A book (every other) day! Day 21 and contemporary Colombian authors!

When we think about Colombian literature, we think Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But that tends to be tunnel vision, as if we were to only think about American lit and Ernest Hemingway.
Contemporary Colombian authors have added to the body of Latin American literature in phenomenal ways to paint Colombian life with words, stories, and such far-fetched tales of truth that you’d think that you were reading about another place on another planet.
One of Colombia’s challenges as a place to project its talent is the lack of a major publishing house. So there are many voices lost to the fact that there’s no major distribution for some pretty spectacular works. That said, Colombian authors looking for a bigger platform have to look into Spain, Mexico and Argentina.As with the arts, it’s an uphill battle to get things out there, but the ones who have managed to break through the barriers and hurdle obstacles are noteworthy.

Here are three of my favorite, contemporary Colombian authors:

Jorge Franco is best known for Rosario Tijeras, the tale of a woman sicario (the motorcycle-riding hitmen in the 1980s) and the dark side of life in Medellin during the 1980 and 1990s. One of my favorites of his, though, is Paraiso Travel, the story of two young Colombians who go through the “hueco” in Mexico to get to New York, then get separated and lose each other. The story of an illegal immigrant in the States is powerful. Franco’s voice is a gift in the world of literature and one that explores contemporary Colombian realities.

German Castro Caycedo, like Gabo, has a background in journalism. He’s written many chronicles about the curious, folkloric, and inconceivable realities of Colombia — everything from a gypsy witch’s power in Colombian politics and with local drug lords in la Bruja to the dangerous illegal crossing to the United States in el Hueco. He’s written about unresolved mysteries and anecdotal historical events that weave great investigative journalism with the magic that’s so proper to Colombian writing.

Laura Restrepo is, to date, the most well-known contemporary female voice in Colombian literature. She’s had an extensive career, even writing a children’s book. (So she must be good because only the best write for children).  Delirium, her 2004 novel about a man who returns from a business trip to find his wife completely mad, is the novel that gave her the extra push into the spotlight she deserves.

Happy reading!

A Book (Every Other) Day … Day 19 and Waiting for Snow in Havana

A good friend of mine lent me this book a couple of years ago … and I think it’s super appropriate to recommend it today! And now I want to re-read it because I read it with “baby brain.” (My second daughter was a newborn.)
Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Pedro Eire is a what feels like a fairytale, this-can’t-be-for-real memoir (see … I’m telling you, this is the year of the memoir for me) of a young boy who lived a life of Cuban aristocracy (with a father who was a judge who believed himself to be the reincarnation of Louis XVI),  the depression and fear he lived in post-revolution, then leaving Cuba in Operation Pedro Pan — an operation that flew thousands of Cuban children out of Cuba without their parents and plopped them in Miami. These children became “lost boys.”
What makes the memoir so poignant is Eire’s incredible voice that’s both nostalgic and indicting … a powerful way to view the world and take a scalpal to his memories to extract vignettes of beauty and tragedy and bring us along this journey he lived.

Today, I celebrate the walls that are crumbling away to creating a more hospitable, decent world.
Today, I celebrate Waiting for Snow in Havana

A Book a Day … Day 17 and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I’ve noticed that I’m on a bit of a memoir kick. It’s completely unintentional, really, since my Mom is a binge reader and hands me everything she reads. This year, apparently, was my mom’s “the year of memoir.”

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers is a hyperactive, Red Bull memoir that is a bit dizzying. Eggers is self deprecating, egocentric college senior who loses both his parents to cancer within a period of five weeks and becomes his 8-year-old brother’s guardian. Between turning a hard-wood floored home into a sliding rink and juggling work, school, his 8-year-old brother’s life and and the hormones of a 22-year-old, this memoir is a bit like reading a stream-of-consciousness stumble through life.

It’s good. It’s inventive. It’s a kind of writing I’ve never actually encountered before. And BOY was I glad to finish it because I was exhausted. It was like wind sprinting through this guy’s mind … and always being a step behind.

Eggers founded  826 , a non-profit organization that pairs students with writers to help students develop their writing ability and succeed in school. He’s a really fascinating person.

A Book a Day … Dayb 15 and Micah Kesselring

Today we deviate and I have to recommend this beautiful CD written and composed by Micah Kesselring that has stories in its notes.
Admittedly, I’m a bit of a music dud. There’s a huge gap between my Hughie Lewis and the News-slash-Cindy Lauper days and 2005 (around there). But little by little, thanks to Jango and the magic of having friends who actually CARE about music, I’m getting back in the swing of things.
I have the privilege of working with a bi-national institute that brings in a Jazz Festival and Blues Festival every year. This year, the cultural director called me last minute to translate for the blues musicians who came in. And, this year, I met my first genius. Lots of people throw that around. “Oh! She’s a genius! She’s brilliant!” Very few people, though, for REAL REAL REAL have that genius thing going on.
Actually, in my 41 years, I’ve only ever met ONE genius. This guy.
Micah so impressed me. He started playing guitar when he was 10 and went professional by the time he was 14. The Blues Hall of Fame invited him to play when he was 15. This guy … is the real deal genius guy. When he played, he was transported somewhere else … And it was magical to watch someone become music. That’s the best way I can describe it.
He became his music.
 So, today I recommend this treasure.


A Book a Day, Day 14 and Touching the Rock:An Experience of Blindness

John Hull, an Australian theological scholar, after 36 years of sight problems went completely blind. Touching the Rock is a collection of essays, thoughts, and moments he describes during the first three years of his total blindness, keeping a diary on a cassette player he has beside his bed.
Its simplicity and eloquence is phenomenal.
It’s not a “look-at-me” survival guide to being the Super Blind Man. There are no Tony Robbins moments in here. It’s a quiet, emotional and physical journey into what it feels like being a blind husband and parent; what it’s like to encounter people after years of not seeing them, and “not seeing” them; what it’s like to feel frustrated with the vagueness of language; and what things make the world come alive for him.
It’s all in the details.
It’s beautiful.

A Book a Day, Day 13 and Fat Angie

Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton Trujillo is one courageous novel with one of my favorite, most unexpected heroines in YA.
Angie is fat. Angie is the laughing stock of the entire school because she tried to kill herself, unsuccessfully, during a basketball assembly. Angie is a binge eater. Angie is gay, and just figuring that out (with the new-girl-in-town KC Romance). Angie’s sister is being held hostage in Afghanistan, and Angie’s the only person who believes her sister is still alive. Add a cruel, borderline psychopath adopted Korean brother, an MIA dad who’s too busy with his new family to bother with the old, and an icy mother who is an expert at belittling her daughter and her daughter’s feelings, Angie could’ve been the greatest, most miserable victim in YA. Everything here could’ve been a mega-flop.
But she’s not.
She’s courageous and strong. She’s flawed. She’s scared. She messes up. She forges her way to understand her own truths. She learns to see the world through others’ points of view. And, in the end, with no resolution, we still feel the change and sense of hope and strength in her.
War, suicide, cutting, homosexuality, bullying, abuse, eating disorders, adoption … all woven into a tight story with a heroine we cheer for from page one. This is one courageous novel!
I love when I read a novel that breaks all the rules and comes out ahead. (Plus, this is, hands down, one of the best covers in 2013).

A Book a Day and Cannibalism in MG fiction

“Middle school romance is hard enough, but cannibalism really gets in the way.”

This has to be my favorite tag-line of a novel … ever. Jennifer Duddy Gill found a magical way to weave the enchanting middle grade story of Ferrell Savage and Mary Vittles battling to be co-champions on the sledding hill against a new foe, Bruce Littledood, with an intriguing period of history. Ferrell and Mary must grapple with their mysterious, and somewhat horrifying, family pasts.
The Secret of Ferrell Savage is quirky with a cast of characters that kind of reminded me of Northern Exposure (This dates me. I know.) Ferrell, notoriously “lazy” and living with what seems to be attention deficit disorder tries to impress overachiever Mary while hiding the fact his great great great uncle ate her great great grandfather. Awkward.
Cannibalism in MG fiction isn’t easy to dish out. But it works here with this funny, lovely story! (Spoiler: everybody comes out with all body parts in tact!)

Day 11, A Book a Day and our dusty past

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan is one of those gut-tightening stories because it had me screaming, “Don’t do it! Stop plowing the land, you stupid, greedy, ignorant people.” This is the problem with great non-fiction. You can’t yell and prevent anything because it already happened. And it’s still just as stress-inducing.
As a reader and former student, we always heard about the dust bowl, but we read The Grapes of Wrath and about the mass exodus.
I had no idea the dust was as fine as silt, and people died of pneumonia because it coated their lungs.
I had no idea that in one day, in one particular storm, double the same amount of dirt that was removed to dig the Panama Canal (which took ten years!)
I had no idea that the dust would be ripped up to ten thousand feet above ground and travel as far as New York.

Every single page was a nightmare. And the worst parts: IT WAS ALL PREVENTABLE and IT REALLY HAPPENED.

Not everyone left.  People stayed. People survived the dust bowl and lived to tell their tales. Timothy Egan, rightfully so, won a National Book Award for this great feat of storytelling, recapturing a time that mirrors the greed and wrecklessness of today’s politicians and corporations who rape the land for the “common good.”
This is a gripping tale. It’s frustrating as hell because, well, how stupid can people be?
Very, very stupid. And it’s dotted with extraordinary facts that help paint a picture of how extreme, dangeous, and terrifying the dust bowls were.

A Book a Day … Day 10 and Gone With the Wind The Screenplay

A good friend sent me a treasure this year. It’s Sidney Howard’s screenplay based on Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. The introduction is filled with quirky facts about how Hollywood’s most successful movie EVER came together with five writers (including Steinbeck!), three (or four) directors, and filming key scenes even before Scarlett O’Hara was cast.
It’s been such a treasure to read a movie. This weekend, I’m going to watch it, and, perhaps, read along in a couple of parts so I can see how the director put the words into film.
I’m on a bit of a screenplay kick, especially because I’m insanely obsessed with Breaking Bad. I’ve downloaded several of the series’ screenplays and the more I read the more genius I think Vince Gilligan is. Just a genius, really.
This new art of reading movies is exciting for me because I love movies. PLUS, there’s something phenomenal about finishing something so quickly (it’s about one minute per page).
So … for movie buffs, what better gift than to give the screenplay of their favorite movie? Add a popcorn bucket with some of their favorite flavors, and I guarantee it’ll be the most unique gift of the season!

A Book a Day, Day 7 and the Art of Illustration and Great Storytelling

Picture books go beyond great storytelling, they’re 32 pages of art, contemporary and classic, innovative, and I’d dare say, just as phenomenal as you’ll see in most galleries. (Honestly, I’d paper my whole home in Shaun Tan).
The artistic vision of illustrators (and cover designers) is overlooked as, “oh how sweet.” But any picture book author knows that she might have to wait four to five YEARS for that “just right” illustrator to work with. They’re THAT good. And illustrators bring flavor, culture, diversity to the pages of books making this art priceless.

So today, I celebrate a few of my favorite picture books that surprised me and  whose stories and illustrations bring life to the pages. Picture Books: Not just for kids, you know!

The Day the Crayons Quit written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Schaar Idle (writer/illustrator)

NiƱoWrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

Dentro de la Caja by Paula Giorgi and Pablo David Sanchez