The beginning of the year is always a time when I tend to read a lot. It’s cold outside, I have some time off from work, I’m motivated to tackle the challenges I’ve signed up for, and I have lots great end of the year recommendations. This year is no different.
The books below are listed in the order I read them.
Loving Day by Mat Johnson
The last satirical novel I read was too cynical and absurd for me. Loving Day wasn’t like that. I liked seeing the relationships between Warren and his daughter as they get to know each other at a utopian mixed cult. Like satire, there’s a lot of funny parts that had me laughing out loud and reading to Sean, especially the comic book content. On a serious note, while it is satirical, it did make me think of some of some of the thoughts my children may have as mixed kids. Here’s a quote that stuck out.
I’m not white, but I can feel the eyes of the few people outside on me, people who must think that I am, because I look white, and as such what the hell am I doing here? This disconnect in my racial projection is one of the things I hate. It goes in a subcategory I call “America,” which has another subheading called “Philly.” I hate that because I know I’m black. My mother was black—that counts, no matter how pale and Irish my father was. So I shall not be rebuked. I will not be rejected.
Silver Sparrow by Taiyari Jones
Loved this! It’s a story about a secret family told from the perspective of the two teen daughters. One doesn’t know about the other and thinks her dad and family are perfect, while the other harbors jealousy for her father’s affection and resources. I love how Jones develops her characters. Everyone has such depth.
There’s only so much that you can chalk up to coincidence. I believe in the eventuality of things. What’s done in the dark shall come to the light. What goes up comes down. What goes around comes around. There are a million of these sayings, all, in their own way true. And isn’t that what’s supposed to set you free.
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I really enjoyed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel which was recently republished. It’s a blend of YA with magical elements. Think if The Craft and Eleanor and Park (sorta – without the weird racist undertones) were set in Mexico City in the 1980s. I liked the flashbacks between adult Meche and her awkward teen self. I could see the friend group, Sebastian and Daniela, in my mind. Signal to Noise features lots of songs from multiple genres such as jazz and rock. I loved this part and was nostalgic for my college days. It reminded me of my good friends who wore The Smiths t-shirts, had Jim Morrison posters up on their walls, and were the first on the dancefloor when the DJ began playing ’80s rock en español. If you read this, make sure to follow the Spotify playlist.
You don’t get to rewind your life like a tape and splice it back together, pretending it never knotted and tore, when it did and you know it did.
Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir by Cherríe L. Moraga
I took Native Country of the Heart with me to ski club and kept reading even though my hands got cold. Moraga tells her family’s story, mostly focusing on the women, their relationships, and how they changed through time. I was touched by her honest and heartfelt voice as she shared the challenges of being a caretaker to an ailing parents while also dealing with complicated family relationships and the importance of home as country. Moreover, she explores what it means to be Chicana on Tongva land it was now called San Gabriel and the painful history of indigenous displacement. It gave me a lot to think about and I’m glad I finally read it after having it checked out from the university library for nearly two years.
It’s really hard for me to pick a quote from this one so I’ll do two. The first reminded me of my parents’ own yards and the trees my Papá Chepe planted and sitting under la mora (our mulberry tree).
Standing beneath the canopy of century-old blossoming jacaranda, it came clear to me that we are as much of a place as we are of a people; that we return to places because our hands served as tender shovels of that earth; that those yellow-peach and cream-colored roses, that wild yerba buena, las verdolagas covering the earth like loosely woven cloth to catch the steady drop of rose petal and leaf, this was my mother’s constant site of comfort.
On the word m’ija or mija:
The translation cannot possibly express the pure grounding provided by that word for a Mexican child of any age. In a gesture of familial confidence, parents and tíos and abuelitas and even strangers tell it to us. So that, in a certain way, entre nosotros mexicanos here in an English-speaking world, it denotes the extended Familia de la Raza. A child knows instinctively whom to trust (or not) when that word is relayed between generations.
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
This was okay. I was gripped by the story, Walter Mosley’s style, and how he writes about LA. It’s easy to see why the Easy Rawlins series is so popular. That said, I can’t read too many hardboiled detective novels. It gets dark and sometimes I need something lighthearted and fun.
Because in L.A. people don’t have time to stop; anywhere they have to go they go there in a car. The poorest man has a car in Los Angeles; he might not have a roof over his head but he has a car. And he knows where he’s going too.
Brown: The Last Discovery of America by Richard Rodriguez
I finished this because I am a committed to completing series. This was the third of Richard Rodriguez’s essay collection which was the least autobiographical and most pedantic. The most memorable essay was where he really gets into his thoughts on Hispanics (his word) as a group. Even though it was written twenty years ago, it still felt somewhat relevant considering the debates and discussions around Latinidad.
Hispanicity is culture. Not blood. Not race. Culture, or the illusion of culture—ghost-ridden. A belief that the dead have a hold on the living.
Feed by Tommy Pico
Tommy Pico’s poetry is sometimes challenging for me since his style is unconventional. Rather than a collection of poems, this is one epic poem in free verse filled with song lyrics modern shorthand used in texts and social media, musings on life in the universe, and scientific names in space. It sounds like a lot, but it does come together. I’ve enjoyed each poem/book for the humor, melancholy and perspective of a gay indigenous man living in New York City. That said, the book I enjoyed the most, Nature Poem, was the one I listened to via audbiobook.
I don't have a food history. If the dish is, "subjugate an indigenous population," here's an ingredient of the roux: alienate us from our traditional ways of gathering and cooking food.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
It’s easy to see why this is such a popular book. It’s set in old Hollywood featuring a Evelyn Hugo, a legendary actress who I think of as a cross between Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor. I went in not knowing much about the plot besides the title and a recommendation that the audiobook was good. I enjoyed this overall and would recommend the audiobook. My main quibble is that I don’t think we get enough of Monique’s perspective as a Hugo’s biographer. She has her own arc and character growth, but I feel like most of it is “off screen” and remains untold.
When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is "You're safe with me" -- that's intimacy.
Mestiza Blood by V. Castro
This collection of short stories was delightfully creepy. It reminded me of sitting around the campfire listening to urban legends of brujas and other creatures with a modern twist. V. Castro center’s women’s voices and fantasies of revenge against abusers, white supremacists, and corporations that create harmful byproducts. The stories are both fantastical and speculative, but also somewhat realistic. While there is some gore and it’s technically a horror book, I wasn’t scared. Okay, maybe a little.
Eulogy for a Brown Angel by Lucha Corpi
I started the Gloria Damasco Chicana detective series several years ago. I remember thinking it was a mystery novel for Chicana@ studies majors or those who enjoy history. I still maintain that, especially seeing as the first book in the series begins with the historic Chicano Moratorium on August 29, 1970. I liked this book and am working my way through the rest of the series. Warning, there is child death, which is hard to read.
When he'd shown interest in me, five years before, most of his friends had advised him to stay away from me. I was pleasant to look at but not pretty; and I was too young, too intense, too intelligent and too independent. All capital sins. Chicano nationalism and feminism didn't walk hand in hand before or during the summer of 1970.