Friday, March 16, 2007

Pedazos y Pedacitos

Manuel Ramos

Last week Daniel Olivas mentioned this book and I wanted to give it a bit more attention. It's a new work from Chusma House, the respected publishing enterprise of Charley Trujillo (Soldados) that offers fine literature sometimes overlooked by readers and reviewers. Here's the announcement from Chusma House about Castro's intriguing book:

"A collection of sensitive essays that depict the lives of a close knit Mexican family living first in Arvin, in the San Joaquin Valley, and later in the San Francisco Bay Area. These insightful, loving, guilt ridden, and at times very sad narratives, reveal the religious, moral, cultural, and ethical values of a young girl raised in the 1950s and 1960s in a Mexican Catholic working class home. We are told stories about a special Mexican mother-daughter relationship; about loving one’s family but needing to leave it; about living in another country and loving it; and about the role of the Peace Corps in the lives of young Americans of the 1960s. The essays cover the years from the late 1930s, when the author’s parents married and came to California from New Mexico, to the 1990s when their lives ended. In between those years their special marriage experienced intense love and intense tragedy."

"Rafaela G. Castro was born in Bakersfield, California, but has lived most of her life in the San Francisco Bay Area. She spent two years in Brazil with the Peace Corps before receiving degrees in English Literature, Library Science, and Folklore from the University of California, Berkeley. She has lectured in Ethnic Bibliography and Chicano Studies at UC Berkeley, and recently retired from the Humanities/Social Sciences department of Shields Library at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of Dictionary of Chicano Folklore."

The Aurora Central Library and the Colorado Authors League presents another workshop in the CAL Speaker Series, "I Wrote (or Have an Idea For) a Children's Story - Now What?" CAL speaker Denise Vega is author of, among others, Click Here (To Find Out How I Survived Seventh Grade) (Little, Brown & Co. Books for Young Readers, 2005) and Build A Burrito (Cartwheel Books, Scholastic, 2008). The workshop takes place at 6:00 p.m., March 29, Aurora Central Library, 14949 E. Alameda Parkway, Aurora, CO. The event is free, but please call 303-739-6626 to reserve a space.

Friends of Food For Thought, a children's literacy group that works with low-income youngsters in Denver, is recruiting volunteers and board members.

The organization has been in existence for about 14 years. Find a short description at

The board usually meets the second Wednesday of the month from noon to two p.m. in Denver.

Volunteers can work on developing participants for and planning book drives, fund-raising, marketing, and events.

For more information, Bonnie F. McCune, Library Community Programs Consultant

One of the books resting on the small table next to my bed is Murder & Other Acts of Literature, edited by Michele Slung (Book-of-the-Month Club, 1997). I picked up a pristine copy of this short story anthology at Miss Prothero's Books on Santa Fe Drive here in Denver. (Check out this store the next time you are cruising the West Side, visiting the Museo de Las Americas or the art galleries, including CHAC, or grabbing a bite to eat at El Noa Noa or El Taco de Mexico. It's address is 1112 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO 80204, 303-572-2260.)

The basic idea for the collection is that the crime fiction was written by authors not necessarily recognized as crime fiction writers. That attracted me immediately -- here was an opportunity to stretch my understanding of several writers. This book provided a chance to read mystery and detective stories by authors I respect but who are not usually associated with those genres. And what a lineup: John Cheever, Eudora Welty, Naguib Mahfouz, Alice Walker, Isak Dinesen, Louisa May Alcott, William Faulkner, Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez, Virginia Woolf and fourteen other esteemed and honored writers from around the world. For a reader this type of collection is a treasure, something to linger over while propped against a pillow with a book light the only illumination in an otherwise pitch-dark bedroom. And linger I have, limiting myself to one story each night, no matter how tempted I am to flip the pages from the James Thurber piece to the Rudyard Kipling story.

I haven't finished the book so I can't say which of the stories will turn out to be my favorite, but Mahfouz, García Márquez, Allende and Woolf so far have set a pretty high bar (no surprise, right?) The Mahfouz story, By A Person Unknown, is a troubling, ambiguous detective story centered on a serial killer whose crimes are works of heinous art. Perfect and cold-blooded, the killer appears to have no motive for his cruelty; he leaves absolutely no clues nor does he make any mistakes. He appears seemingly out of nowhere and leaves the scene untouched, undisturbed except for the blood and protruding eyeballs of the strangled victims. The horror mounts and normalcy becomes a lost ideal. The detective, Muhsin, grapples with trying to solve the crime but he realizes that, essentially, such acts of violence can never be solved, they can never be explained. Where is the reality in that?

Miss Forbes's Summer of Happiness by García Márquez is creepy. How's this for an opening line: "When we came back to the house in the afternoon, we found an enormous sea serpent nailed by the neck to the door frame." A classic tale of misdirection, the ending surprises the reader who can only say, "Yeah, that's it."

Monk is quintessential Faulkner, almost Gothic in its tone, while Allende's An Act of Vengeance reads like a Shakespearean tragedy with a depressing but romantic Latina twist.

Ah, nothing like a good murder story to stir up the literary juices. As the editor says in her Foreword: "Murder and Other Acts of Literature implies what we already know, that the pen can be lethal and that the book is indeed a blunt instrument. Thus, when those wielding these weapons are among the world's greatest and most honored literary figures, what more desirable fate than willingly, for a few hours, to allow oneself to become a victim of their artistry?"

Joellen Easton of the public radio program Marketplace sent in the following survey that she thought some readers of La Bloga might want to answer. She invites you to answer questions on their website, found here. Here's her message.

What was the impact of President Bush's Americas trip? Was this all political theater? Or do you expect Bush’s trip to affect your life or the lives of other Latinos in the U.S.? What do you expect to happen as a result of the trip? Share your insights with us. The trip highlighted some tensions between the U.S. and its neighbors to the south. Bush and Chavez's dueling tours underscored their ongoing tug-of-war for influence in the region. In Mexico, president Felipe Calderon pressed Bush for U.S. action on comprehensive immigration reform focused on creating jobs, not a fence. What do you make of the Bush visit, and what it means for relations between the U.S. and Latin America?

Joellen Easton
Analyst, Public Insight Journalism
MarketplaceMarketplace Money
American Public Media

Finally, the answer to the question I asked a few weeks ago is Jack Kerouac. If you don't remember the question, you can find it here.



Miss Prothero's Books said...

Thanks for mentioning the bookstore in the blog. A well-read young man stopped by just because of it. What would a bookseller be without the well-read?

Manuel Ramos said...

Great -- and what would the well-read be without booksellers? Thank you.

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