Category Archives: Features

The best of The Hispanic Reader

After two years, 83 book reviews and 219 posts, I’ve decided to end publication of The Hispanic Reader.

The ending is bittersweet. I enjoyed reading books and promoting authors of Latino literature. But I also want to have time to pursue some other personal projects. I’m especially grateful for all the readers who commented on and Tweeted about my posts.

I hope people will continue to read the blog. My goal was to make this a resource for Latino literature, and I will keep renewing the domain name. And who knows, when the time is right, I may bring the blog back.

Here are the features of the blog:

Reviews: More than 80 book reviews, from classic books by Jorge Luis Borges and Rudolfo Anaya to contemporary authors Isabel Allende and Junot Díaz. Check out my reviews of classic Latino novels and classic books by Latinas.

Features: Looking for a book about quinceñeras? Food? A particular holiday? Check out the lists here, as well as other articles about Latino literature.

Author Q&A: Read interviews with Latino writers, including children’s author Margarita Engle and mystery novelist Linda Rodriguez.

Author profiles: Learn about some of the best-known authors in Latino literature, from legend Gabriel García Marquez to contemporary writer Gary Soto.

Nation profiles: Find out about the authors and books from countries with strong Latino populations, from Argentina to Venezuela.

Links: This page is loaded with lots of great resources to Latino literature — author websites, blogs and organizations that promote reading.

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Let’s play Lotería!: Books about the classic Mexican game

The game of Lotería is hot this year. The game is similar to American bingo, but uses images — such as el gallo and la dama –  instead of numbers and letters. This year, Mario Alberto Zambrano won acclaim with his book Lotería, earning the cover of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels of 2013. Then the Texas-based fast food chain Taco Cabana co-opted it for a promotion, and Texas artist Karina Garza used the cards as inspiration for a political poster for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. But the game always has been a classic in Mexican households — and a popular subject for Latino writers. Here are some books featuring the game:

PlayingLoteria• In the 2005 children’s book Playing Lotería/El Juego De La Lotería by René Colato Laínez, a young boy learns to speak Spanish and grows closer to his abuela when he visits her and starts learning the riddles in the lotería cards.

LoteriaCardsandFortunePoems• Poet Juan Felipe Herrera created poems for each card and artist Artemio Rodriguez created contemporary lithographs as illustrations for the 2001 book Loteria Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives.

Loteria by Stavans, Villegas• The 2004 gift book ¡Loteria! features an essay about the culture of the game by noted Mexican-American scholar Ilan Stavans and illustrations by Teresa Villegas. Villegas’s website has a great section about the game, including its history.

LoteriaRubenMendozaCarambaNineMarieMartinezLotería and Other Stories by Rubén Mendoza is a 1998 collection of short stories structured around the game. In the 2005 novel ¡Caramba¡ by Nina Marie Martinez, the card game is used to illustrate two women’s adventures in getting a deceased father’s body back from Mexico.

Loteria• Released this year, Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano, shows how a teenager communicates about the abuse in her family through the game. Each chapter begins with a gorgeous, full color illustration, done by Jarrod Taylor, that differ from the traditional lotería game, but carry the same spirit.

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The Hispanic Reader is two!

The Hispanic Reader is two years today! And with our last post, a review of Javier Mácias’ The Infatuations, this blog has marked another milestone – 75 book reviews. Let’s look at these books:

MyBelovedWorldType of books:

  • 53: Novels
  • 6: Memoirs, including My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
  • 5: Short story collections
  • 4: Essay collections
  • 4: Non-Fiction
  • 3: Graphic books/Picture books

Death of Artemio CruzGender of authors:

Settings of book:

Note: Some books take place in more than one country. (And, in case you’re wondering, I kept a spreadsheet of these details.)

say-her-name-jpg-ccfb2220605708e3First book reviewed: Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman

Shortest book: Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros, 112 pages, much of which were illustrations

Longest book: The Time in Between by Maria Duenas, 624 pages

AlephBorgesNumber of contemporary books (released during the blog’s existence): 58

Number of classic books (released before the blog’s existence): 17

Oldest Book: The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges, released in 1949

Favorite title:The+Hummingbird's+Daughter Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Favorite ending: When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

Favorite book: The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

Best passages:

From The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

“If you are too blind to see God in a Goddamned taco … then you are truly blind.”

From Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez

“There’s nothing a Mejicano or Mejicana loves more than the burning, stinging pain of thwarted, frustrated, hopeless, soulful, take-it-to-the-grave love. Nothing gets us going more than what I call rabia/love of the te-juro-you’re-going-to-pay-for-all-the-suffering-you-caused-me variety.”

From The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

“I kept waiting to run into my family posting up flyers of me on the boardwalk … but the closest I came to any of that was someone had put up for a cat they lost. That’s white people for you. They lost a cat and it’s an all-points bulletin, but we Dominicans, we lost a daughter and we might not even cancel our appointment at the salon.”

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The Hispanic Reader is taking a siesta

The Hispanic Reader will be on hiatus until July. Until then, explore some of the features of the blog:

Reviews: More than 70 book reviews, from classic books by Jorge Luis Borges and Rudolfo Anaya to new releases from Isabel Allende and Cristina García.

Features: Want to read a book about quinceñeras? Food? A particular holiday? Check out the lists here, as well as other articles about Latino literature.

Author Q&A: Read interviews with Latino writers, including children’s author Margarita Engle and mystery novelist Linda Rodriguez.

Author profiles: Learn about some of the best-known authors in Latino literature, from legend Gabriel García Marquez to contemporary writer Gary Soto.

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Short and sweet: A look at Latino short story collections

May is Short Story Month. When it comes to this particular form of storytelling, Latino authors have produced some memorable and diverse collections.

AlephBorgesJorge Luis Borges: Considered a master of the short story, Borges’ works in the 1949 collection The Aleph will take you from the ancient times to the 20th century, from Argentina to the Middle East, from wars to personal revenge. One thing is certain – the ending will surprise you.

WomanHollering+Creek.wix_mpSandra Cisneros: In her spectacular 1992 collection Women Hollering Creek: And Other Stories, Cisneros writes about everyday people’s struggles – a 11-year-old having a bad day at school; a woman in love with Emiliano Zapata; a group of people who pray to the Virgin de Guadalupe (a story that inspired a play) and, in the title story, a woman who compares her troubled life to La Llorona, the weeping woman.

ThisIsHowYouLoseHerJunot Díaz: Yunior de las Casas, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, is the main character in Díaz’s two collections, 1997′s Drown and 2012′s This Is How You Lose Her (and Díaz’s novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao). You may not always like Yunior’s bad language and misogynistic attitude, but you can’t stop reading about his ordeals with love and life.

Miniature WifeDagoberto Gilb and Manuel Gonzales: These two Tejanos have produced two wildly different collections of short stories in the last two years. Gilb’s 2011 Before the End, After the Beginning shows the gritty lives of men facing tough decisions. Gonzales’ 2013 The Miniature Wife and Other Stories features men dealing with unicorns, werewolves and zombies.

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¿Tienes hambre? You will be after you read these books about food

This spring, Gustavo Arellano’s Taco USA comes out in paperback and Pat Mora’s Delicious Hullabaloo/Pachanga deliciosa celebrates its 15th year in publication. So it seems like a good time to look at books in which food is the main ingredient.

Children’s books:

delicious-hullabaloo• Pat Mora’s Delicious Hullabaloo/Pachanga deliciosa is a bilingual poem in which a passel of creatures cook up a meal. Another one of her books, Yum! MmMm! Que Rico!: America’s Sproutings, features foods that originated in the Americas.

ArrozConLeche• In a series of books, Salvadoran Jorge Argueta covers a range of foods in poetry form – Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem, Guacamole: A Cooking Poem/Un poema para cocinar, Tamilitos: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem, Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup and La Fiesta De Las Tortillas/The Fiesta Of The Tortillas.

TooManyTamales• Tamales are featured in Too Many Tamales, by Gary Soto, in which a young girl faces trouble while cooking the food; Growing Up with Tamales, by Gwendolyn Zepeda, in which two sisters learn how to make the Christmas classic; and Tia’s Tamales by Ana Baca, in which a girl makes the food with her grandmother. Baca also wrote Chiles for Benito/Chiles para Benito and Benito’s Sopaipillas/Las sopaipillas de Benito.

magdastortillas1• In Becky Chavarria-Chairez’s Magda’s Tortillas/Las Tortillas de Magda, a 7-year-old attempts to make the food for her family. The round bread also plays a magical role in Joe Hayes’ The Day It Snowed Tortillas/El Dia Que Nevaron Tortillas, which is part of a collection of bilingual folktales.

Like_Water_for_Chocolate_(Book_Cover)Books for adults:

• In the Laura Esquivel novel Like Water for Chocolate, the characters feel what the main character Tita is feeling when she makes her elaborate concoctions – and those emotions are all over the place as her heart is breaking. The 1992 movie was hugely popular.

tacousa• In exuberant prose, Gustavo Arellano reveals the origins of Taco Bell, tortillas, margaritas and other culinary delights in Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Just one question – where’s the section on menudo?

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Cascarones and carpets: A look at Easter books for children

It’s Easter season. The holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an important event in the Latino community. Here are some books about the holiday and Latino rituals:

celebrate-mardi-gras-with-joaquin-harlequin-alma-flor-ada-paperback-cover-artAlma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy cover the beginning of the Lenten season with the bilingual children’s book Celebrate Mardi Gras with Joaquín, Harlequin/ Celebra el Mardi Gras con Joaquín, Harlequín. In A Surprise for Mother Rabbit/La sorpresa de Mamá Coneja, Ada tells a story of diversity by using rabbits.

ImageIn Dance of the Eggshells: Baile De Los Cascarones, by Carla Aragón, two children learn the history of the confetti-filled eggshells that are crushed on people’s heads. This MexConnect.com story also gives some background into the eggshells.

LegendoftheCascaronThe Legend of the Cascarón, by Roxanna Montes-Bazaldua also tells the history of the eggshells. Want to learn how to make cascarones? Check out this webpage from PBS Kids and this YouTube video.

Sawdust CarpetsSemana Santa is the Holy Week that leads to Easter. In Amelia Lau Carling’s Sawdust Carpets, two Asian children visit Antigua, Guatemala, during that time and learn about its traditions – including the elaborate carpets made for the processions.

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She has the cure for what ails you: The curandera in Latino lit

Bless Me Ultima, which The Hispanic Reader reviewed earlier this week, features an enduring figure in the Latino culture – the curandera, or healer. That figure has played a role in some of the great books in Latino literature. In this great post from La Bloga, Ultima author Rudolfo Anaya and children’s author Monica Brown talk about the role of curandera. Here’s a look at some great curanderas:

BlessMeUltimaCoverBless Me Ultima – Young Antonio Marez is growing up in rural New Mexico when his family takes in Ultima, an elderly curandera. She helps heal his dying uncle, but townspeople believe she places curses on people. This book by Rudolfo Anaya has become one of Latino lit’s best known and beloved books, and has stirred controversy for its profanity.

The+Hummingbird's+DaughterThe Hummingbird’s Daughter – In revolutionary Mexico, Teresita Urrea learns healing powers from a villager named Huila. Soon, she attracts the attention of hundreds of villagers, hoping she will cure them. The brilliantly funny book, written by Luis Alberto Urrea, rivals Ultima in the amount of profanity. The sequel, Queen of America, in which Teresita’s celebrity takes her to the United States, is now in paperback.

SoFarFromGodSo Far From God Ana Castillo’s book about a mother and her four daughters in New Mexico features a whole chapter devoted to villager Dona Felicia’s remedies. Dona Felicia goes on to teach the remedies to one of those daughters, Caridad, after she is traumatized after an attack. Caridad ends up becoming a saint to villagers because they believe she has special powers.

Clara_and_the_CuranderaClara and the Curandera – In this bilingual children’s book written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Thelma Muraida, the curandera has a cure for a young girl who is afflicted with a nasty case of the grumps.

Sources: Wikipedia, Challenging Realities: Magic Realism in Contemporary American Women’s Fiction by M. Ruth Noriega Sánchez

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Happy new year to 2013 – and new challenges!

Hey, happy new year! After a two-month hiatus, I’m ready to get back into blogging.

I have a couple of goals for the upcoming year. First, I plan to spotlight each country with strong Latin American populations on its independence day – similar to the author profiles I do for writers’ birthdays. I expect July and September to be busy months.

I also plan to do a similar reading challenge as I did last year, which covered classic books from Latinas – except that I haven’t published all of the reviews from that challenge yet. I will wrap up that project in January and February.

This year, I will read classic Latino novels. Here they are:

Some of these books (Ultima, Mango Street, Oscar Wao) will be rereads for me. A few of them will be challenging reads. And some books (The Alchemist, Mambo Kings), I have been meaning to read and never gotten around to it.

I chose the books based on popularity and timelessness. These books are in the high school canon (Ultima, Mango Street), Pulitzer Prize winners (Oscar Wao, Mambo Kings), Nobel Prize winners (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Blindness), beloved best-sellers (The Alchemist) and pop culture favorites (Spider Woman).

Of course, there are some missing books. Where’s the most famous Latino novel of them all, Don Quixote? At 900 pages, I decided it would too challenging to read such a thick tome while trying to keep up with current books. Where’s Roberto Bolaño, Julio Cortázar, Juan Rulfo and Miguel Angel Asturias? Hey, I can’t read everything. The list is subjective.

Of course, the heart of the blog is spotlighting new books by Latino authors. I’m looking forward to The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales, The Five Acts of Diego León by Alex Espinoza, Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina by Raquel Cepeda and King of Cuba by Cristina Gárcia. Unfortunately, many of the books won’t come out until March. So expect to see many of the classic books reviewed in January and February.

It’s easy to get burned out from blogging, especially with a full-time job and the other chores of life (which is why I took a long break). So my other resolution is chill out a little more. If I can only produce one post a week or I need to take some time off, I’m going to do it.

To those who read my blog and comment or retweet my tweets, thanks for your time and comments. I look forward to the new year.

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At the theater: Taking Sandra Cisneros’ words from print to the stage

Vanessa DeSilvio (center), with S-Ankh Rasa (left) and Armando Monsivias (right), plays Our Lady of Guadalupe in "Milagritos." Photo courtesy Cara Mia Theatre.

Vanessa DeSilvio (center), with S-Ankh Rasa (left) and Armando Monsivias (right), plays Our Lady of Guadalupe in “Milagritos.” Photo courtesy Cara Mia Theatre.

(Note: The Hispanic Reader is still on hiatus, but I wrote this article for the Theater Jones website, which appeared in a slightly different version. Enjoy the holidays and I’ll see you in January.)

“I had to stay up to read it,” she says. “I immediately connected with it.”

So much so that Barrera adapted it into the play, Milagritos / little miracles, which the Cara Mía Theatre Co. stages until Dec. 15 at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas. Cisneros attended the opening night production.

Cara Mía is presenting the play, which director David Lozano bills it as a “holiday classic,” for the second time. The title comes from the short story, “Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” in which pilgrims come to a shrine to give thanks to Our Lady of Guadalupe—an iconic Mexican symbol who appeared before peasant Juan Diego on Dec. 12, 1531.

“The characters’ range (of prayers) reflects the diversity of life’s experiences, from problems with pimples to more serious health issues, to lost love and loves that need to get lost,” Barrera says.

Barrera was especially drawn to the lead character, Chayo.

“I found not only myself in her but the Chicanos I was running into,” Barrera says, adding that Cisneros based the characters on folks she knew. “That’s why her works are so relevant. We read them and it’s like, ‘Yes, I know this story, I know this woman.’ “

Lozano agrees.

“Everyone knows these characters from our community,” Lozano says. “I think that’s what grabs people. The more you read it, the more you start peeling away some transformational pieces that become pure poetry.”

The story illuminates the people beyond the Latino neighborhood and into the Catholic community, he says.

“You talk to Catholic people and they have their miracle story,” he says. “Their prayers are heard.”

Eliberto Gonzalez, the president and co-founder of Cara Mía, knew Cisneros and got permission for Cara Mía to present the play when it first ran in 1998. Adapting the book is always full of surprises.

“Cisneros’ works aren’t dramatic narratives, and are more sophisticated than readers realize,” Lozano says. “Most folks will get more of the sense of the everyday quality of these characters and what they live through, while astute readers will recognize the symbolism and poetic quality.”

“Her writing is very complex at times and so when you start really repeating and working through these lyrical imagery, the symbolism of such profound events, you begin [to see] a larger universe that is very real to us,” he says.

Barrera, a Southern Methodist University graduate and a San Antonio-based playwright, director, actress, artist and community arts educator, says Cisneros has seen the play before, and she was supportive.

“I think she really felt the stories and listening to them in that way,” Barrera says. “[She enjoyed] her own work in a way she hadn’t before.”

If you live in the Dallas area, you can catch Milagritos  at 8 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays, Dec. 1-15 at the Latino Cultural Center, 2600 Live Oak Street, Dallas. Tickets are $12-$30. Go to caramiatheatre.org for details.

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