Starting in my childhood, not quite fitting in with my Mexican American friends in the East L.A. neighborhood I grew up in, I was mesmerized by the sounds of Spanish, the spicy scent of the kitchens and the loving warmth permeating from the large families. In an effort to acclimate, or just to hold onto that part of my youth, I started on a journey discovering Latin writers. As an adult I have had the opportunity to meet and work with people from South America as well as Mexico. For many years I planned on naming my first child Consuelo, now if I could just remember the name of the book she was in…
Oscar Hijuelos, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love Like reading “the making of” I Love Lucy, brothers Cesar and Nestor Castillo come to New York City from Cuba, to easily sweep us into 1949 with their singing, and making, songs of love. Oscar Hijuelos gives us brothers as they sometimes can be: opposites. Cesar makes their big plans for success while Nestor, doomed by lovesickness that follows him from Cuba, follows as best he can for as long as he can. I picked it up because it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 and it quickly became a favorite. The film version starred Armand Assante as Cesar and Antonio Banderas as Nestor at the height of their sexual prowess.
Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls The autobiography of an exiled Cuban writer stricken with AIDS is outstanding, as it should be for his weighty talent. We read of Arenas childhood in Cuba, his awakening homosexuality and embracement of his chosen lifestyle. His efforts, and those of his friends, to help publish his work outside of his own country took a surprising turn while he was incarcerated in a Cuban prison. Their creative efforts, and his quest to be published, finalize his resolve to escape the controlling Cuban regime. By leaving his beloved beaches of Cuba he is left to conquer only the stucco of an ugly and unforgiving New York. And it is here, in his new home, that he struggles and eventually succumbs to AIDS.
Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Love in the time of Cholera Florentino, the boy, sees Fermina, the girl, and falls in love. Like Romeo and Juliet, it is not to be as they are forced to part. For the next 50 years, yes I wrote fifty, Fermina builds a life with the doctor she chose to marry instead. Their marriage seems normal both from the inside and the out while Florentino, on the other hand, never marries in what he deems as self-sacrifice. In reality Florentino leads a wildly promiscuous life with continual passionate liaisons. At the death of the doctor Florentino has the – here I would use a Spanish word but this is a family newspaper – “nerve” to ask Fermina to marry him! And it is here Marquez begins his tale in reverse.
Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate This now classic book is an exercise in passion for romance and food, sometimes the food builds the passion, other times it adds to the heartsickness. Three daughters are born to an overbearing mother, but it’s Tita that falls in love with Pedro and isn’t allowed to marry him because long traditions force the youngest daughter live out her life caring for the mother instead. (My husband had a secretary fifteen years ago that was living proof of this tradition.) Instead, Pedro is asked to marry the eldest sister. Tita, also being the cook of the family, prepares a wedding feast that causes all to fall ill. But the meals she prepares after being with Pedro stir more than her own heart as well. Torrid stirrings cause buildings to combust on their own and indigestion prevent immature couplings. A very easy read but be prepared for recipes, in menu form and in prose, that will stir you just as well.
Isabel Allende, Daughter of Fortune A romantic historical novel, bordering almost too much for my tastes on romance over history, it briefly visits four cultures: English, Chilean, Chinese and Americana during the California Gold Rush. Our heroine, Eliza, an abandoned child brought up by a wealthy couple in Chile, finds herself pregnant, without a husband, at sixteen. If that’s not enough, her fiery personality allows her the gumption to haul her pregnant body to California where her intended has gone to make his fortune in gold. Learning about the masses of men finding their way from Chile to California was interesting and truthful. Luck for Eliza comes in the form of a Chinese cook on the ship, with his own story, that helps her throughout the voyage and far beyond.
Isabel Allende, Portrait in Sepia After Daughter of Fortune we return to revolutionary Chile, and the most vivid character, our heroine’s grandmother, Paulina del Valle. The story of her custom bed; meant first for romance and second to comfort her gigantic girth, is a perfect metaphor for the changes in life. This Grandmother encompasses Nana’s everywhere in what we hold in our minds: the voice, the appetites and the rules of powerful matriarchs in every family.
and Zorro I only read this book as our libraries has begun a monthly reading challenge, per se, last year. It seemed an easy selection as the title, and author, would have mass appeal. It was slightly less gripping than I expected but I still learned more from this Zorro, and the legends, that I had from any film. An easy read that I thought of saving for my Fluff Novels column solely devoted to read only during summer vacations…suffice to say Allende doesn’t produce too much fluff.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind I don’t usually recommend a book I haven’t read but a wonderful woman, that volunteers for both the Betty Ferguson Foundation and Assistance League, big-reader Jeannie Carpenter, swears that this story as just amazing. She suggested that just synopsizing the back cover is enough: In 1945 Barcelona a young man reads The Shadow of the Wind and is compelled to find more works of the author’s. Instead he finds that all books by “Julian Carax” are being destroyed. Lots of reviewers hailed the book as touching, tragic and thrilling.
Let’s Talk Libraries
I attended the community meeting regarding the new Newhall Library held at Hart Hall on March 20. Lucky enough to sit next to Cheryl Phillips, librarian at Peachland Avenue elementary, I was educated before the show started.
“Our schools need county libraries to help offset our school’s budgetary cuts. We average 10-11 books per student whereas the national average is 20. Where we used to get about 28 dollars per student we are down to what feels like 28 cents. Fundraisers, like the 5K Fun Run that Michael Shapiro organized at Valencia Valley Elementary helps. But having local libraries, dedicated to books first, is vital.”
Linda Demmers, our speaker for the evening and consultant on the project, prompted us by saying to “Dream really big” and to “Put on your seatbelt”. Our demographics showed younger residents, families, commuters, creative community members, multiple languages and diversity. Newhall residents averaged 38.9% with Bachelor degrees, with SCV having 30.9 and L.A. County with 27.7.
A recent survey had received approximately 1400 responses showing 94% have computers, 77% borrow books, 30% sit and read – here Demmers added sitting to read was available at Valencia not Newhall – 72% want more children’s books, 54% want more new books, 47% ask for school curriculum support, 67% ask for a quiet reading read, 66% a separate children’s area, 65% homework center and 38% local history.
Here’s what the slides showed us in viewing other libraries: Teen Zones, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mission themes architecture, up to nine stories high, lounges designed for families, merchandising areas, self service and full, study areas, bookstores, aquariums, learning centers, full size dinosaurs and trees, local history room with enclosed bookcases, fireplaces, community meeting rooms, working planetariums, murals, art galleries, natural light, students eating lunch on the library steps…
The attendees liked making the library a destination, an after school “hangout” for teens including popular teen library blogs, putting local historical documents in a dedicated library space, delivering books to seniors and creating visually appealing meeting rooms for local poets and artists.
We currently have 17,000 borrowers with an average annual attendance of 80,000. Borrowers check out 8-10 books annually. Newhall currently has 4,800 square feet and is 100% overfilled. Currently with 12 chairs for adults and 4 for children our usage requires 150-175 chairs.
There is no space for displays or exhibits. The backroom area that serves all behind-the-scenes work is the size of a banquet table. Annual library attendance is equal to the combining annual attendance at sporting events and concerts. Don’t we deserve a library befitting the current and future needs of our community?