Monthly Archives: September 2012

Book review: Carlos Andrés Gómez’s “Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood”

Carlos Andrés Gómez wants men to stop acting like Superman.

In his memoir, Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood (Gotham), the spoken word poet uses his own personal experiences to show how men should be open to expressing their personal emotions, including crying and asking for help and forgiveness. As he writes:

“I was taught to wipe my tears and steady my expression as a kid. Don’t talk about what’s rumbling inside of your chest. Stay stoic and quiet. It’s part of the unspoken male code. ‘Toughen up, son,’ ‘suck it up,’ ‘man up’ – this is how we learn to process emotion. This is the cause of our emotional illiteracy. No wonder so many men bury their wounds and insecurities in alcohol and drugs and violence.”

Gómez has an interesting background. His father was from Colombia and worked for the United Nations, moving his family around the world when Gómez was young. His mother is a “traditional Southern WASPy American” with a doctorate in linguistics. His parents divorced when he was young, but Gómez earned good grades and served in leadership positions in the high schools he attended on the East Coast. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he worked as a social worker and teacher.

Even more interesting is the chapter called “Sex: F—king, Making Love and F—king Up.” Earlier in the book, Gómez says he’s only slept with six women in his life. But then he describes various encounters of “hooking up” in vivid detail – how Clinton-esque of him. The chapter comes across as self-serving and hypocritical – although he later concedes that he was using “the girls.”

But the book provides some interesting insights and it becomes stronger in the end, thanks to Gómez’s well-written, easy-to-read prose. Take this passage in which Gómez describes how he healed his relationship with his father:

“When I started studying acting at twenty-three it was turning point, and I realized how impersonal all of my poems had been. Why was I so passionate and loud in my delivery of all of them? … And one day it clicked: all of those poems were about my father. I had been getting up on stage for years yelling at my father. These poems had been a vehicle to heal from the hurt I felt from our relationship. From the broken promises and the move and changing schools and the family being split apart, I was screaming with such intensity, making my throat go hoarse, because I wanted to acknowledged. More than anything else, I just wanted to be heard.”

I also enjoyed his poetry – which is included in the beginning of each chapter – and I wished the book included more of his work.

Man Up is a great book for young men to find themselves – and for women to understand a little bit about men.

More about Carlos Andrés Gómez:

Gómez has performed his spoken word poetry at more than 200 colleges around the world. He appeared in the 2006 movie Inside Man and in Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry. Check out his performances here.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Happy Birthday, Gloria Anzaldúa!

Gloria Anzaldúa was born Sept. 26, 1942, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and died Oct. 4, 2004. Her 1987 book, Borderlands/La Frontera, is considered a landmark book in Chicano and feminist studies.

Anzaldúa worked the fields with her family as a child growing up in South Texas. She received her bachelor’s degree at Pan American University and her master’s and doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin.

She co-edited the book This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color with Cherríe Moraga. But it was Borderlands that has drawn the most acclaim. In an article for The Week magazine, writer Dagoberto Gilb said, “Anzaldúa transmuted scholarly writing into a kind of poetic prose that was fiercely political,” adding that she “treated the border not only as the physical presence that it is but as a metaphor of both gender and sexual identity.”

A collection of her essays, poetry and other works is compiled into The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader. Here’s a terrific profile of her from Ms. Magazine.

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Book review: Joy Castro’s “Hell or High Water” and “Island of Bones”

Class and cultural identity are two topics that don’t get as much attention as much as they should, but Joy Castro tackles the issues in her suspense novel Hell or High Water and a book of essays, Island of Bones.

Hell or High Water (St. Martin’s Press) begins with an intriguing premise. A young woman is kidnapped from a restaurant in broad daylight. The book then turns to Nola Céspedes, a Cuban-American newspaper reporter who’s assigned to investigate sexual predators in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

The book only devotes a few passages to the kidnapping that hooks the reader. Instead, it delves into the Nola’s long interviews for her article and her personal struggles. Nola is supposed to come off as ambitious and sarcastic, but I found her snobby and pretentious, especially when she talked about her job.

“I’ve got no intention of sticking around,” she says. “The plan is to write a few knockout features, get noticed, pack my bags and then take my clips to some real newspaper in some real city.”

Well, aren’t you special? In 2008, the year the story (somewhat randomly) takes place, and even today, she would have been lucky to have any job in newspapers.

I also wanted the book to be more about the potential killer on the loose than on Nola. And as a former newspaper reporter, I found the newsroom scenes could have been so much more – which may by why I’m more critical of this book than if Nola had been a police detective or a private investigator.

Fortunately, Castro writes clearly, so the book was an easy read. And Castro is terrific at bringing up class issues that many other writers ignore. In one scene, she talks to two lower-income women about sexual predator laws.

“Neither of the women has heard of Megan’s Law. Neither knows she can access a sex-offender registry online. Neither one owns a computer.”

At the end of the book, I understood more about the decisions that Nola makes. But I wished I could have liked her more.

I liked Island of Bones (University of Nebraska Press) much better. The collection of essays covers Castro’s personal life, including a horribly abusive childhood, and her career working as the rare Latina in academia in the Midwest.

The title essay examines the stereotypes people have about Latinos, such as their faith and looks. Another great essay, “Fitting,” discusses the subtle barbs of female friendships and the importance of a good spouse.

Like her novel, Castro excels when she discusses class issues. Coming from a poor background, she is amazed at the food spreads in the faculty meetings at the college at she works.

In one of the best essays, “On Becoming Educated,” she points out how academia doesn’t reach out to everyday Latinas.

“I’m a first-generation college student, here by fluke on fellowship, and the theorists’ English seems foreign to me, filled with jargon and abstractions at which I can only guess. They say nothing about wife-beating or rape or unequal wages or child molesting, which is the charge that finally got my stepfather sent to prison. They say nothing about being a single mother on ten thousand dollars a year, which is my own situation. The feminist writers respond to male theorists – Lacan, Derrida – whose work I haven’t read. I can’t parse their sentences or recognize their allusions, and I don’t know what they mean or how they’re helpful to the strippers and dropouts and waitresses I know, the women I care abut the most, to my aunt Lettie who worked the register at Winn-Dixie and my aunt Linda who cleaned houses.”

Fortunately, in Castro, women like Lettie and Linda have someone that’s writing about them.

More about Joy Castro:

Joy Castro’s first book was the 2005 memoir The Truth Book: Escaping a Childhood of Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses. She is an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Source: I checked Hell or High Water out of the library. I received a review copy of Island of Bones from the publisher.

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Book review: Junot Díaz’s “This is How You Lose Her”

Junot Díaz’s collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead), is absolutely brilliant – and just a tad annoying.

Most of the stories feature Yunior – a character in Díaz’s first book, Drownwho, like Díaz, was born in the Dominican Republic, immigrated to New Jersey as a child and teaches creative writing in the Boston area. All of these stories are told in Díaz’s unique voice that seems to be speaking to you like you’re his best friend. The voice is tormented, cynical and, to the reader, entertaining to read.

The book shows Yunior in different phases from his life, including one story (“Invierno”) from his childhood in which he is fascinated by the snow and disillusioned by his father: “I had expected a different father, one about seven feet tall with enough money to buy our entire barrio, but this one was average height, with an average face.”

But, most of the time, Yunior always seems to be breaking up with a woman or in some sort of relationship drama. “And that’s when I know it’s over,” Yunior says in “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars.” “As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.”

In “The Pura Principle” Yunior’s brother, Rafa, has been diagnosed with cancer. It’s one of the best stories in the book, and it has some of the best lines, such as when their mother turns to religion: “She’d never been on big on church before, but as soon as we landed on cancer planet she went so over-the-top Jesucristo that I think she would have nailed herself to a cross if she had one handy.”

An abusive partner is described as “a two-year-long PSA,” and a new friend is termed as “fresh-off-the-boat-didn’t-have-no-papers Dominican.”

And there’s this: “Pura was her name. Pura Adames. Pura Mierda was what Mami called her.”

While it’s a great line, that sentence also represents the book’s one flaw. Many of the women are portrayed as lying sluts. Yunior is not a saint himself, but I’d wish the women were more multidimensional, such as in “Miss Lora”,  in which Yunior has an affair with an older woman, or in “Otra Vida, Otra Vez,” about an immigrant who works in a laundry room and waits for her family to call every Sunday.

(Díaz’s frequent use of the “F” and “N” words also may turn off some readers, although I understand that language is a reflection of the working class lives portrayed in the stories.)

But then, in the last story in the book, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” Yunior begins to grow up after his girlfriend catches him cheating on her and dumps him. You feel for Yunior because Díaz captures the pain of a broken heart so well – it’s slow, it’s hard, and it’s painful. It’s the perfect ending to a great book.

More about Junot Díaz:

Díaz is the author of the 1997 short story collection Drown and the 2008 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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In the news: New releases from González and Díaz, book festivals and more

September means new books and book festivals. Here’s a look at what’s going on:

Already released: Rigoberto González’s Mariposa Gown – a sequel to The Mariposa Club –depicts the friendship between three teenage boys who want to make a splash at their high school prom with the titular outfit.

Brazilian writer Jorge Amado‘s The Double Death of Quincas Water-Bray and The Discovery of America by the Turks have received new translations from Gregory Rabassa. To mark Amado’s 100th birthday, Rabassa and writer Rivka Glachen will discuss Amado’s work Sept. 17 at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute, reports the Shelf Awareness newsletter. The Millions website also wrote about the two new releases.

• Sept. 11: Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz will release a collection of short stories, This is How You Lose Her. Here’s a cool Pinterest board by blogger Poornima Apte that shows the town and other details from the book. (She did the same for Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case and other books.) Díaz has been all over the media: dressing up in Edith Wharton-era clothes for a Vogue fashion spread; discussing his love life in New York magazine; sharing his reading habits with The New York Times; and compiling a playlist to NPR’s alt. Latino website.

Sept. 25: In the novel The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo, Mexican writer F.G. Haghenbeck writes about the life of the iconic Mexican artist.

Sept. 27: Spoken word poet Carlos Andrés Gómez discusses how masculinity is evolving in Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood.

Book festivals:

Here’s a look at some upcoming book festivals:

• Sept. 15: Houston Librofest will play host to Gwendolyn Zepeda (right), Javier O. Huerta and Sarah Cortez.

• Sept. 22-23: The National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. will feature Sandra Cisneros, Junot Díaz, Mario Vargas Llosa, Justin Torres and Maria Dueñas. Mexican-born, California-based Rafael Lopez is the festival artist.

Sept. 23: The Brooklyn Book Festival will include Carlos Andrés Gómez, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Reyna Grande, Esmeralda Santiago, Luis Alberto Urrea, and graphic artists Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez.

• Sept. 28-30: The Baltimore Book Festival will feature Caridad Pineiro and Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban.

Literary Magazines:

• Several Latino-oriented literary magazines are out with new issues. Acentos Review, edited by Bonafide Rojas, focuses on music on its August 2012 edition. The bilingual BorderSenses published its 18th volume. Lorna Dee Cervantes, Rigoberto Gonzales and Andrea J. Serrano are featured in the latest issue of the Mas Tequila Review.

• The fall issue of Zyzzyva magazine, which is devoted to West Coast writers, features works by Dagoberto Gilb and Luis Alberto Urrea.

Librotraficante:

Sept. 21: Librotraficante, which was founded earlier this year to protest the state of Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies, will host a 50 States of Freedom of Speech event in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins Sept. 15.

Writer’s Workshop

Las Comadres Para Las Americas will host a writer’s workshop Oct. 6 in New York City. Speakers include Sesame Street actress and children’s book writer Sonia Manzano, author of the just released The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, as well asLyn DiIorio, and Caridad Pineiro.

Other features:

• NPR featured the latest work of graphic comic book artist Jaime Hernandez, creator of the Love and Rockets series.

• The El Paso Times has marked the 40th anniversary of the Rudolfo Anaya novel Bless Me Ultima with essays from Rigoberto González, Denise Chávez and other writers.

• Argentine writers will now receive a pension, according to The New York Times.

Reyna Grande, author of The Distance Between Us, talked to the Zyzzyva website.

• Junot Díaz was among the writers at the Edinburgh World Writer’s Conference who condemned Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies.

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Book review: Las Comadres Para Las Americas’ “Count on Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships”

Count On Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships (Atria) is the perfect gift to give to your best friend.

The book of essays was put together by the non-profit association Las Comadres Para Las Americas and edited by Adriana V. Lopez. In a dozen essays, 11 prominent Latinas – plus Luis Alberto Urrea – talk about the power of female friendship. Some of the friends make extraordinary gestures. Carolina de Robertis, author of Perla, edits a deceased friend’s book. A teacher offers shelter to Reyna Grande, in an excerpt from her memoir The Distance Between Us, after she faces a bad family situation. Lorraine López receives advice from writer Judith Ortiz Cofer to pursue her literary career – leading to such books as The Realm of Hungry Spirits.

But two of the best essays are those that acknowledge that a best friend can often be your worst enemy. In “Anarchy Chicks,” Michelle Herrera Mulligan describes how adolescent friends go weeks without talking to each other, then become best friends again with a single phone call. In “The Miranda Manual,” Sofia Quintero nails all the subtle gestures and actions that can destroy a relationship:

“There were no betrayals or putdowns, no angry emails or shouting matches, breaches of confidences or rehashing of past misdeeds. Neither of us committed a gross act of deliberate hurt against the other. Rather, we engaged in tiny yet relentless acts of thoughtless toward each other. The little digs, constant interruptions and the passive listening typical of mere acquaintances that’s easy to ignore. When the person is usually mindful and considerate best friend, it hurts like hell.”

Most of the essays are excellent. Dr. Ana Nogales’ essay is too general to make an emotional impact, but she describes the health benefits to friendships. But Teresa Rodríguez sums up the power of friendship in her essay about activist Esther Chávez Cano:

You see, a comadre is not necessarily a close friend, but a person whose example is etched in your heart. The one you’d like to emulate, that friend who gave so much of herself and asked for nothing in return.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Happy Birthday, Américo Parades!

Américo Parades was born Sept. 3, 1915 and died May 5, 1999. The scholar is best known for his 1970 book, With His Pistol in His Hand.

Parades grew up in Brownsville, Texas, and, inspired by the corridos he heard, he wrote poetry and other stories. He taught folklore and creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where he wrote his dissertation on Gregorio Cortez.

With His Pistol in His Hand tells the story of Cortez, a ranchhand who kills a Texas sheriff after a case of mistaken identity and then spends his life running from the law. The book was made into the 1982 movie, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, starring Edward James Olmos.

Texas singer-songwriter Tish Hinojosa wrote the song, Con Su Pluma en Su Mano (With His Pen in His Hand), in honor of Parades. His name appears on schools in Austin and Brownsville, Texas. He was awarded the Charles Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1989.

The University of Texas has a great website devoted to his life and work.

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