Saturday, August 02, 2008

Literature Miscellanea

Here's a roundup of some of the literature surrounding my life these days:

(1) My book: Mexico: A Global Studies Handbook is now published and available for purchase. This volume is part of a 5-book series put out by ABC-Clio Publishers. I edited the series. The other volumes cover Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, and Costa Rica. It's a good series for a basic introduction to the history, politics, economics, and culture of these countries. Check it out.

(2) As I said in a previous posting, one of my goals in life was to make it through the original Hardy Boys series. There are 58 books in the original series, and last December I was up to #53. Since then, I have made it through #57 and am currently reading the last of the original series, #58, which is titled The Sting of the Scorpion. I'll probably finish this one in the next day or two, and can cross this task off of my bucket list. I've enjoyed the series, and probably will continue to read more from the series continuation, but once you've read one Hardy Boys mystery, you've read them all. The plots are always predictable and are generally pretty cheesy. But, hey, what would a little boy's life be like without some exposure to the Hardy Boys, right?

(3) Some other books I have read within the past year include: Passing Unseen: Stories from New Domangue, written by my friend Lucas Diaz. Lucas is a fantastic writer, and the depth of the voices he can portray in his stories is impressive. Lucas hails from the Dominican Republic, and some of the stories in this collection touch on life as an immigrant from the DR. Given that, it is interesting to compare his writing with other authors from the DR who touch on similar themes. So, I also read Junot Diaz's (no relation to Lucas) Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It was good and Junot Diaz has some talent as a writer; but I think Lucas is an infinitely better writer. If Lucas can get noticed, there may be a Pulitzer in his future, too.

(4) I also re-read Roderic Camp's Politics in Mexico text, now in its 5th edition. You won't find a more concise, readable, and comprehensive introduction on Mexican politics. It's the best survey there is. Another book I re-read in conjunction with Camp's text is Sam Quinones' True Tales of Another Mexico. Camp lays out the basics of Mexico's politics formally, but Quinones gives us a glimpse into what I call Modern Mexico on the Margins. The book contains fantastic vignettes of human interest stories taking place all throughout Mexico and shows how the formal structures of Mexico's social and political systems produce these fascinating stories. They range from Oaxacan basketball teams, Narcocorridos, Modern-day lynchings, telenovelas-as-state-propaganda, religious cults, transvestite gay male prostitution, and many more. Combine these two texts and you'll get a fascinating glimpse into Mexican politics and society. I use these texts in my summer course on Mexican politics during the Guadalajara summer study abroad program that I direct.

(5) I also read Milan Kundera's The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts, which captures this Czech author's perspective on the role and importance of the novel in the contemporary history of literature; In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz, by Donald M. Marquis, which is a so-so exploration of one of New Orleans' enigmatic and mysterious early jazz trumpet players; Rudy Rucker's techno-geeky sci-fi novel Postsingular; and Walter Isaacson's illuminating and well-written biography of Benjamin Franklin. All of these books, as well as the Junot Diaz novel listed above, I read for my book club. Our next book, which I've only just started, is Jacob Burckhardt's classic study of the Italian Renaissance.

(6) On my own, I'm also reading Harry G. Boyte's excellent treatise on civic engagement called Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life. This book takes a look at how the average citizen should and can convert his daily grind into a vehicle for empowerment and civic action. I especially like the parts on the purpose of the academy in fostering civic engagement and how the mission of the college and the university have changed in this regard over time. I plan to do a review of this book, as well as a "favorite quotes" listing, on the blog at some point over the next few weeks.

(7) Finally, I'm reading for fun Portuguese author Jose Saramago's Nobel Prize winning novel Blindness. I'm two chapters into it, and it's excellent so far. I'm trying to finish it before the movie based on the novel is released this September.


Eric said...

Larry McMurtry has a great new autobiography out called "Books: A Memoir". McMurty is of course best known for his novels, but he's been an antiquarian bookseller and collector longer than he's been a novelist and owns one of the largest used bookstores in the world. This book is about that part of his life, and it is a great read for anyone who loves books. There are a lot of references to obscure authors and titles, but these are made interesting by the stories that lay behind them.

My wife has been reading David Sedaris's new book. I've never read any of his stuff, but judging by the number of time she has doubled over with laughter while reading it, I think I'm going to have to give it a try.

Anonymous said...

congrats on your book, jimmy. i can't wait to take a look at it.

i'm reading oscar wao right now, and i love it. i think junot diaz is so much more complex than one picks up on a first reading. i'm half way through and already thinking that i want to read it again.

see you soon.

Huck said...

Eric - That's the second time you've mentioned McMurtry to me. I've got to check him out. He must be really good. I've also never read anything by David Sedaris. I've heard him perform on This American Life, and wasn't extraordinarily impressed, but he seems to have quite a following. I guess I should read some of his work, too.

cynthia - Thanks. I'm glad that albatross is off my back. Writing that kind of book is much more tedious than I thought it would be. If you like Junot Diaz, you have to read Lucas Diaz's collection of short stories. They're awesome and they resonate especially well with someone from the New Orleans area. Check it out. (btw - do you know Lucas? If not, I should introduce you to him. He's one cool and impressive dude.)