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Nov. 19, 2003


    OSWEGO -- "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven," a collection of short stories by Sherman Alexie, defeated all challengers in the choice for the book to be read next summer by the campus community under the Oswego Reading Initiative.

    Associate Provost Rhonda Mandel said the book was a clear consensus pick for the ORI committee. "They liked the quality of the writing," she said. "They thought that students would read it and enjoy it. Students who had read it really liked it."

    Voting on the ORI Web site, one of the factors the committee considered, tipped overwhelmingly toward Alexie's book. Votes in favor of "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" ran at about a 20-to-1 ratio to the next runner-up of six choices in the largest electronic voting turnout for the program to date, Mandel said.

    The New York Times Book Review noted that the book's "spare, disturbing stories trace with stark, lyric power the experience of American Indians in the modern world." A Library Journal review found that "the text brims with humor and passion as it juxtaposes ancient customs with such contemporary artifacts as electric guitars and diet Pepsi."

    The book served as the foundation for the critically acclaimed movie "Smoke Signals," which earned two Sundance Film Festival awards and a deal with Miramax Films.

    The first piece of fiction to be selected an ORI book, Alexie's collection "reads like a novel because you have the same characters from story to story," Mandel said.   

    Through Alexie's characters struggling on a modern Spokane Indian reservation, readers learn more about the plight of Native Americans, but the book's compelling nature offers wide appeal, Mandel said. "It speaks to universal experiences even as it addresses a specific culture," she noted.

    Since previous ORI selections also featured programming tie-ins to class syllabi, speakers, a film series and an art exhibition, the committee was impressed with the possibilities Alexie's book offered. A programming subcommittee will look at possibilities for projects to supplement the reading, Mandel said.

    Previous ORI selections include "Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1000 World War II Refugees and How They Came to America" by Ruth Gruber and this year's pick, Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal."

    For more information on the book or the annual reading project, visit the ORI Web site at

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