Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review: Wrap up your summer with these good reads

Been working too hard to even think about planning a summer vacation? When you do get around to it, don't forget to bring along some wonderful books. Here are but three titles to consider as you draw up your reading list.

With ¡Arriba Baseball!: A Collection of Latino/a Baseball Fiction (VAO Publishing, $11.99 paper), editor Robert Paul Moreira gathers short stories by an eclectic group of 15 writers.

In Dagoberto Gilb's "Uncle Rock" we're introduced to 11-year-old Erick whose life is complicated by his single mother's beauty: men wanting to know her too often attempt to get on Erick's good side but he is not fooled by such subterfuge. One of these suitors, Roque, knowing that Erick loves baseball, takes the boy and his mother to watch the Dodgers play the Phillies: "Roque, of course, didn't know who the Phillies were. He knew nothing about the strikeouts by Steve Carlton or the home runs by Mike Schmidt. He'd never heard of Pete Rose." But what happens after the game puts both Roque and baseball in a different light for Erick in an unanticipated way.

In "Los Tecolotes" by Norma Elia Cantú, the narrator tells us of the doomed romance between her mother's best friend, known as La Betty, and Pablo Soler, a handsome player in the Mexican baseball league during a game in Laredo, Texas, of the 1950s. Reality pierces the romance of baseball once Pablo can no longer play the game. The narrator is a bit of a philosopher: "We are supposed to learn from our elders. Supposed to benefit from their mistakes. Or at least Betty always said it was a mistake, but I don't think so. How can a love story be a mistake?" These 15 stories are a treat, and this anthology is long overdue.

 If you enjoy a little poetry while on vacation, then check out Luivette Resto's provocative collection, Ascension (Tía Chucha Press, $14.95 paper). Resto explores many things: love, bigotry, language.

Here is one of her shorter poems titled "Surrender": "You were sexier / than / a trumpet solo / in a salsa song. / Why would anyone / say no."

An actual incident of campus bigotry inspires "A Poem for the Students of UCSD" which begins: "With the click of a mouse, / viral invitations honoring Black History Month / titled The Compton Cookout / spread like locusts on cultivated crops."

The computer age has allowed hate to spread in biblical proportions, yet another plague visited upon our society by neighbors or even ourselves. Resto is an exhilarating poet, one who does not shy away from themes that alternately make us smile or cringe with the turn of a page.

Finally, Mario Alberto Zambrano's novel, Lotería (HarperCollins, $21.99 hardcover), is a riveting debut. At the novel's center is 11-year-old Luz María Castillo, who is in state custody while her father sits in jail for reasons that are slowly revealed with each turn of a Lotería card, an image of which begins each chapter. Her keepers not only allow the silent and frightened Luz to have the Lotería deck, but they also give her a journal in the hope that she will eventually explain how her older sister ended up in the hospital.

In seemingly simple language that is fraught with a child's anger and confusion, Luz tells us about her world that includes a father who drinks himself into violence: "When he wasn't looking, I used to look at the label and see if there was a face on it like Papi's. There were those nights when his eyes would get bloodshot and I'd want to drink with him. Not a lot, just a sip, so I could see what it was like to become him."

This is a gripping, heartbreaking novel by a new writer who already understands the power of understatement and controlled revelation.

You now have the beginnings of an end of summer reading list. Go forth and plan your vacation.

[This review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]

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