Tag Archives: Diverse Books

Towards a Better History…

Pardon me while I climb up on my soap box…

Pardon me while I climb on my soapbox…

Okie dokie, now….Who watched the Bloomberg TV broadcast of the Boston Pops concert and fireworks last night?

Do you remember the montage of Boston that they’d played right at the beginning of the night?  Right after Brian Stokes Mitchell sang a stunning rendition of “American the Beautiful”, and added “sisterhood” after the line about “brotherhood”?

I know I did.  So did my cat.  And what we both noticed was that after a performance that honored not only the humanitarian goals of America (symbolized by “brotherhood”), but the determination and activism that is trying to bring us closer to that goal (symbolized by the “sisterhood”), as well as the recognition that America is made up of lots of different peoples…

…We get a montage about Boston that features images of men.

And I, along with my cat, who is himself a keen student of history, let out a huge sigh.  Not only because this kind of stuff happens all the time, because it does.  All the time.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either.  A Slate.com article last year pointed out that popular history books are not only largely about men, but are also largely written by men.  Click on the above link for more information, as well as a truly eye-opening graph about the state of the history publishing industry.   The problem with this isn’t the books themselves, or their authors (as long as they use good research practices and conscientious citations).  The problem is that these books, together, have the effect of a bullhorn–it makes it that much harder to hear any other stories being told around them.  And there are so many more stories that still need to be told.  Not only about Boston.

A painting recreating the Battle of Lexington and Concord

But Boston (and Massachusetts in general) is a phenomenal place to start telling those stories!  From the opening shots of the American Revolution fired in Concord and the riot that was the Boston Tea Party to the The Combahee River Collective in the 1970s to the being the first state to legalize gay marriage, Massachusetts has a history of producing and remembering people who change the status quo.  And to overlook that is to do a great disservice to its history, as well as upholding a troubling precedent of overlooking their contributions to history.

So let’s put together a list, shall we, of histories and people who weren’t discussed on Bloomberg TV last night, and celebrate all the people who make this area, this country, and this species we call humanity, so fascinating….

The Poems of Phyllis Wheatley:  The woman we know today as Phyllis Wheatley was born in West Africa around 1753, and was sold into slavery around the age of seven.   She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, and named after the ship that brought her to North America.  The Wheatley children taught her to read and write, and their parents, John and Susanna Wheatley encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.  Phyllis was emancipated in 1773, and became the first published female African-American poet the same year.  She corresponded with George Washington and the King George III, and wrote movingly about the rights of slaves in the emerging United States.  Phyllis Wheatley died at the age of 31, while working as a scullery maid in order to pay back her husbands’ debts.

Improper Bostonians : lesbian and gay history from the Puritans to Playland: Drawing on sources ranging from newspaper accounts to private archives, and incorporating more than 200 images, this book is one of, if not the most comprehensive LGBT city history around. Showcasing an extraordinary variety of perspectives and periods, subjects and sources, from Prohibition to World War II to  urban development to the AIDS epidemic, to tell a new and vitally important history of Boston.  The History Project is a volunteer-based organization that works to collect and preserve the history of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people in and of Massachusetts, and have a pretty remarkable digital archives on their website, which you can check out here.

Louisa May Alcott: A Biography: One of the faces that Bloomberg TV showed was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was, by far, the most well-known of the Transcendentalists living in Concord, Massachusetts in the 19th century.  But, nothing against Emerson at all, he was famous because he was the most mainstream of all the Transcendentalists.  He didn’t go build himself a cabin in the woods like his buddy, Henry David Thoreau.  He didn’t create a big scandal by implying that children had minds of their own and should be encouraged to think and contradict their elders, like Bronson Alcott.  And he wasn’t a rabble-rouser like Bronson’s daughter, my friend Louisa May Alcott.   Did you know that Louisa was the first woman in Concord to register to vote?  The state legislature passed a bill in 1879 permitting women to vote in town elections dealing with children and education, and Louisa knew that this was the first, critical step, to women gaining a voice in politics.  You can read all about Louisa’s remarkable life, and her unique family, including her mother, who worked at a shelter for abused women in Boston in the mid-nineteenth century, in this phenomenal biography by Madeline Stern.

The Trouble Between Us : An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement: Inspired by the idealism of the civil rights movement, the women who launched the radical second wave of the feminist movement believed fundamentally in universal sisterhood and a color-blind democracy. Their goals, however, remain unrecognized to this day.  Winifred Breines explores why a racially integrated women’s liberation movement did not develop in the United States, using sources as diverse as protest posters, pamphlets, newspapers, speeches, and oral histories with some of the most influential and active of the second-wave feminists.  Of particular focus in her work is the Combahee River Collective, a Boston-based organization of Black women whose published statement (which you can read here) is considered a bedrock of the Black feminist movement to this day.  This isn’t an easy read, but it is a vitally important one for those seeking for ways to improve the dialogue still taking place about race and feminism today.

Interesting in reading some more of Boston’s–and Massachusetts’–fascinating, diverse, and revolutionary history?  Come into the Library and we’ll be happy to help you find just want you’re looking for!

 

The Hugo Awards and Puppies

The nominations for the 2017 Hugo Awards were announced in April, dear readers, and anticipation is steadily building over which  novels will win.

The Hugo Award is the the longest running prize for science fiction or fantasy works, having been established in 1953.  Up until 1992, the award was known simply as the Science Fiction Achievement Awards, but was subsequently named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories.  Gernsback was also responsible for creating the idea of a ‘fandom’.   When readers wrote into Amazing Stories, their addresses were published along with their letters.  As a result readers began to become aware of themselves as fans, and to recognize their collective identity as devotees of the science fiction genre–not bad for 1926.

But “fandom” has its downsides, as well, as few institutions know this better than the Hugo.  See, the Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by supporting or attending members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, with attendees providing nominees, and then the whole group voting in a runoff vote with five nominees per category (unless there is a tie).  For each category of Hugo, the voter may rank “No Award” as one of their choices. Voters are instructed that they should do so if they feel that none of the nominees are worthy of the award, or if they feel the category should be abolished entirely.

If Jeopardy! recognizes a Thing, it is a Thing.

Anyway, back in 2013, author Larry Correia began speaking with other sci-fi writers (all of whom had been nominated for Hugos, but hadn’t won), and saying wouldn’t it be great if Correia’s novels were nominated for the Hugo Award in order to “poke the establishment in the eye” by nominating “unabashed pulp action that isn’t heavy handed message fic[tion]”.  That led to the beginning of a not-so-covert voting bloc that attempted to get Correia’s work Monster Hunter Legion nominated.  The bloc called themselves the “Sad Puppies” after a commercial for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal, showing, you guessed it, Sad Puppies, after a blog comment that equated puppy sadness with “boring message-fic winning awards”.  And just so we’re clear here, Correia explained what he meant by “boring message-fic winning awards” in an interview with Wired:

He felt that the Hugos had become overly dominated by what he and others call “Social Justice Warriors,” who value politics over plot development. Particular targets of Puppy derision include two 2014 Hugo winners: John Chu’s short story, “The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere,” in which a gay man decides to come out to his traditional Chinese family after the world is beset by a new phenomenon: whenever a person lies, water inexplicably falls on them; and Ann Leckie’s debut novel Ancillary Justice, whose protagonists do not see gender.

The movement was taken over in 2015 by Brad Torgerson, who explained, in the same Wired interview about

“…what he called “the cognitive dissonance of people saying, ‘No, the Hugos are about quality,’ and then at the same time they’re like: ‘Ooh, we can vote for this author because they’re gay, or for this story because it’s got gay characters,’ or, ‘Ooh, we’re going to vote for this author because they’re not white.’ As soon as that becomes the criteria, well, quality goes out the window.”

So the Sad Puppies coordinated, and tried to influence the Hugo nominations by presenting a whole slate of books en masse.  They weren’t terribly successful.  Seven of the twelve 2014 nominees made it to the final ballot, one nominee each in seven categories, including Correia’s Warbound.

Then, in 2015, the “Rabid Puppies” emerged.  And this where things went from generally xenophobic and unwelcoming to flat out virulence.  The “Rabid Puppies”, were led by a man named Theodore Beale, but who goes by the name Vox Day, which is a bad attempt as “Vox Dei”, or “Voice of God”.  Day is the only person to have been kicked out of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in its nearly fifty year history for horrid, racist remarks he made, and posted, directed at N.K. Jemisin (you are welcome to look them up yourself, should you wish).  He delights in being known as “the most despised man in science fiction”.   Anyways, in both 2015 and 2016, Beale published a slate of nominees, mostly conservative writers and people from his own publishing house, and told his followers to vote them. In 2016, they nabbed over 60 nominations, with four categories dominated by Beale’s picks.

Just to give you an idea of how significant this was

And authors responded.  In 2015, “No Award” was given in five categories, meaning that a majority of voters decided that not giving out an award was better than awarding a Puppy pick.  Some categories did award Hugo’s to authors that Puppies had selected, ut they were authors like Neil Gaiman, who was popular enough to win anyway.  In 2016, a number of authors declined their nominations, including Brian Sanderson who wrote a blog post regarding the issue.  In part, Sanderson said:

I didn’t like the way many of the Puppies talked. They could be belligerent and argumentative, using tactics that felt more likely to silence opposition instead of provoke discussion. In addition, they associated with people even worse…Some leaders in the movement verbally attacked people I respect and love…These awards are supposed to be about the best of sf/f. We are not supposed to vote or nominate simply for our favorite writers, nor choose things just because they advance our viewpoint. (Though things we nominate and vote for can indeed do both things.) We are to examine pieces outside of authorship and pick ones that represent the best of the community…I felt that the slate the Puppies were advocating was dangerous for the award, and against its spirit.

Seriously…

Connie Willis pulled out of presenting a prize, saying her presence would “lend cover and credibility to winners who got the award through bullying and extortion”.

But instead of giving up, or giving in, the majority of science fiction writers voted…and in the end, all four categories for works of fiction went to women, three of whom were women of color, which is pretty terrific, considering that in 2007, there was only one woman nominated at all.

It’s truly disheartening that, rather than supporting the evolution of the genre, or welcoming new authors…or publicly addressing perceived issues with the nominations process in a manner that would allow debate and discussion, a small group of disaffected people would not only attack a valued and deeply significant institution, but would take such delight in it.  Correia’s original argument was that the Hugo had become classist, discriminating against perceived ‘low-brow’ authors (we’re going to tackle this tomorrow), and while there is a very valid discussion to be had about class and ‘literature’, there is no call to punish other authors–to insult other authors, to attack other authors–because the market around you is changing.  The fact is, it’s no longer 1926, and the kind of privileged literature that could use science fiction as a vehicle for racist, sexist, and generally xenophobic messages has long passed, and the genre has grown and developed too much to go back.   And why would we want to, when there are so many other incredible worlds, fascinating ideas, and strange new futures awaiting us in the pens of new authors who are, and will continue, to bring a new worldview to the page?

After the 2016 season, the rules for the Hugo were changed in an attempt to prevent the Puppies from “breaking” the Hugo any further (George R.R. Martin claimed the award had been “broken” by Beale and his pack).  And this year’s nominations seem to be pretty straightforward, with the Sad Puppies not mounting a recognizable campaign, and the Rabid Puppies succeeding in securing only one ludicrous nomination among a spectrum of titles that have been both commercially successful, and diverse in terms of content and their author’s identities.

So maybe this year, there is hope for the Hugo.  I sincerely hope so.  You can read the full list of nominees here.

Some thoughts on the Bechdel Test

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I literally cannot wait for Wonder Woman to appear on our screen on June 2.  I tell random strangers about it.  I rage about the lack of advertising for this movie on a regular basis.  And if it is as….unfulfilling…as the other DC films in this franchise have been, I will eat my proverbial hat.

But I digress…in the midst of scouring the internet for excellent information on this most wonderful of superheroes, I noticed a whole ton of articles regarding the now oft-remarked ‘Bechdel Test’, and I had a few thoughts about it that I wanted to share.

For background, the ‘Bechdel Test’, is not really a ‘test’ in the same way, say, a ‘Driving Test’ is a test, or a ‘Blood Test’ is a test.  It is, instead, a way of thinking about the presence of women in films, the ways in which they are represented, and whether they get to be fully human.  The idea came from American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who drew the follow comic for her regular strip in 1985:

In case you can’t read it, the rules are:

  1. The movie has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.

Bechdel based her test on a quote from the great and glorious Virginia Woolf, who wrote in a 1929 essay:

All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. […] And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. […] They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that

In other words, despite the fact that real women’s lives are shaped by personal relationships with other women, very, very few forms of fiction (particularly film) represent those relationships.  Instead, women are shown as single, isolated entities who support men’s journeys.  If more than one woman is portrayed, it is usually because one (or both of them) is trying to attract the love/attention/desire of a male hero.

The Bechdel Test isn’t perfect.  To highlight one example, the assumption that any discussion of a man makes a movie “anti-feminist”.  But the point of the test has raised a good deal of debate within film circles, and helped to emphasize how far we really have to go to achieve any nominal sense of equality in our representations.  For example, an article in The Wrap cites a study conducted by by Professor Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  The study examined the 100 top-grossing films from 2015 and 4,370 speaking characters for gender, racial/ethnic representation, and LGBT status.  The results?

68.6 percent of named characters were still male, and only 31.4 percent female across the 100 top‐grossing films of 2015 (making a gender ratio of 2.2 male characters to every female). This figure has not changed since 2007.

In addition, females were over three times as likely as their male counterparts to be shown in sexually revealing clothing (30.2 percent vs. 7.7 percent) and with some nudity (29 percent vs. 9.5 percent).

Additionally, this is also a great time to talk about the enormous disparity in film makers, as well.  How are we supposed to tell new stories without new storytellers?

But in studying this material, I couldn’t help but think–what about men?  How many men can you name in film or literature that have meaningful relationships with other men?

This week, Vulture magazine published an article that stated:

…but nothing has troubled filmmakers as enduringly as the mysteries of female bonding. For whatever reason — our inherited medieval imaginations, the cycles of the moon, perhaps — in their short life the movies have been perennially haunted by a fear that when two or more women are left alone together, some kind of dark magic will inevitably rear its head.

Interestingly, though, The Atlantic published an article a few years ago that discussed the very real difficulties that men suffered, especially in later life, keeping friendships.  The reasons cited were: jealousy over friends’ personal and professional achievements, a lack of communication skills, and a society that teaches men not to express emotion.   All of which indicate to me that this gendered structure we’ve set up here is hurting both women and men, forcing them to perform to strange, unrealistic expectations that are harming all of our individual and collective abilities to make connections.

So I figured we could explore some books today that celebrate close relationships that help pave the way towards thinking about relationships differently.  If we’re going to make the world a better place, after all, it’s nice to have some blueprints!

Three Comrades: We’ve discussed this book a lot since our Classics Book Group met this book last year.  Most people were introduced to Erich Maria Remarque through his novel All Quiet on the Western Front, which focuses on the experience of young German soldiers in World War I.  But Remarque wrote a great deal more than that, including this novel, which focuses on three German veterans of the First World War and the auto body/mechanic shop they open.  The narrator of the book falls in love, yes, with a woman named Pat, but that love only brings these friends together more–indeed, rather than shunning her, or shying away from the couple, Pat becomes a member of their circle of friends.  This is a story about love, friendship, loyalty and acceptance, and is absolutely unforgettable.  Also of note here is the way in which Remarque portrays Berlin at the beginning of the Nazi rise to power.  His love letter to a world about to fall is as heartbreaking as any experience of his titular Comrades.

Boy, Snow, BirdHelen Oyeyemi is a marvel at re-imagining traditional fables and fairytales with a contemporary edge, and feminist observations, and this book is a showcase of her remarkable talent.  This story, which echoes the Brothers Grimm’s  “Snow White”, emphasizes the female hatred so often found in fairytales, but with the broader canvas of the novel, and a richer story-line, Oyeyemi has woven a tale of racial tensions, familial jealousies, and complex relationships between the women. Though for much of the novel half-sisters Snow and Bird are separated by Bird’s mother, Boy, they begin to write letters to each other sharing snippets of family history as well as their own secrets and girlish curiosities about each other. Their friendship, in the end, is not about men, but about their mutual quest for a stronger kind of bond, and the sense of themselves they find in communicating with each other.

Ancillary JusticeAnn Leckie’s novel doesn’t so much pass the Bechdel Test as leave it behind in the dust, as her Radchaii empire don’t care much about gender, and their language does not make distinctions between male and female.  Moreover, Leckie’s choice to make the default gender distinction (which, in English is “he”) female makes the world of this book feel strangely alien.  Once, the heroine of this tale, Breq, was a Justice of Toren –a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.  Now, she has nothing left but her desire for revenge against the many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.  But the real power of this book lies in Breq’s relationships with One Esk and Lieutenant Awn–two characters who are difficult to describe, as Leckie does such a wonderful job letting the reader conceptualize them on their own.  Though not always an easy book to read, the characters and their bonds are so real and so believable that this story becomes a visceral treat that even readers who aren’t big sci-fi fans will enjoy.

The Kite Runner: Not only is Khaled Hosseini’s story an emotionally wrenching tale of male friendship, but it also a perfect example of our “Reading Without Walls Challenge” books, too!  The novel follows the story of Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, and Hassan, the son of Amir’s father’s servant. As children in the relatively stable Afghanistan of the early 1970s, the boys are inseparable, spending idyllic days running kites and telling stories of mystical places and powerful warriors–until an unspeakable event changes their friendship forever.  Amir and his father flee to America as the monarchy begins to crumble, but the ties between these two young men is too powerful to be severed, and years later, Amir’s yearning for his friend’s forgiveness will lead him on a journey to a home he can no longer recognize.  Though this book deals a great deal with the pain that relationships can cause, Hossenini reminds us over and over again that they are still absolutely worth the pain, because they remind us who were truly are.

Happy reading dear friends!

The Green Carnation Book Prize

February 20, 1892, was the premiere for Oscar Wilde’s comedic play Lady Windermere’s FanIt’s a glorious, smart, subversive play that deals with gender assumption, class issues, love, trust, loyalty, and you should read it.  Or see it.  Or hear a recording of it (I really love this play, if you can’t tell…).

The play was an enormous success, but Oscar’s speech at the end (he was brought out on stage to be applauded, as well) may have actually been the most memorable part of the evening.  You can see a reproduction of it here, with Stephen Fry playing Oscar:

Anyways, for the premiere, Oscar arranged for one of the actors to wear a green carnation in his buttonhole.  He also gave carnations to his friends who would be attending, so that it would appear that a select number of audience members were in cahoots with the actors over the style.   Artist Graham Robertson was one of the people Wilde asked to wear the flower.  As the story goes, Robertson asked Wilde what the green carnation was supposed to mean.

“Nothing whatever,” Wilde replied, “but that is just what nobody will guess.”

The story is a good one, and definitely fits with Oscar’s love of gently mocking society at large for being ridiculous, but the truth was that there was a lot of meaning behind the green carnation.  Green was the symbol of Irish nationalism, and Oscar, an Irishman himself and a firm believer in the cause of Irish nationalism.  It was also the color of absinthe, a hallucinogenic drink that of which Oscar was particularly fond (you can still get it now, but it’s not a hallucinogen anymore…).  Finally, to Oscar, green was the color of artists–a green carnation is not natural.  You can’t grow them naturally.  They have to be created, with intention, and purpose.

Oscar Wilde was also a homosexual, and today, there are a lot of assumptions that the green carnation was a covert symbol of homosexuality.  It wasn’t–or, at least, it never seems to have been used as a symbol by Oscar himself to denote homosexuality (it was never referenced at his trials, and he himself never wrote a word about it, though he wrote about his carnations and the color green fairly often).  However, there were a number of people who mocked him (covertly and not-so-covertly), and stated that the green carnation was some kind of symbol of depravity.

Since that time, however, the green carnation has been adopted as a highly literary and rather esoteric reference to homosexuality, in deference to Wilde who, in many ways, defined what a homosexual man should look, act, and sound like.

Fast-forward to 2010, when author Paul Magrs, who also writes funny, charming, and very clever books, tweeted about the “scandalous lack of prizes for gay men” in the UK (<– Quoting the tweet there), and he and journalist Simon Savidge decided to set up just such a prize, they decided to name it The Green Carnation Prize. The Prize was originally awarded to the best fiction and memoirs by gay men.  In 2012 the prize opened its submission criteria to include all LGBT writers, in 2015 it widened its submission criteria even further including all ‘works of translation’.

Why is this important?  You might ask.
It’s important because human beings are herd animals.  We accept things are “right” when other people do them/think them/say them/wear them/eat them/sing them/dance with them/etc. first.  It’s why it’s so easy to do what everyone else is doing.  It’s why humans who do things alone, who are the first to say something or do something is such a momentous event.  Affirmation and validation and self-confidence are all wrapped up together in our cave-people brains.  And it’s really hard when you are a reader, to never read a book about people like you.  Whether the “people like you” have a certain skin color, speak a particularly language, practice a certain set of beliefs, looks a certain way, or loves a certain way, it’s enormously important to our self-understanding to know that there are other people “like us” somewhere in the world.

And, as tribal animals, who understand that taking care of our human tribe is as important as taking care of ourselves, we need to make sure that everyone can find a book in which they can find themselves, and feel like they belong.  It might not be a book that you yourself enjoy, or with which you identify–and that’s ok. We’ll find some.  Or we’ll write some.  Or maybe you’ll write them.  But the point is, the more we celebrate diversity in all its forms, the more diversity there will be.

So today, we bring you the Green Carnation Short List.  Where the books haven’t yet been released in the US, the WorldCat links are provided.  We can get these books for you, if you come in and ask!

The winner will be announced at Foyle’s Book Shop in London on May 22nd!

Courtesy of https://greencarnationprize.com/

 

Saturdays @ the South: Mexican Literature

Image discovered on LitHub

I fully admit that my reading list isn’t as diverse as it could be, partly because the bookternet (bookish + Internet) makes it so easy to reach for books already in my wheelhouse. Favorite authors mention other authors they enjoy, Goodreads points me to books I might like based on what I’ve already read and my wonderful bookish friends and fellow colleagues at the library are constantly dropping book references. This is one of my favorite parts of the bookternet (and the bookish community in general) because I know that I will never run out of great reading material in my to-be-read pile. But it also means that, if I’m reading books like what I’ve already read, I’m not reading books that aren’t like anything I’ve ever read before.

We’ve talked a fair amount about diversity in literature here on the Free For All, but mentioning it occasionally isn’t quite enough. It’s important to continue to talk about diversity, particularly in literature, on a regular basis lest it become relegated to shadows, ensuring that nothing ever changes. In an effort to talk more about diverse literature, I’m starting a regular feature for Saturdays @ the South where I talk about books from a particular area of the world in an effort not only to introduce you to diverse voices, but to also introduce myself to new voices and ideas that I haven’t been exposed to previously. It won’t be every week; there will still be the weird bookish ramblings and musings you’ve come to expect on a Saturday, but I’d like to feature a new country or region every month to ensure that the conversation continues.

Today, we’re talking about our neighbors to the south, Mexico. Mexican literature has a rich heritage and many of it’s classic works, as well as new contemporary authors, are beginning to become more widely available in translation. My high school and college Spanish is very sadly rusty, so I’m grateful for the efforts of organizations like Deep Vellum and UNESCO and resources like Three Percent who promote translations of works into English. While there are always issues with reading any work that has been translated from the author’s original language, the best will try to keep the lyricism and ideas of the author in tact to ensure a reading experience that is still rich. Here are some books by Mexican and Mexican-American authors that can expand our reading experiences together:

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

Will Evans wrote on LitHub  he “believe[s] the greatest Mexican novel ever written is Pedro Paramo…” because it “changed the way that literature is written, read, processed and remembered when it was published in 1955.” Wow. That’s a bold statement to make for any novel, but it’s enough to make me want to read this one sooner rather than later.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli

The Culture Trip mentioned that Valeria Luiselli, a Mexico City native, is “described as one of the brightest literary talents in the entire world right now.” Again, wow. How have I missed this on my reading radar? This book is her latest novel (published in 2015) follows the adventures of Highway, a world-traveler, auctioneer and general bon-vivant, whose most precious possessions are the teeth of the “notorious infamous” like Virginal Woolf, Plato and more.

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

This is a book about borderlands that takes a great deal from Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. The narrator is trying to bring her brother back to Mexico from across the US border, but the book tackles much more than immigration as it is steeped in mythology as well. A quick note here: Yuri Herrera has at least three books mentioned on the Best-of-Mexican-Literature lists I found, so I’m guessing that any of his books would be a good place to start.

Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue

LitHub voted this one of the best books of 2016, period. No ethnic qualifier or best of Chicano/a literature. They just thought this book was awesome, and boy, does it sound cool. This book is quasi-historical, mostly meta-fictional about “a 16th-century tennis match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and Italian painter Caravaggio, playing with a ball stuffed with the hair of Anne Boleyn.” Seriously, how quickly can I get this book?

What You See in the Dark by Manuel Munoz

This book is set in the 1950s in an Alfred Hitchcock-style narrative. This tale of a doomed love affair set against the backdrop of a filmmaker who comes to Bakersfield, CA to scout locations for a film about murder at a motel peeks into character’s private thoughts, jealousies and dreams. Mexican-American author Munoz has received high praise for both this book (his first novel) and his previous short story collections.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Alire Aaenz is another Mexican-American author who has managed to pull together a novel that is both about two teenagers falling in love, but also a sweeping character study of teenagers, their parents, Mexican-American identity in the modern age and LGBTQ perspectives that shatters stereotypes. His characters are undeniably real, his writing is gorgeous and the range of emotions through which he guides both the characters and the readers is nothing short of an astounding accomplishment. The audiobook,is narrated by pre-Hamilton, post- In the Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda and is perfectly executed. This book is a favorite of mine and was recommended to me by more than one librarian here in the library. It’s a great example of a book that I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to because it’s not like what I usually read, but was an incredibly rich and rewarding reading experience that I’m so glad to have had.

Hopefully one of these books will pique your interest in reading a little more internationally. As Japanese author Haruki Murakami once wrote: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” It’s good to get into someone else’s head for a while. If you’re intrigued and would like more suggestions, feel free to mention that in the comments or stop by the library and ask! Till next week, dear readers, do your best to read a little out of your usual sphere of influence. You never know what next great read you’ll discover just beyond our backyards.