Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Favorite Reads and Looking Ahead

Planned for 2012
2011 was a great year for reading. Between cave men, the French Revolution, lots of vampires, women and their cycles, gangs, the death penalty, children killing for game, zombies and identity issues, it felt, at times, as though I was zipping along on a roller coaster. The plan was to read 52 books (one-a-week), 25 of them by culturally diverse authors. Well. That was the plan. I didn't quite make the goal. School threw me a bit off course. Even so, I managed to finish the year having read 43, with 17 of them by culturally diverse authors. I'm very happy with that.

I've decided to renew the challenge because the truth is, I'm my happiest clutching a book. Except, this year's count will see non-fiction reads from school (to be fair. : ) and a few spilling over from 2011, that are at various stages of reading.

Following are a handful of my faves from 2011 ...

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

" ... in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something ..."

A collection of vignettes that reveals the author's soul with an economy of words. Cisneros took me home.

Burro Genius by Victor Villaseñor

"Who were these schoolteachers who had helped me?
And what was it in my life that had given me the heart ... the guts ... 
to go on and on and never give up, no matter what!"

My first exposure to the discrimination and segregation experienced by Mexicans in Southern California. Villaseñor is an inspiration for his tenacity to succeed, in spite of his dyslexia. This book made me cry.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (Nook)

"Why had no one told me that my body would become a battlefield, a sacrifice, a test? Why did I not know that birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers? But of course, there is no way to tell this or to hear it. Until you are the woman on the bricks, you have no idea how death stands in the corner, ready to play his part."

Beautiful and lyrical, Diamant's depiction of the Old Testament's Dinah angered me (I wouldn't have done well in a polygamist society). Even though women are claiming what's theirs, today, not much has changed.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

"It is not violence that best overcomes hate --
nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury."

This flawed but strong heroine endures an abusive childhood and fights to survive. The story enthralled me with its gothic texture and seductive prose. I LOVE Jane Eyre.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

"It is a fact that we historians are interested in what is partly a reflection of ourselves, perhaps a part of ourselves we would rather not examine except through the medium of scholarship; it is also true that as we steep ourselves in our interests, they become more and more a part of us."

The vampire non-vampire book. Dracula hovers in the periphery in this dark tale. Question: If your passion were scholarly, would you exchange your soul for an eternity of research and cataloguing of history? A tempting proposition?

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

"Spirit of Cave Lion, the girl Ayla, is delivered into your protection."

This book came recommended by a friend who has read all the books in this series. I was skeptical, at first, but ended up not being able to put it down. It brought out the geek in me. Auel's interpretation of what life between primitive Neanderthals and more advanced Cro-Magnuns might've been like during the Ice Age made me want to run off to examine fossils and study herbs. Ayla, the main character, is a Cro-Magnun who is adopted as a five-year-old, by Neanderthals, sparking "racial" intolerance reminiscent of that which we see today. A thought-provoking and at times enraging read.

Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle

"If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories,
it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than others."

This one was a gift from a friend back home. Father Boyle raises the question of where compassion originates and what it means to truly have empathy. It's an inspiring tale of one man's dogged pursuit of salvation for a segment of the society deemed disposable. Let's not judge simply by what's visible at the surface. I highly recommend it for anybody working in the social services with at-risk youths, or with an interest in social justice.

Esperanza Renace [Esperanza Rising] by Pam Muñoz Ryan

This is a tender story of a young girl who loses her father and material possessions but who discovers that the most valuable gifts in life are those that money cannot buy. It's a retelling of the real-life struggles of Mexican migrant farm-workers in the San Joaquin Valley of California, during the 1920s and of the prejudice experienced by them at the hands of the locals. As my first Spanish read, Esperanza Renace will always be special to me. Wrap-up to follow! ... Y mil gracias a mi buena amiga, Tara, for following along.


Looking forward to 2012 and will let my curiosity lead me to the next read. You'd probably laugh at the hodge-podge of fiction and non-fiction stacked up against a wall in my office begging to be read. I'd like to make a priority reading Jane Eyre, again, an anthology of Mexican essays and more YA Spanish.

We'll see what the year brings. Let's stay loose, until rigor counts. : D

Anything you'd like to recommend?