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Birchbark Books: Background information when reading The Sentence

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The Sentence

by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich X
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2021, 400 pages

    Sep 2022, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Birchbark Books

This article relates to The Sentence

Print Review

Interior of Birchbark Books featuring shelves of books and canoe on ceilingTookie, the protagonist of The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, works in a Minneapolis bookstore called Birchbark Books, which is owned by Erdrich herself both in reality and this work of fiction. As is shown in the novel, where the author appears as a minor character, the store serves the local community and carries a wide selection of merchandise. Erdrich opened Birchbark in Minneapolis in 2001, as a way of sharing her interest in books with her daughters. The store is located on West 21st Street in the city's Kenwood neighborhood.

Birchbark's website calls the establishment "that increasingly rare thing—a tiny independent bookstore" as well as "a neighborhood bookstore, and also an international presence." The store is not part of a chain and is not tied to a corporation. According to the site, the staff selects books carefully, stocks some books that cannot be found anywhere else and places special orders for customers. Lit Hub refers to it as "a marvel of eccentricity, warmth, and dedicated community-engagement."

The store specializes in Indigenous books and crafts, and much of its efforts are directed towards providing a meeting space and resources for Native people. As Carolyn Anderson, Birchbark's operations manager, explains in a New York Times article, "A large part of our mission has to do with uplifting and supporting Native communities...We purchase contemporary and traditional art prints, cards, jewelry, crafts, skin care and food items directly from Native American artists and artisans usually from this region."

In addition to supporting Indigenous creators, Birchbark stocks Indigenous-focused educational tools, such as dictionaries and instructional materials for learning Native languages. The store is a vendor for multiple educational institutions and assists schools in choosing books on Indigenous American topics for their libraries. Birchbark offers discounts for certain purchases by teachers and schools, and educators can contact the store directly for more information.

The interior design of Birchbark incorporates a number of salvaged and repurposed items, including lights from an old schoolhouse, a Catholic confessional referred to as the "forgiveness booth," and a cluster of real birch trees that Erdrich says her contractors found blown down in Wisconsin and brought to Minnesota via pickup truck. (Interestingly, in The Sentence, Tookie finds herself in legal trouble after having transported a dead body across the same state line.) The store space used to be a meat market and the original floorboards have been preserved. A canoe handcrafted by a friend of a former manager hangs over the table of current and favorite selections.

Erdrich comes into the store sometimes but has no set schedule, and the website requests that people not try to contact the author through Birchbark Books. However, she does sign all of her own books that are sold there. The Birchbark website is focused on Indigenous titles and subjects, while the physical location provides a broader range of books. Erdrich emphasizes the significance of the in-person bookstore experience, saying, "People are looking at you, and you're looking at actual books, so that you can be inspired and attracted by a physical book."

Interior of Birchbark Books, courtesy of Birchbark Books' Facebook page

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by Elisabeth Cook

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Sentence. It originally ran in November 2021 and has been updated for the September 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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