Friday, December 09, 2005


Manuel Ramos

The end of the year means lists of favorites and bests, as well as awards and other recognition. We here at La Bloga will do what we can to spread the word on such things when they include Chicana/o Lit. If we don't do it, who will?

In Denver, the Rocky Mountain News published a spread of several pages this past weekend on Favorite Books of 2005. Luis Alberto Urrea scored with The Hummingbird's Daughter, (Little, Brown) as he did with the L.A. Times, noted in Daniel Olivas' Bloga column earlier this week. With awkward praise, the RM News said: "In this sweeping fictional epic set in late 19th century Mexico, protagonist Teresita Urrea rises from a traumatic death to become a 'saint' and spokesperson for Mexico's native people. Urrea captures the everyday, dashing convention with sensuous prose and characters who are alive in both sunlight and the stink of everyday." Characters who live - that seems to be the key to the attraction of this book. The News also listed Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez (Alfred A. Knopf) and Zorro by Isabel Allende (HarperCollins).

The Bloomsbury Review has been reviewing books, interviewing authors, and observing the publishing scene for twenty-five years. To celebrate the anniversary, TBR's November/December issue features selections by the editors and contributing editors of the "most outstanding writers and books they have read over the past quarter century." I think we might all agree that the TBR lists really mean something, given the periodical's reputation, longevity and diversity of literary interests reflected in its pages, as well as the distinguished list of contributing writers over the past two and a half decades.

La Bloga asks, "Where's la gente?" I read the various TBR articles to get the answer to that question, expecting that there would not be a repeat of anything like the recent Time Magazine fiasco and I was not disappointed.

Right off the bat, Jeff Biggers cited Alfredo Véa's La Maravilla (Dutton, 1993) as one of two "breathtaking books" that he gives as gifts more than any others. (The other one was The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin [Viking, 1987]). Alfredo Véa is one of my personal favorites, a vastly underappreciated author who dissapoints me only by not publishing a novel since his magnificent Gods Go Begging (Dutton) in 1999. Alfredo, where's the next book, man? Obviously, Biggers knows what he is talking about, so I kept reading his selections.

He mentioned a "handful of masters" that he recommends to all young writers. Included in this group are Cecile Pineda and the Chicanesque author John Nichols, whom Biggers calls "the indefatigable genius of Taos." So far, so good.

Biggers next listed "writers who have served as the conscience of the literary world and as reminders of the writer's role in the world as the poetic conscience of the nation." I can tell that Jeff Biggers took this assignment very seriously. Here we find names like Demetria Martínez and Martín Espada, whose poetry collection Imagine the Angels of Bread (Norton, 1996) "should be required reading." Martínez has been spotlighted on La Bloga - she definitely made an impression on us.

Finally, Biggers named those "younger masters whose works over the last decade or so have consistently placed them in the forefront of American writing, and whose books we will be reading over the next 25 years." Véa, again. As well as Luis Alberto Urrea, Benjamin Sáenz, Luis Rodriguez, and Cristina García. Francisco Goldman and Sherman Alexie are also in this group.

Good job, Jeff.

I moved on through TBR. Kathleen Cain mentioned Isabel Allende as one of the fiction writers who held her attention over the last twenty-five years. She also praised Gabriel García Márquez and Linda Hogan. She explained that the poet Gabriela Mistral helped see her through the darkest years of her life and she said that she treasured books that help in the deeper explorations of life, such as Clarissa Pinkola Estés' Women Who Run With the Wolves (Ballantine, 1992).

The next contributor, Janet Coleman, repeated García Marquez and Alexie but added Jaime Manrique, a member of her writing group, and focused on his memoir, Eminent Maricones: Arenas, Lorca, Puig and Me (University of Wisconsin, 1999).

Robert Franklin Gish praised Native writers Leslie Marmon Silko and Louise Erdrich, and added that without a doubt his favorite and most influential authors over the past twenty-five years are Ray Anthony Young Bear and Jimmy Santiago Baca (Martin and Meditations on the South Valley [New Directions, 1987, 2005], Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio [Red Crane, 1992]). Jimmy Santiago Baca certainly belongs on these lists. When I needed to be reminded of the power of written words, I read Martin and Meditations on the South Valley and I was reminded of the power of the writer.

Ray González is TBR's poetry editor. He made a straight-forward list of twenty-five favorite books from the past twenty-five years. Number 10 is Lorca's Poet in New York (Noonday, 1998) and number 11 is Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan (Ivy, 1990). He also listed The Book of Disquiet by the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa (Exact Change, 1991), and Altazor by Vicente Huidobro (Wesleyan University, 2003).

James R. Hepworth introduced his list by writing that compiling a "favorites" list could quickly become a fool's errand but, as Blake said, a fool who persists in his folly just might become wise. With that note of caution, he included Pablo Neruda's Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 1990) and said, quite directly, that Neruda "surpasses all other poets, including Blake, Whitman and Yeats." An unusual selection here is Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic (New York University, 2001). I thought only radical law professors and leftist lawyers read this book but Hepworth is a professor of humanities. In any event, he said that the book served as his introduction to a field that he wished he had started to "cultivate and harvest" much earlier.

Reamy Jansen listed his all-time favorites, heavy on essayists and non-fiction, but he also compiled a 2005 list. Here I found Pablo Medin's The Cigar Roller (Grove, 2005), described as the story of a Cuban exile that is a "brilliant, moving display."

As might be expected, Cristian Salazar, a reporter for the Herald News in New Jersey, had several Latinas and Latinos on his eclectic list, his "hodgepdoge," as he called it. Battles in the Desert and Other Stories by José Emilio Pacheco (New Directions, 1981, 1987); Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez (Bantam, 1982); Tinísima: A Novel by Elena Poniatowska (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996); The Magic of Blood, Dagoberto Gilb (University of New Mexico, 1993); Aloud: Voices From the Nuyorican Poets' Café, edited by Miguel Algarin, Bob Holman & Nicole Blackman (Holt, 1994); and Drown by Junot Díaz (Riverhead, 1996). Salazar also included The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.

Whew, quite a number of books, and I singled out the Latino or Native authors and works. The entire group of articles highlights dozens of excellent, beautiful books, well worth any reader's attention and a great start on a holiday gift list. I can't say I've read all of these but it's a joy to know there are so many good books out there waiting to be read, or re-read, and that the writers are getting some of the attention they deserve.


1 comment:

daniel olivas said...

excellent rundown. fine books for the holidays!