Monday, September 17, 2007

Books Are Good Food

If books are good food, then this guy is starving.

A few days ago, my dear friend Teresa asked me to recommend some good books by Latina novelists. I'm embarrassed to say that I could think of very few. Isabel Allende's The House of The Spirits and Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo... after that my mind went blank. I had to go to my online book club Books are Good Food to get some tips from them. I was comforted by Sara, the group moderator, who reminded me that the literary world is still dominated by white males. Sure enough, I started to jot down a few of my favorite books and I realized that most of the authors are white males. I don't want to apologize for my choices. I love the books that I picked out as my Baker's Dozen (see below). I'm just saddened by the fact that women are still published much less frequently than men, especially Latina writers. I've also started to understand that I have to take a proactive stance. I have to seek out Latina authors and buy their books if I want to vote with my dollars.

I've been doing this for years with my music selections. I love new music and I appreciate creativity regardless of race or gender but I go out of my way to support bands with women in them because I want to see the playing field leveled. I'd like to see the same thing happen in the world of literature. If you have a favorite Latina writer, let me know so I can check out their work.

I've added a list of some books to the side panel of my blog along with links to pages that will tell you more about them. I call it my Baker's Dozen because I couldn't stop at just twelve. It's difficult to explain in a sentence everything I like about these books; suffice it to say that they all gave me plenty to think about and I regard them so highly that I would list each of them among my all time favorites. I've listed them in alphabetical order.
  • A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway The internal dialogue of the main character is fascinating to me and I found echoes of it in Bukowski's writing. A timeless love story that avoids romantic cliche and expresses something true about human needs.
  • Adolf Series - Osamu Tezuka Historical thriller about the rise of Nazi Germany and anti-semitism told in graphic novel form by the God of Manga.
  • Aztec - Gary Jennings A fascinating glimpse into the hitherto unknown world of the Aztecs.
  • Buddha Series - Osamu Tezuka An epic series of graphic novels that captures the important concepts of Buddhism with Tezuka's unique blend of humor and humanism.
  • Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole Brilliantly funny and scabrous satire.
  • Frida A Biography of Frida Kahlo - Hayden Herrera This book introduced me to the life and work of Frida Kahlo. It's hard to imagine a time when Frida was not a household name. This book remains my favorite biography of this amazing artist.
  • Ham on Rye - Charles Bukowski One of my favorite modern writers, this was the first book I read by Bukowski. Even when writing about the most painful or ugly memories, there is a sweetness that makes his stories compelling. I also like the way he gives me a man's eye view every time an attractive woman enters one of his scenes.
  • Hardcore Zen - Brad Warner I studied Eastern Religion in college but I don't think I ever really got Zen. It's nonsensical riddles were usually the butt of my jokes. Warner writes about the subject clearly and with a sense of humor. This is the first book I've read that gave me a clearer idea of what Zen is about. I especially like the bit about questioning authority.
  • Love In The Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez A beautiful, romantic tale of obsession told by a master.
  • Post Office - Charles Bukowski Sums up every crappy, clock watching job you've had in your life. Bukowski as the hero of the working stiff.
  • The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky An obvious choice but well deserving of its classic status. I love the way the characters slowly reveal themselves, seeming to evolve as the story progresses.
  • The House of The Spirits - Isabel Allende I love the atmosphere and magic of this book. Social commentary, politics, feminism and generational change all come together in the framework of this marvelously written story of a family and a country in turmoil.
  • Tipping The Velvet - Sarah Waters The author captures the turn of the (20th) century milieu in this tale of forbidden love. An absorbing tale of a woman's struggle to express her sexuality and find love in a society dead opposed to homosexuality.


Anonymous said...

Here's a link that might be helpful in your quest:

On the topic of general favorites, my favorite double feature, so to speak, is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, followed by The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - two looks at similar circumstances written from very different perspectives. I also recommend Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold - deceptively simple compared to his better known work but strangely more powerful. Also, despite its status as an Oprah book, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is a book that has stuck with me due to its vividness. However, the book I come back to the most is Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. I love the lessons that Atticus imparts through his actions. We could all do well to walk in someone else's shoes more often. Thanks for raising the topic!

Anonymous said...

Other authors you might want to check out are Luisa Valenzuela, Diamela Eltit, and Laura Esquivel.

Isabella Gonzalez said...

I've had the same problem with Latino representation in literature. I went to the conference of an El Paso author and poet named Benjamin Alire Sáenz. He has an excellent piece about code-switching from English to Spanish and he let my mom have one of his books for free because she wanted to read it to her ESL students! Check him out.

Right now, in Texas it's some kind of special month where everyone in the state is supposed to read Bless Me, Ultima. I'm not really sure what the details are but on the school announcements the principal says, "Read the book everyone in Texas is reading."

Right now I'm reading A Confederacy of Dunces in Spanish -- La conjura de los necios.

godoggo said...

Well, Alma Guillermoprieto is a wonderful journalist, though I haven't read any of her books. Wikipedia says she won one of them MacArthur fellowships.

Interesting article in this week's New York Times Book Review: "Two decades after Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind,” it’s generally agreed that his multiculturalist opponents won the canon wars."

Any mainstream list of best contemporary novelists or poets is going to have at least one or two black chick up near the top.

godoggo said...

link. Alicia, I would like it if you set up your blog for links to open a new page.

David said...

Alice, don't be too hard on yourself that you don't know of many Latina writers. There probably are a lot of great ones, but the books are not written in English!

My esposa has given me several books that were translated from her native language, Portugese, and the translations are often hit and miss.

So, Alice, you work on your Spanish, I'll work on my Portugese, and maybe both of us can bring great translations of Latino literature to the English speakers of the world.

Oh, and Isabella, I'm really curious how well "La conjura de los necios" is translated. Satire seems like it would one of the hardest things to translate.

Anonymous said...

The photo of Bush is a hoax.

Anonymous said...

The photo of President Bush is not a hoax, but it was taken on 9/11 at a time when the president probably had other things on his mind.

Anonymous said...

Obvious hoax. Back-up info presented.

What else do you need to join us in reality?

Anonymous said...

But why would someone go to all the trouble of "hoaxing" a photo to state the obvious? Bush is pretty much universally regarded as not too bright, even by his own party.

Besides, I think the reason Alice used this photo is for the humor value. Bushie - by his own admission - is not the best-read head of state.

Anonymous said...

Actually, reality is again at odds with your opinion: