Between the stacks: Award-winning author releases a moving collection of short stories

While reading is a great way to spend time year round, I do think there is an extra bit of pleasure to be had in reading during the fall months.

The arrival of crisp weather and shortened days makes curling up with an absorbing book all the more appealing. Autumn also is the time that publishers tend to release many of their most anticipated new titles, and this year has been no exception, featuring many eagerly awaited titles from popular authors.

One of this year's fall titles I had most been looking forward to was "Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories" by Sherman Alexie, and it did not disappoint. This career-spanning collection of short stories highlights Alexie's unique ability to create deeply moving and thought-provoking stories that can make you laugh out loud and simultaneously break your heart.

Alexie has been one of my favorite authors since I came across his first story collection, "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" in the mid-1990s. Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian reservation in eastern Washington, and much of his work focuses on the modern lives of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest.

He is a prolific author of short stories, poems and novels, and he won the National Book Award for his semi-autobiographical young adult book "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian" in 2007.

The stories in "Blasphemy" range from stories from his first collection to recent stories published in magazines like The New Yorker. Alexie's stories do not shy away from depicting the poverty, addiction and violence that affect many Native American communities, but he explores these darker aspects of life with biting humor and a lot of compassion, letting the joy shine through as well.

He depicts a wide range of diverse characters, from successful academics to homeless alcoholics, from basketball stars to poets, as they negotiate complicated issues of identity, history and relationships.

One of my favorite stories in this collection, "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," follows a homeless Spokane Indian in Seattle who finds his grandmother's stolen powwow regalia displayed in the window of a pawn shop. He then spends the next day and night on a quest to gather the money to buy back the stolen regalia, hitting many stumbling blocks posed by his life on the street along the way.

Another exceptional story depicts the fallout a Native American writer experiences after confronting an intruder during a home invasion. The intruder, an African-American teenager, is killed, and the author is faced both with crippling guilt and his depiction in the media as a privileged white man, despite having grown up in poverty on a reservation and never having seen himself as white.

Alexie also excels at depicting complicated relationships, especially those between fathers and sons and those of married couples, with remarkable insight into the emotional ties and fraught histories that can either bind people together or tear them apart.

In the shortest (and perhaps strangest) story of the collection, "Breakfast," a man cracks an egg only to find the tiny corpse of his long-dead father inside, prompting a reflection on the persistence of grief and the impact of parental advice.

These stories explore universal themes of relationships and identity along with the thornier issues of American life, like race and class, with remarkable heart and humor. Whether you are a longtime fan of Alexie or want a great introduction to his work, this moving collection is one to seek out this fall.

Kasia Hopkins is an adult services librarian at the Urbana Free Library. She can be reached at khopkins@tufl.info.

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