Friday, August 25, 2006

¿Ya Nadie Lee?

Manuel Ramos

In this post:

Does Anyone Read Anymore?
Taibo and Marcos
Alexander Street Press
Lucha Corpi
I Guess I Sort Of Brought Some Mexican-American Culture Into My Soul
Ask A Mexican

The question(s) of the day, debated in classrooms, bookstores, libraries, and blogs.

How many people do you know who actually read books on a regular basis? When was the last time you or someone close to you read a book just to read it, not because it was a bestseller, not because you are a book reviewer or a literary blogger, or a writer? And speaking of writers, how many writers do serious reading these days? How many young people do you know who read because they want to, not because they have a class assignment or are taking a test? Are we a nation of illiterates?

I just ask the questions.

The amazing collaboration between Paco Ignacio Taibo and Subcomandante Marcos that we reported on when we were just a baby blog, along with just about every other Latino media outlet in the world, produced a novel that will soon (October) be available in English from Akashic Books. Here is the publisher's propaganda about a book that I am sure is a must read for many.

The Uncomfortable Dead
(What's Missing is Missing)
A Novel of Four Hands by
Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos
In alternating chapters, Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos and the consistently excellent Paco Ignacio Taibo II create an uproarious murder mystery with two intersecting storylines. The chapters written by the famously masked Marcos originate in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. There, the fictional "Subcomandante Marcos" assigns Elias Contreras--an odd but charming mountain man--to travel to Mexico City in search of an elusive and hideous murderer named "Morales." The second story line, penned by Taibo, stars his famous series detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne. Hector guzzles Coca-Cola and smokes cigarettes furiously amidst his philosophical and always charming approach to investigating crimes--in this case, the search for his own "Morales."

The two stories collide absurdly and dramatically in the urban sprawl of Mexico City. The ugly history of the city's political violence rears its head, and both detectives find themselves in an unpredictable dance of death with forces at once criminal, historical, and political. Readers expecting political heavy-handedness will be disarmed by the humility and playful self-mocking that runs throughout the book.

Subcomandante Marcos is a spokesperson and strategist for the Zapatistas, an indigenous insurgency movement based in Mexico. He first joined the guerrilla group which was to become the Zapatistas in the early 1980s. Marcos is author of several books translated into English, including the award-winning children's book Story of the Colors (Cinco Puntos) and Our Word Is Our Weapon (Seven Stories Press).

Paco Ignacio Taibo II was born in Gijon, Spain and has lived in Mexico since 1958. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, which have been published in many languages around the world, including a mystery series starring Mexican Private Investigator Hector Belascoaran Shayne (a protagonist in this book as well). He is a professor of history at the Metropolitan University of Mexico City. He has won various literary prizes, including the National History Award from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History.

This announcement came across La Bloga's desk:

Alexander Street’s Latino Literature a “Top Five” resource -- Emerald Reference Reviews

Emerald’s Reference Reviews has just announced the Top Five Electronic Reference Sources of 2005. Latino Literature from Alexander Street Press was on the Top Five list. The awards were announced by Tony Chalcraft, Editor of Reference Reviews.

“We have worked hard to bring librarians a great deal of content that cannot be found anywhere else on the Web,” said Isabel Lacerda, editor of Latino Literature. “Most of the content is in copyright, and the remainder is unique, rare, or out of print for a long time. It’s been a great honor to work with these authors and archives, and the award is going to mean a lot to all of them—as well as to Alexander Street Press and all our customers who use Latino Literature.”

Latino Literature is part of Alexander Street’s cluster of products in Latino and Latin American history and literature. It’s also part of Alexander Street’s drama cluster, because it includes hundreds of plays along with the poetry and prose of the Latino writers.

The authors are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American, and South American and includes names such as Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Maria Cristina Mena, Josefina Niggli, Daniel Venegas, Rudolfo Anaya, Edwidge Danticat, Oscar Hijuelos, Lynne Alvarez, Lucha Corpi, Luis Valdez, Cherrie Moraga, Carlos Morton, Alurista, Virgil Suarez, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Ivan Acosta, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Rolando Hinojosa, Tato Laviera, and hundreds of others. As of September 2006, the database will include more than 120,000 pages.

Alexander Street Press, L.L.C., is an academic publisher of online databases, including collections in, history, literature, streaming music, music reference, women’s studies, black studies, sociology, psychology, ethnic and diversity studies, religion, social theory, popular culture, film studies, theatre videos, the arts, and other areas. Alexander Street databases have won numerous awards, and the company is known for its unique and powerful organizing and indexing methods. Alexander Street Press is located in Alexandria, Virginia.


Editors: For additional information on Alexander Street Press and its products, please contact Eileen Lawrence, vice president of sales and marketing, 800-889-5937 ext. 211 or Or visit

Lucha's situation has improved but she and her family are going through dark times. So much at once - including a death in the immediate family, the life-threatening illness of her husband, and a fire that destroyed her computer and manuscripts and required a move to another house. But Lucha is one strong spirit. Here's part of a message she sent: "I have no idea when I'll get back to my writing. I have probably no more than four chapters to finish the new novel. Thank goodness I made a hard copy of the ms ... . I still have it. Perhaps now that we're moving to a house I'll be able to finish the first draft. I need to write. Only then will the world make sense again."

Those of you who pray, give blessings, or otherwise care for people in your hearts, remember Lucha and her family.

There is a very hip interview with Irwin Tang online at the San Antonio Current -- Skip The Fortune Cookies, Please, written by Elaine Woolf. Tang makes an appearance 4:00 PM, August 26 at the Borders Alamo Quarry, 255 E. Basse in San Anto. So what, you may ask. Tang is the guy who wrote a commentary about Shaquille O’Neal’s racist taunting of the Houston Rockets’ Chinese center Yao Ming. He also has published a book entitled How I Became a Black Man and Other Metamorphoses, a short-story collection based on growing up in College Station, TX. Blogger readers may find Tang interesting because of comments like the following, which I lifted from the interview:

How do you answer that question: How can Shaq be racist if he’s African-American? Well, it’s kind of like asking, if I get spat in the face, does that mean I’m unable to spit on someone else’s face? Of course I’m able to. The title of my opinion piece was “Tell Shaq to Come Down to Chinatown,” and it’s like, yeah, me walking through Texas A&M University, the Corps might run by chanting something about dropping napalm on little Vietnamese kids or something like that — which they’ve done before — but if one of those Corps guys comes down to Chinatown in Oakland and starts mouthing off, he might end up with a knife in the back. It just depends on the situation, who’s got the power. So that’s the way I see it: Everyone has power. To say that some people can’t be racist is almost like saying that some people can’t have power, and that I think is kind of dehumanizing.

Tangentially related to that, let’s talk about your time working for Cesar Chavez. What were some of the lessons you learned? I guess the main lesson I learned being an activist on the Left wasn’t all about holding hands and singing “Kum By Ya” and “We Shall Overcome.” There was just some really hardball work that was done and there were a lot of people in the union movement that were really hardnosed activists. They weren’t gonna take any crap and there was a lot of hardnosed bargaining and negotiating with growers and boycotts and just trying to threaten as much economic damage as possible against those who wouldn’t respect the unions. So basically what I learned was a more hardnosed form of progressive activism from working with Chavez. And the main other thing was I really grew close to the Latino community. In a lot of ways my racial affinities growing up were affected by who picked on me, who defended me, who was half-and-half. Well, it tended to be like this: White kids tended to pick on me, although a few of them would stand up for me. Black kids tended to stand up for me, and Hispanic kids were sort of half-and-half. And in College Station there was either black or white; there was no sort of racial identity for [Hispanic kids] in my mind until I joined as an activist for the union and I felt like I was one of the Mexican-American activists. I guess I sort of brought some Mexican-American culture into my soul.

Visit Tang's website.

Okay, I won't try to explain this. Read it for yourself. I will quote this tagline: "The Mexican can answer any and every question on his race, from why Mexicans stick the Virgin of Guadalupe everywhere to our obsession with dwarves and transvestites." A couple of places where you can find Gustavo Arellano's column are OC Weekly and



msedano said...

finding people who can read, and use a book, occupies a goodly portion of my workday. the C/S staff at my workplace make their livings talking on the phone, typing stuff onto computer keyboards, reading the results off the screen, or using an A-Z index to find key words spoken by a customer who prefers to have a C/S person give them answers rather than look it's becoming increasingly rare to find someone who can read aloud with perfect comprehension, hear an unfamiliar set of words, then find these in the index so as to guide a customer to desired information. Some candidates simply open the 944 page catalog and start scanning pages!

what is this? television's nefarious influence? elementary school teachers failing to instruct in use of a dictionary and similar indexing systems? parents whose homes have fewer than 5 books? global warming? hijole, to paraphrase a movie you may have seen, "the illiterates are taking over everything, the illiterates are taking over everything!" What movie?

sonja said...

There ARE a few of us out there who read just for the sheer pleasure of it. Both of my kids (from the time they were young, they're in their 20's now) are avid readers as well. I do think it's mostly about the reading environment at home that instills the love of reading to kids.
The closest I came to reading for a living was as the manager of a Barnes and Noble some years back. I thought I could combine my love of, and enthusiam for, the written word with a decent career - naive, I'll admit. Once you bring the exchange of money into something (especially something you love) it seems to de-value or dilute the experience. I blog about the books I've read, the ones I'd like to read but don't do 'reviews' in the Publishers Weekly, Kirkus kind of way. I just started reading La Bloga recently and you've given me a bunch more titles to check out. Thanks and keep them coming...

Manuel Ramos said...

Sonja: Welcome to La Bloga - we do what we can for readers, and writers. Thanks for your comments -I agree that the home environment can set the stage and often determine whether someone will read and enjoy it. There is so much going on in a young person's life, though, that I think that the family has to keep reinforcing the idea until it is set in concrete. So many factors can turn a young person off reading, including school, or more correctly, a teacher. But a good teacher can also go a long way to fixing whatever the home has not provided.

Gustavo Arellano said...

Gracias for the plug! Great blog!