the Universe
this world
and the four worlds below.

Thought-Woman, the spider,
named things and
as she named them
they appeared.

She is sitting in her room
thinking of a story now

I’m telling you the story
she is thinking.

And then I turned to the next page and found this:

I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off
illness and death.

You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.

I was entranced. So by the time the narrative began, a narrative driven by the power of stories, I had already completely surrendered to Silko and the power of her writing. And oh what power it is: the novel pulses. There is so much emotion, so much truth, in these pages; I cared so deeply about Tayo and his experiences that I’m truly at a loss as to how to go about writing about it. Ceremony manages the magic of all truly great fiction: telling a concrete, specific story about one person in one place and time while at the same time capturing the larger experience of what it means to be human.

Can I just stop there? I can’t seem to find the right words. This book ripped directly into my soul. I suppose I wouldn’t call it a comfort read, but there was something deeply right about it that gave me the sense of ‘homecoming’ I usually associate with comfort reads. But I don’t want to talk too much about it, because I want each of you to discover it for yourselves. So I’ll just turn to the great Sherman Alexie, and what he has to say:

Ceremony is the greatest novel in Native American literature. It is one of the greatest novels of any time and place. I have read this book so many times that I probably have it memorized. I teach it and I learn from it and I am continually in awe of its power, beauty, rage, vision, and violence.

It’s funny, this book wasn’t on my radar at all until Gavin mentioned it offhand a couple of weeks ago. And then I got it from the library, but I didn’t immediately pick it up…it wasn’t calling to me in any spectacular way. And then I picked it up, and found it was one of Those Books; the ones that I’ll always remember exactly how I was sitting as I began to read, and how I couldn’t quite catch my breath, and the mix of desire to turn the pages ever faster to find out what was going to happen next with the desire to slow down and reread every sentence because they were all so wonderful. One of Those Books that feel like sheer perfection, and that have me internally exulting: “This is why I read!”.

I’m so glad I found my way to Ceremony. Now I want a copy for my own shelves; Penguin’s new deluxe edition please. And you better believe I’ll be reading more of Silko. Just as soon as I catch my breath.

44 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2010 6:09 am

    I just finished The Book of Flying (and although i haven’t written the review yet, you NAILED my reaction when describing one of *those* books!!)

    I’m leaning toward a NF read next because I still wish to hold on every emotion and vivid scene of The Book of Flying. But, surely, Ceremony will be the next fiction I read. (*grin* It helps that it has been on my shelves forever).

    • January 5, 2011 12:34 am

      Ohhh: I really need to read Book of Flying. Thanks for reminding me! I hope Ceremony works as well for you as it did for me. :)

  2. December 17, 2010 9:01 am

    Thanks for the glowing review, Eva! I liked very much your comment – “This book ripped directly into my soul.” It looks like the book for a comfort read as well as a powerful book for you. It is rare for a book to do both. I also liked very much Sherman Alexie’s comment on the book – I think that is some raving review. I will add this to my ‘TBR’ list :)

    • January 5, 2011 12:35 am

      Definitely a rare book! I’m glad it’s going on your TBR list. :)

  3. December 17, 2010 9:48 am

    WOW! How can one not add it to a wishlist after that? :) I only knew of Ceremony because it was on a list of “Grail” novels, which involved the main character going through tasks to reach a purpose.

    • January 5, 2011 12:37 am

      Definitely a hero’s journey kind of book. :)

  4. December 17, 2010 10:54 am

    Wow, this looks amazing. I hadn’t heard of it, either, until I started reading this post, just now.

    • January 5, 2011 12:37 am

      It’s weird it’s not better known, right?!

  5. December 17, 2010 10:56 am

    What a review! I’ve been meaning to pick this up for years, and you’ve moved it right up my queue. And isn’t that Penguin edition beautiful? Thanks for the great review.

    • January 5, 2011 12:38 am

      I’m glad you liked it Emily! And yes, I covet that Penguin edition.

  6. December 17, 2010 11:11 am

    Wow – what a review. I love the way it makde you feel. I will definitely look out for it.

  7. December 17, 2010 11:32 am

    Wow. That’s a powerful review. In high school, our book club proposed this, but I opted for another title—I think it’s time to make up for that mistake.

    • January 5, 2011 12:38 am

      Thanks Clare! I’m not sure if I’d have loved it as much in high school as I do now…

  8. December 17, 2010 12:03 pm

    wow it sounds fantastic. I was just recently sent her memoir to read but I had no knowledge of this author and now I’m more interested in picking it up. (even though novels and memoirs are different)

    • January 5, 2011 12:39 am

      I didn’t realise she had a memoir out! Jealous of your copy. :)

  9. December 17, 2010 12:13 pm

    I love your review of this book ~ your enthusiasm and passion are contagious! Now I feel I must check this out from the library at the first opportunity!

  10. December 17, 2010 12:20 pm

    So you know I’m adding this to my TBR and wish lists, right? :-) I love this review, Eva. It’s so funny that I just checked out Silko’s memoir, The Turquoise Ledge. Now I can’t wait to read it!

    • December 17, 2010 12:47 pm

      I just put The Turquoise Ledge on my nook. :)

      Silko’s one of those writers I keep meaning to read, but haven’t yet. I will definitely be reading her work in 2011.

      • December 18, 2010 9:50 am

        If you end up reading it before me, let me know what you think of it!

    • January 5, 2011 12:39 am

      It sounds like everyone has her memoir but me! ;) Great title. And Vasilly, I think you’ll love it.

  11. December 17, 2010 3:13 pm

    Wow! I love to read Native American literature. How the heck did this one get by me?? Well, it is at the top of my list now!

    • January 5, 2011 12:40 am

      I know, right?! The more I explore Native American lit, the more I fall in love with it.

  12. December 17, 2010 5:10 pm

    This post makes me so happy. This novel is actually on my project list as a modern classic and I cannot tell you how excited I am now to read it. So excited that I am going to go purchase a copy asap. I love glowing reviews and I can’t wait to read this for myself!

    • January 5, 2011 12:40 am

      Glad I could make you happy! Can’t wait to see your thoughts. :)

  13. December 17, 2010 7:23 pm

    I took a class on Native American literature when I was younger; sadly, I only remember a little of what we read, but this was one of them and has stuck with me. Powerful indeed! Your enthusiasm makes me want to read it again.

  14. December 17, 2010 8:05 pm

    What a wonderful review! I can feel your excitement from all the way up in PA. I can’t very well ignore you AND Sherman Alexie, so I’m adding it to my TBR right now!

    I also have to say, I absolutely LOVE the way you describe that feeling of opening a book and realizing it’s one of Those Books. It’s spot on. Reading it, I could feel all the steps one goes through!

    • January 5, 2011 12:43 am

      I knew invoking Alexie would get people to want to read it. ;) And I’m so glad you agree about Those Books: such a priceless experience.

  15. December 18, 2010 1:06 pm

    I want to read this book ridiculously bad. My husband is full Native American and I’ve always been interested in Native American literature.

  16. December 18, 2010 3:23 pm

    Wow, Eva. I’m so glad you loved this one. My husband claims “Ceremony” changed his life. Thank you for the link:)

    • January 5, 2011 12:44 am

      I completely understand your husband’s perspective!

  17. December 19, 2010 6:10 pm

    I hadn’t heard of this book previously but I’m certainly hoping to find a copy now! It sounds great.

    • January 5, 2011 12:46 am

      I think it’s definitely an Amy book! Also, I’m not sure when you changed your profile pic, but I heart it. :)

  18. December 20, 2010 6:58 pm

    I read this book for a marginalized writers class in college and I loved it. I didn’t keep many books from college, but this is one that I did keep, and one that I keep meaning to go back and reread.

    • January 5, 2011 12:46 am

      That sounds like a really neat class! What other books did you read?

  19. December 21, 2010 12:43 pm

    It sounds like this book had a profound effect on you. I’m adding it to my list and hope to have the same strong, positive reaction to it.


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