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 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 (Okay … days 3, 4, and 5) and a Sliver of Haiti’s past and present and Japenese Picture Brides

In Darkness I count my blessings.
ONE: I am alive. 
TWO: There is no two.

Haiti has always been one of those unknowable places to me. The only thing I’ve ever seen about it is tragedy, poverty, corruption, and violence. It’s virtually impossible to know a place, especially through the media.
My first book of the day is In Darkness by Nick Lake, an artful weaving of past and present, folklore and religion, superstition and belief, tragedy and hope.

Taken from the In Darkness Reading Guide

Shortly, an unforgettable 15-year-old protagonist, trapped in the ruins of a hospital after the Hatian earthquake of 2010, tells the story of how he became a slum-land gangster. His narrative is cut with another astonishing first-person tale, that of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the 18th-century slave who led Haiti to freedom from the French. The two are connected in deep and mysterious ways, but there is no guarantee that the story will end well.

I love reading books that teach me about history through the personal stories of the people who live it. These vignettes often tell more about a place than we can get in a documented “unbiased” history of a place. In Darkness is beautiful, heartbreaking, gut-churning, and, in the end, hopeful. And, as for Nick Lake, I tip my hat to the author who took the time to do exhaustive research to understand a place that is, on so many levels, incomprehensible.

My second book, too, gives us a sliver of history from the point of view of thousands of female immigrants: the Japanese picture brides. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka begins with hundreds of hopeful (terrified, resigned) Japanese girls who are getting ready to ship to the United States to meet their Japanese husbands. It takes us through their first nights with their husbands, the lies they were told, the loves they left behind, the unexpected loves they find in the States. We journey through their lives working in fields, as maids, working in restaurants. We live their heartbreaks when their children die, when these women are abused, beaten, spit upon and raped. We  live their struggles learning the language and adapting to a different culture, watching their children grow up to reject them and the past they so treasure. We are horrified by the way they’re treated, exploited, and thrown away by the whites, closed up in internment camps because of fear and ignorance.

A Japanese can live on a teaspoonful of rice a day. We were the best breed of worker they had ever hired in their lives …

We lost weight and grew thin. We stopped bleeding. We stopped dreaming. We stopped wanting.

What’s so phenomenal is this memoir is the memoir of thousands of lives —  snippets of experiences, unforgettable moments. It’s precise and unexpected. It’s a chorus of voices with hundreds of solos. It’s truly a phenomenal feat of storytelling. Ms. Otsuka  found a way to create layers of historical texture while honoring the thousands of experiences these women had.
I. Love. This. Book.Read it. Buy it for someone. And learn about the determination of thousands of women who struggled to survive their new world while holding onto the traditions of the old.

A Book a Day, Day 2 … Invisible Cities

Okay. So I’m the last person on the planet to read Italo Calvino. A friend lent me the book, and I was immediately entranced by the language, the crazy historical mixed with contemporary, the conversations (or non conversations) between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. Plus, I really, REALLY like to say “Kublai Khan.”
Say it.
Pretty cool, huh?
Invisible Cities is magical. It’s like reading about nooks and crannies so personal in our own cities that, over the course of the book, I felt like some of Marco Polo’s cities and descriptions were of him holding a mirror to my own. And I really had to pay attention. It’s not a lazy read. It’s short and deceivingly “quick,” but it takes time. It’s almost meditative, like Marco Polo’s telling of the story to Kublai Khan. (See, got to write it again!). 
It’s lyrical. It’s philosophical. It’s scathing. It’s satirical. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a celebration. It’s the poetry of the unspoken in unexpected friendships … It’s Invisible Cities.

A Book a day … Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty, illus. by Bryan Collier

And I haven’t even read this one yet.
But based on THIS …

and THIS School LIbrary Journal Review of Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier …


It was out December 17th and looks like a treasure!! BUY THIS BOOK! I know I am. I can’t wait wait wait to get my hands on a copy of it!!


A Book a Day … December 12th and Firstbook.org

When our society is better, our lives are better. That’s a fact. With a higher level of education, crime rates, teenage pregnancies, domestic violence, poverty etcetera, etcetera, etcetera … lower. That’s a fact. And, I’m so so fortunate that I have a home; we have food in our fridge; I have clothes, good doctors, and access to great schools. My girls live a life of privilege.
I believe some of the best gifts we can give our children are compassion, empathy and gratitude. So today, I’m shouting out for firstbook.org and their goal of bringing literature and reading to every child’s home.  You can make a donation in anyone’s name, and Firstbook will send that person a card. What a beautiful gift!  (AND … today, your gift will triple.)


(Literacy facts taken from dosomething.org )

  1. Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
    *In fact, the state of Arizona takes the results from the literacy exam in 4th grade to determine how much space the prison system will need in the next seven years.
  2. 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.
  3. As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less well educated than the previous.
  4. Literacy is a learned skill. Illiteracy is passed down from parents who can neither read nor write.
  5. Nearly 85 percent of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60 percent of all inmates are functionally illiterate.
  6. 53 percent of 4th graders admitted to reading recreationally “almost every day,” while only 20 percent of 8th graders could say the same. (2009 study)
  7. 75 percent of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest 2 levels of literacy, and 90 percent of high school dropouts are on welfare.
  8. Teenage girls ages 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty level and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than the girls their age who can read proficiently.
  9. Reports show that low literacy directly costs the healthcare industry over $70 million every year.
  10. In 2013, Washington, D.C. was ranked the most literate American city for the third year in a row, with Seattle and Minneapolis close behind.
  11. Long Beach, CA was ranked the country’s most illiterate city, followed by Mesa, AZ, and Aurora, CO.

A Book A Day … A Summer of Sundays by Lindsay Eland

We all have a little Sunday in us. We want to be noticed, to be praised, to stand out. WE WANT OUR FIFTEEN MINUTES! Right? Isn’t that what we all deserve? A life with headlines and TV interviews?
Sunday is a funny child, stuck in the middle (literally), of six siblings. And she just wants to shine. But at what price?
Lindsay Eland has created a quirky, fun, and all-too-relateable cast of characters in her second middle grade novel. It has great pacing, humor, and just the right touch of mystery.

When you’re the third of six kids, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, but Sunday Fowler is determined that this summer she’ll find the one thing that makes her stand out from her siblings.

And when she discovers a silver box in the basement of the library her parents are renovating, she might just have found something to gain her the attention she so craves. Inside is a series of letters addressed to “The Librarian” and a manuscript. But who wrote them? With the help of annoying neighbor-turned-new-friend Jude, Sunday is determined to track down the author. And when she unveils this novel to the world, she’ll be famous!

But uncovering this manuscript means stirring up secrets that some people in the town hoped to keep buried. And Sunday must decide if some things — loyalty, trust, friendship — are worth more than her name in the headlines. 

Age: 9+