Archive for the ‘prose’ Category

but who’s counting?

March 8, 2018 Leave a comment

For much of my life, my reading interests largely were science fiction, fantasy, science non-fiction, and history. Over time I branched out, adding philosophy, eastern and western poetry, and various of the classics of western literature. I never really paid attention much to who the authors were, or their gender, or so I imagined. Several years ago though, early in the second Obama term I think, after coming across by chance books by women authors that struck me with their unique perspectives on things I thought I already knew:

it (finally!) became clear to me that I had to actively seek out a wider diversity of authors, especially women authors.

Looking back now at my reading history in Goodreads, it confirms that from about 600 books read in total, there are 442 books by 260 male authors, and only 160 books by 90 female authors. That’s a good motivator to continue seeking out different voices in reading! Zooming in to just this last year, I’ve read 16 books by women and 15 by men, so at least the trend is in a good direction.

Women authors whose books I’ve liked most over the last few years:

Emily Wilson, Simone de Beauvoir, Jane Smiley, Margaret Atwood, Brenda Shaughnessy, Charlotte Bronte, Ursula LeGuin, Kathleen Moore, Rebecca Goldstein, Jane Austen, Carrie Fisher, Adrienne Rich, Hope Jahren, Mary Oliver, Erica Dunbar, Hilary Clinton, Bell Hooks, Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Gilbert, Phyllis Rose, Edith Wharton, Ann Patchett, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Toni Morrison, Anne Lamott, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, H.D., Cheryl Strayed, Roz Chast, Kate Beaton, Lydia Davis, J.K. Rowling, Sharon Creech, Louisa Alcott, Hannah Crafts, Denise Kiernan, Margaret Chula, Edith Shiffert, Rachel Swarns, Saima Wahab, Carol Tavris, and Eileen O’Keeffe McVicker.


book review: Kid Beowulf and the Rise of El Cid

May 21, 2013 Leave a comment


Kid Beowulf and the Rise of El Cid is the latest in the Kid Beowulf series of graphic novels from Lex Fajardo, which make the classics approachable and fun. In Lex’s re-envisioning, Beowulf and Grendel are 12-year-old twin brothers, travelling the world (with their constant companion, Hama the pig) meeting many of the great epic heroes.

One of my favorite aspects of each Kid B book is a short opening section that tells the “classic” story as it has come down to us, with full drama and poetry the way the bards might have sung it, and then the story switches over to Lex’s own retelling.  For Kid B and El Cid, many may remember the classic movie with Charlton Heston and Sophia Lauren, but Lex takes on the story at a much earlier time, when a young not-yet-El-Cid Rodrigo is still struggling to find his place in the world. Along the way, young Beowulf and Grendel unknowingly take a few more steps toward their destiny, and (unintentionally) even start the first “running with the bulls” in Pamplona!

I’ve liked the Kid Beowulf series from the start, but it gets even better in this third book. There is new depth and shading, in the art, in the characters, and in the storytelling, which is very appropriate for young readers who are growing up with the twin brothers Beowulf and Grendel. In this installment there are also some strong female roles (Ximena, Queen Urraca, and Boudi), and a story that very organically touches on always-relevant issues of tolerance and empathy, without losing Kid B’s signature sense of humor and playfulness. I highly recommend it for both kids and grown-ups — I love it! (5 stars in Goodreads)

Kid Beowulf and the Rise of El Cid, by Alexis E. Fajardo. Published by Kid Beowulf Comics (2013). Previous books in the series were Kid Beowulf and the Blood-Bound Oath (2008) and Kid Beowulf and the Song of Roland (2010).

truth in advertising

October 10, 2010 Leave a comment

At Wordstock I got this year’s must-read book, “Zombie Haiku” by Ryan Mecum. I like it when a book’s title tells you exactly what you’re going to get!

Reportaje de libro: Cajas de cartón

May 14, 2008 Leave a comment

This is a book review of one of my favorite books. I wrote this back in 2004 while I was living in Santa Clara CA, taking an intro Spanish class, so please forgive the inevitable errors :-). FYI, my translation back to English follows the Spanish version.

Reportaje de libro: Cajas de cartón, por Francisco Jiménez

Este libro is una historia autobiográfica, con “relatos de la vida peregrina de un niño campesino”, como dice la cubierta.Estoy leyéndolo sin diccionario, aunque hay muchas palabras las que no entiendo, casi cincuenta porciento quizás. Pero yo entiendo bastante bien que puedo saber las cosas más importantes que pasan. Y me gusta lo mejor cuando puedo aprender una palabra nueva por el contexto.

Por ejemplo, en una cuenta el bebé de la familia estaba enfermo, y el autor dice “Todas nos arrodillamos frente al Santo Niño para rezar.” No sabía que significa ni “arrodillamos” ni “rezar”. Pero sí ya sabía que “rodillos” son “knees” en inglés y por eso decidí que “arrodillarse” significa “to kneel” y “rezar” debe ser “to pray”. En esta manera he sido aprendiendo algunas palabras nuevas.

Hasta ahora yo he leído cuatro de los doce relatos del libro. En el primero, el autor cuenta como él y su familia se fueron su pobreza en México y viajaron a California para trabajar en los campos de algodón, uvas, y fresas. Ellos tuvieron que ir bajo de la cerca de la frontera durante la noches, para evitar “la migra”, la policía de la frontera.

En la segunda cuenta, él relata como él tenía que cuidar a su hermanito nuevo en el carro cerca de los campos mientras su mamá, papá, y hermano mayor trabajaban pizcando algodón. Un día, decidía pizcar algodón también, cerca del carro. Él era muy orgulloso hasta que los padres volvieron y descubrieron que ¡el bebé ha se hecho muy sucio!

La tercera cuenta es sobre su primer año de escuela. Él no entendía nada de inglés y la maestra no trataba de enseñarlo a él. ¡Pero su dibujo de mariposas ganó el primer premio de la clase!

Yo ya mencioné la cuarta cuenta, en la que el bebé estaba enfermo. La familia rezaban día y noche, arrodillándose bajo de la pintura del Santo Niño, pidiéndo que si el santo mejorará su bebé, ellos rezarían al santo cada día por un año entero. Me gusta decir que el bebé se mejoró despues de muchos rezos, y un viaje a la hospital.

Me gustan mucho estas cuentas y entiendo mejor cómo era ser un niño campesino en California en las años cincuenta. A veces, todavía pienso en mí mismo como un niño campensino de Iowa, donde me crecí. Este libro es un poco como “The Grapes of Wrath” para latinos. El autor hasta dice que ese libro fue su favorito cuando estaba aprendiendo inglés.

Una nota más: el autor, Francisco Jiménez, vivo en Santa Clara y enseña en la Universidad de Santa Clara. Cuando yo estaba sentando en una tienda de café viernes, alguien me vio leyendo Cajas de Cartón. Me dijo que él conoce señor Jiménez y es un hombre muy amable y bondadoso.

vocabulario (palabras que yo tenía que encontrar en el diccionario):

  1. la cubierta: the cover (of a book)
  2. la cerca: the fence
  3. evitar: to avoid
  4. el premio: the prize
  5. bondadoso: kind

Book review: Cajas de cartón (Cardboard boxes), by Francisco Jiménez

This book is an autobiography, with “stories of the nomadic life of a young migrant farmboy”, as it says on the cover. I’m reading it without a Spanish-English dictionary although there are many words I don’t understand, almost half maybe. But I understand enough that I can follow the most important things that happen. And what I enjoy most is that I learn new words by their context.

For example, in one story the baby of the family was sick, and the author says “Todas nos arrodillamos frente al Santo Niño para rezar.” (“We all <something> in front of Saint Niño to <something>.”) I didn’t know what “arrodillamos” and “rezar” meant. But I did already know that “rodillos” are “knees” in Spanish and so I decided that “arrodillarse” means “to kneel” and “rezar” must be “to pray”. In that way I’ve been learning some new words.

So far I’ve read four of the dozen stories in the book. In the first, the author tells how he and his family left their poverty in Mexico and journeyed to California to work in the cotton, grape, and strawberry fields. They had to go under the fence at the border at night, to avoid “la migra”, the border police.

In the second story, he tells he had to care for his new little brother in the car by the fields, while his mother, father, and older brother worked picking cotton. One day, he decided to pick cotton too, next to the car. He was very proud, until his parents returned and discovered that the baby had made himself very dirty!

The third story is about his first year at school. He didn’t understand any English and the teacher did not try to teach it to him. But his drawing of butterflies won first prize in the class!

I already mentioned the fourth story, in which the baby was sick. The family prayed day and night, kneeling under the painting of Saint Niño, begging that if the saint would heal their baby, they would pray to the saint every day for a whole year. I was pleased to read that the baby got better after many prayers, and a trip to the hospital.

I’m enjoying these stories very much, and understanding better what it was like to be a migrant farmboy in California in the 50’s. Sometimes I still think of myself as a farmboy from Iowa where I was born. This book is a little like a “The Grapes of Wrath” for Latinos. The author even says that that book was his favorite when he was learning English.

One more note: the author, Francisco Jiménez, lives in Santa Clara and teaches in the University of Santa Clara. When I was sitting in a coffeeshop Friday, someone saw me reading Cajas de Cartón. He told me he knew professor Jiménez well, and he is a very friendly, kind man.

book review: Bicycle

March 29, 2008 1 comment

20080329.jpg Bicycle

Bicycle is a short book of delightful poems, haiku-short and epigrammatic, written by Paul Fattaruso with drawings by Adam Thompson. I found it in the “small press” section at Powell’s bookstore last weekend. A few of my favorites:

Twice a year the air carries the faint whir of migrating bicycles.

Romance. A bicycle parked on a slope.

Today’s bicycle is amiss; it is an imperfect echo of yesterday’s bicycle. Then I notice that I myself am amiss, an imperfect echo of something.

The assassin carried a quiverful of arrows, a strip of jerky, and rode the shadow of a stolen bicycle.

Through the quiet of each night, a faint song, the mild squeak of a heartbroken bicycle.

We arrive a an intricate crossroads. I hand the compass over to the bicycle.

The bicycle cannot know it is a bicycle. It cannot even suspect.

How easily one commits its fragile balance to memory.

Under tires, the road sings out in its hidden language, sforzando.

At moonrise, the snow is the same purple as the sky. This is the secret hour when the bicycle leaves no tracks.

Like haiku, these short poems are grounded in sensory experience, and also like haiku they inspire and justify reflection on larger truths. The whimsy of many had me stifling laughs in the bookshelves, while the quiet and contained sadness of others will stay with me for a long long time. Of course I read it all there in the store, and of course I bought it – and it doesn’t feel presumptuous for me to put it on my shelf next to Basho.

Bicycle, by Paul Fattaruso with drawings by Adam Thompson. Published by the Hotel St. George Press, Brooklyn NY (2007).


January 12, 2008 Leave a comment

(an autobiographical myth)

One morning, Throws-his-words woke up from a dream. The dream was hard to remember, but he knew it was a dream about a song. He kept dreaming about the song every night, but every morning he couldn’t remember it. He knew the song the wind made, but that was not the song from his dream. He knew the song of rain on the tall prairie grass too, and all the songs the People sang around their campfires, but none of them were the song from his dream.

Don’t breathe, don’t breathe!
Can’t you hear the grass singing?
The grass is singing to the clouds.

One morning very early, Throws-his-words went out walking and saw Raven sitting at the top of a maple tree on a high bluff. “Raven”, he called, “do you know the song in my dream? Where can I find it?” Raven replied, “Go to the sun”. Throws-his-words went back and told his father about his dream and what Raven had said. Then he said goodbye to his father and mother and the People, and started walking. Every night he dreamed of the song, and when he woke up he walked toward the morning sun.

In the mist
I see more clearly
The path before me.

He dreamed for many nights and walked for many days until the prairie became a deep deep forest. The songs of the wind and rain were different in the trees, and he listened to them for a long time to learn them, but they were not the song from his dream. In the forest he met a different People and stayed with them for a long time to learn their songs, but none of their songs were the song from his dream.

All the trees together
Sing more quietly
Than one tree alone.
They sing to me the same song:
“The whole world
Is just behind me — look!”

One of the People in the forest was a woman named Fierce Cat. Throws-his-words sang to her the songs of his People and the songs of the wind and rain in the prairie grass. Then he told her about his dream, and she said she had had the same dream. They decided to search for the song together.

Beautiful singer,
Let me learn your song.
Beautiful singer,
Let me learn your song.

One evening at sunset, Throws-his-words and Fierce Cat saw Raven sitting at the top of a maple tree on a high bluff. “Raven”, Fierce Cat called, “do you know the song in our dream? Where can we find it?” Raven replied “Go to the sun”. So Fierce Cat said goodbye to her father and mother and her People, and she and Throws-his-words started walking. Every day they walked toward the evening sun until they were too tired to walk any more, and every night they dreamed of the song.

The rabbit and the deer
On a bare hilltop
Listen to the sunset,
While Raven keeps watch
From his tall maple tree
For the coyote.
But today coyote is not hungry,
As she waits
For her pups to be born.

They walked for many days and dreamed for many nights as the deep deep forest turned to prairie, and for many many more until the prairie turned to high mountains. They learned the song of cold rivers falling down the mountainsides, and they learned the song of deep snows, and they made many songs of their own.

Moon over snow,
Ice in the river,
Let’s wait here a while my love,
And sing a cold-warm song.

Then one day they came to the top of a high bluff, and before them was the great ocean. The sun was sinking into the water, painting it in red and gold. Raven was sitting at the top of a maple tree there, and they called up, “Raven, do you know the song in our dream? Where can we find it?” Raven replied, “Go to the sun”. So Throws-his-words and Fierce Cat jumped together and fell down and down into the water, and Raven turned them into gray whales. Then they finally remembered the song from their dream, and it was their own spouting and deep breaths and whalesong. They leaped from the water for joy and crashed back down and leaped again. The rest of their lives they swam and sang together.

(Learn more about real native American songs here. Read Throws-his-words’ first story here.)

Hello Sun, Goodbye Moon

December 10, 2006 Leave a comment

(my own invented myth of the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River valley)

One morning, Raven was sitting on a branch high up in a maple tree, looking east as the sun of the spring equinox rose over a deep valley. Behind him, the blue moon was just setting under the western waves.

“Hello sun, goodbye moon”, he said, and watched all the interesting things that were happening down on the ground below and up in the sky above.

One evening a long time later, Raven was sitting in the same tree, looking west toward the setting sun of the autumn equinox. Far below, the crashing waves seemed more like flames than water. Behind him, the blue moon was just beginning to rise over the valley.”Hello sun, goodbye moon”, he said. Then he jumped off the branch and fell down and down and down, and just before he hit the water he turned himself into an orca whale. He swam and swam, watching all the interesting things that were happening under the water.

One night a long time later, Raven the whale remembered to look up. It was very dark, with no moon in the sky, and the stars were hard and bright in the deep winter cold. He didn’t recognize these stars, but he thought they were beautiful anyway.

Still, he missed his favorite maple tree. He turned himself into a salmon so he could find his way home, and he swam and swam for a long long time until he reached the mouth of a river that tasted just right. Swimming up the river, he let himself be caught in the nets of the People so they could smoke him and eat him, and he could listen to the stories and songs they told and sang to each other.

Later, when they threw out the bones, he turned himself into himself again and flew back up to his maple tree and landed on a high branch, looking east just as the sun of the spring equinox rose over the valley. Behind him, the blue moon was just setting under the western waves.

“Hello sun, goodbye moon”, he said.