Keep on Bookin'
New on the Border Book Shelf
XXIII Undécimo Congreso de Literatura Mexicana Contemporánea — The 2018 Contemporary Mexican Literature Conference, organized by the UTEP Department of Languages and Linguistics, begins at 9 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, March 1-3 in the UTEP Student Union Building East. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org. Full schedule at Facebook at Congreso de Literatura Mexicana.
Featured presenters include:
• A presentation on the book “Algunos poetas de nuestra lengua” by Sergio Mondragón is 5 p.m. Thursday, March 1, in Eikins Room, presented by Sergio Mondragón, Gustavo Ogarrio, Cecilia V. Richards and the author.
• Cristina Rivera Garza with “Y los bábaros se quedan a cenar” at 5 p.m. Friday, March 2 in the Tomás Rivera Conference Center (third floor, Union East).
Tumblewords Project — The writing workshops are 12:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Saturdays at the Memorial Park Public Library meeting room, 3200 Copper. Workshops are free; donations for the presenter are encouraged. The group is open to all writers in a non-critique, non-caustic forum. No workshops March 24 and 31. Information: 328-5484 (Donna Snyder), 566-1034 (library), email@example.com or on Facebook.
• March 3: “Ars Poetica — Poetry about Poetry and a Look at the Writing Life” with Annette Velasquez. Velásquez has written four books.
• March 10: “Making Revisions” with Robin Scofield. Scofield is author of three collections of poems and is poetry editor for BorderSenses.
• March 17: “Irish Poets,” with Kit Wren. Wren has participated in the Tumblewords Project since he was 12 years old and studied English literature at the University of North Texas.
Sunday Salon — The open space event for the presentation of poems, acoustic music and short fiction is 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 18, at El Paso International Museum of Arts’ Turney Gallery, 1211 Montana. Admission and participation is free. Information: 861-7294 or 542-6747.
The format will be a circle, wherein each artist will be given five minutes to read, recite, or perform. The Sunday Salon will also feature a different writer or singer each month.
March’s featured poet is Robin Scofield, reading from her most recent book, “FLOW,” as well as new work.
‘Fall into Reading’ adult reading challenge — Thomas Branigan Memorial Library, 200 E. Picacho in Las Cruces, hosts the free reading challenge, “Blossoming Books,” through April 27. Participants will be challenged to read five books across a variety of topics and genres. Participants who complete all five books will receive an prize of their choice. Registration: (575) 528-4005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reading Art Book Club — The book club of the Las Cruces Museum of Art, 491 N. Main, meets at 2:30 p.m. the second Wednesday of each month in the Museum of Nature and Science classroom next door. Meetings are free and open to the public; participants do not need to have read the book. Information: (575) 541-2217, email@example.com or las-cruces.org/museums.
Murder She Read — The Eastside chapter of the book discussion group supporting women mystery writers meets 7 to 9 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at Solstice Senior Living at Rio Norte, 1940 Saul Kleinfeld. March 6: “Hard Truth” by Mary Stewart. Admission is free and open to anyone. Information: 629-7063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Victorian Sci-Fi Book and Tea Club — The book club devoted to Victorian era science fiction meets at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at Magoffin Home State Historic Site, 1120 Magoffin, to discuss “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells (1895). Victorian era or steampunk dress encouraged, but not required. Cost: $5. Information: 533-5147, visitmagoffinhome.com or Facebook.
LGBT book group — The bimonthly book group meets on odd-numbered month. Open to all GLBT and GLBT-friendly people interested in book discussions. Includes potluck supper. Information: 566-5549, 861-2909 or 471-9396 or on Facebook at ElPasoGLBTBookGroup.
The next meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 19, at the Borderland Rainbow Center, 2714 Wyoming, to discuss “Call Me by Your Name” by Andre Aciman.
El Paso Writers’ League — The league meets 2 to 4 p.m. the second Saturday of the month at the Dorris Van Doren Regional Branch Library, 551 E. Redd Road. Admission is free. Information: email@example.com or on Facebook at ElPasoWritersLeague.
Barnes and Noble story times — Stories for children art at 11 a.m. Saturdays at stores at El Paso’s East Side, Fountains at Farah; West Side, 705 Sunland Park; and Las Cruces Mesilla Valley Mall.
The West Side store and Las Cruces locations also offer story times at 10 a.m. Friday.
• March 3: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
• March 10: The Magician’s Hat
• March 17: The Gingerbread Man and the Leprechaun Loose
• March 24: Little Blue Truck’s Springtime
• March 31: The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?
Dr. Seuss Birthday celebrations are 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 2, with story times, games and activities.
Books Are Gems — 7744 North Loop Ste B (behind Compass Bank). The nonprofit organization sells and gives away new and used books. Books are sold for 50¢-$1, and children who come to the store may receive five free used books. Teachers can also receive free books for their classroom. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday. Information: 845-5437 or booksaregems.org.
Black Cat Sunday Poets — Black Cat Books and Coffee, 128 Broadway in Truth or Consequences, N.M., hosts free poetry readings at 1 p.m. the second Sunday of the month. Information: (575) 894-7070.
New on the Border Book Shelf
“Broken Circle” (Akahsic Books) by J.L. Powers and M.A. Powers. A teen-ager finds out his family business is headed by the Grim Reaper, and is surrounded by fellow teens all destined to become soul guides in Limbo. The authors area sister and brother, who now live on opposite ends of the country but grew up in Vinton. J.L. Powers’ first novel was “The Confessional,” set in a fictional version of Cathedral High School. This work still has some traces of the authors’ border roots, including a dose of Día de los Muertos.
“Walking Juarez,” black and white photographs and text by NMSU journalism professor Bruce Berman (Border Blog Press). The book compiles photographs and stories he’s taken of Juárez and the border spanning 45 years. Berman said the book, “Walking Juarez,” is not about “how horrible Juárez is” but about the “sweet epiphanies and little insights.” The oldest photos in the book are from 1972, while the most recent photos are from 2017. Information: bruceberman.com.
“The South Franklin Trinity,” by Jim Murphy (BLBM Publishing). The story takes place in El Puente, Texas, a far-west Texas community nestled in the Franklin Mountains. Three signature characters are absorbed in their own personal search for the meaning of life. Their unpredictable destinies cross a fiery path on the third Tuesday of April 2016.
Also recently released by Murphy is “I'm So Pissed Off!!!—An Adult Stress Relief Book.”
‘My Favorite El Pasoans: Past and Present’ by James Robert Murphy (BookBaby). El Paso writer and musician JMurphy has compiled a list of 200 El Pasoans who have made their mark (but not always in a good way) in the fields of performing arts, literature, athletics and charitable causes, politics, history, crime and other areas.
Murphy said he began the project three years ago and put in on the back burner until a friend encouraged him to revisit it.
“My first version was a little stiff you might say; filled with the regular happy-go-lucky El Pasoans everybody hears about all of the time,” Murphy explains on his website. “So I went back to work and gathered a host of new colorful characters like escape artist Fred Brown. After his incredible 1937 street performance in San Antonio, Texas, the police arrested him for vagrancy.”
Other notables Murphy celebrates include pioneering auto mechanic Tom Ogle, bootmaker Tony Lama, blues guitarist Long John Hunter, record producer Terry Manning, actress Irene Ryan (Granny from Beverly Hillbillies), and even notorious serial “Night Stalker” killer Richard Ramirez.
The book retails for $20 and is available via jamesrobertmurphy.com.
‘El Paso 120: Edge of the Southwest’ by Mark Paulda (TCU Press). In his follow-up to “Celebrating El Paso,” his first book of local photography, Mark Paulda has expanded his radius to 120 miles from El Paso, hence the title. The collection of landscapes and aerial images are grouped by location, mostly geographic gems such as the Guadalupe Mountains, Hueco Tanks, Kilbourne Hole and White Sands National Monument.
Paulda is an El Paso native who learned the craft and art of photography around the world, winning internationl awards.
“El Paso 120” is available for $35 at bookstores on online at pres.tcu.edu.
‘African Americans in El Paso’ (Arcadia Publishing). The newest El Paso-based offering by Arcadia, which publishes local and regional history largely based on vintage photographs, focuses on the Black heritage of the Sun City. Local writers Maceo Daile Jr., Kathryn Smith-McGlynn and Cecilia Gutierrez Venable contributed introductory and caption text. Price: $21.99. Information: arcadiapublishing.com.
“My Life Before I Decided To Commit Suicide” by James Robert Murphy (BookBaby). Available exclusively as an eBook through iBookstore, Amazon Kindle, the Barnes and Noble Nook and more, El Paso author and musician’s book is a collection of what Murphy describes as “slightly embellished personal experiences from my youth, adolescent and young adult years.”
The book handles the very serious issue of suicidal thoughts with warmth, humor and encouragement, and Murphy said he hopes the book will provide a “glimmer of resolve for all those insecure souls contemplating suicide as I once did, and to provide a unique look at how silly life’s foibles really are....All of the crappy stuff will soon pass. Everything thereafter is pretty darn good.”
The book was a First Place Winner in the El Paso Community College Literary Festival.
Make It Take It’ by Rus Bradburd (Cinco Puntos Press) - This the first novel by Bradburd, who previously authored a biography of Nolan Richardson and an account of Bradburd’s year as a coach of an Irish basketball team. “Make It Take It” is a collection of stories that span two years in the life of an assistant basketball coach at fictional “Southern Arizona State University.”
Given Bradburd’s background as an assistant coach himself at UTEP and NMSU, it’s likely that “Make It Take It” offers more truth than fiction. The book touches on the darker side of recruiting and rule infractions, but the stories told wouldn’t even make a top ten list of scandals reported in any given year at major university sports programs.
The novel reads like an anthology, with chapters switching points of view and occasionally jumping chronology along the book’s two-year span. Assistant coach Steve Pytel is the dominant figure, but characters such as head coach Jack Hood; assistant coaches Tyrone Gage and Ernie Lancha; basketball players Jamal Davis and Leonard Redmond, and even the team’s former head coach each get a chapter written in their respective voices.
Pytel is a long-time assistant coach desperate for an opportunity for a head coaching position. He’s passed over when his boss retires, and barely hangs on to his current job with the new head coach, an alcoholic tyrant. The one bright hope for the future is Detroit-area recruit Davis, an innocent “church boy” who comes of age through two major crises.
There’s little actual basketball in the book - the closest it comes to sports action is Pytel describing a move Davis attempts during a pick-up basketball game. Instead, it’s all about the personalities of coaches and players, and the various choices they make.
Bradburd, who left coaching for writing and teaching (at NMSU), probably put much of himself into the main character. Bradburd had plenty of highs and lows to draw from his 14 years as an assistant coach, beginning in the 1980s under UTEP’s Don Haskins.
For example, one plot point centers on the highly profitable summer camps run by college coaches. In real life, Bradburd wrestled with the ethics of making money off kids this way and instead co-founded a summer basketball camp in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio that charged youth just $1.
- Randy Limbird
‘That Mad Game: Growing up in a Warzone’ edited by J.L. Powers (Cinco Puntos Press) - This “anthology of essays from Around the Globe” looks at war from the often-ignored perspective of its most poignant victims: the young.
“Warzone” covers a wide range of violent environments, some are what we all might recognize as war zones, including civil war, and others are violent due to oppressive regimes and anarchy. The common themes are a loss of childhood as we would define it yet also a remarkable resilience among these young victims. Another common lesson is that war not only scars its survivors, but also generations to come.
Among the stories told:
• An Afghan teen-ager and his friend befriend a young member of the Taliban.
• A 16-year-old Dutch girl struggles to survive hunger and cold during the final months of World War II.
• A 20-year-old Serbian woman finds romance with a Croatian man after returning to her war-ravage homeland.
• An Army veteran recounts episodes of growing up with a father who had returned from Vietnam physically and emotionally scarred.
• A Salvadoran boy’s father is arrested and his mother flees the country during the events leading up to the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
• A 9-year-old orphan barely survives the killing fields of Cambodia, escaping the Khmer Rouge yet still haunted by the horror years later.
• A survivor of the Lebanese civil war volunteers to help a 10-year-old Palestinian boy maimed by an Israeli bomb when he is brought to the U.S. for surgery.
• A 13-year-old Tutsi escapes the genocide of Rwanda by walking thousands of miles across the most violence-afflicted countries of Africa, finally arriving in South Africa, where he still struggles against discrimination.
• Children of the rebel Karen ethnic group in Burma have virtually no access to a medical care; a single clinic treats 15,000 cases a year on a budget that average $20 per patient.
• A Juárez family tries to protect itself against the drug cartel violence that not only has left countless children orphaned and has recruited many youth into joining the violence.
Several of the book’s contributors, as well as its editor, J.L. Powers (author of the El Paso-based novel “The Confessional”) will read excerpts from the book 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, at the El Paso Museum of History.
‘Tongue-tied to the Border’ by Gene Keller When Gene Keller knocked on my door to deliver a copy of his new book of poems for review, I was a bit anxious. Poetry is not even close to any field of expertise I might claim.
But it only took a couple of pages to realize this was poetry that, even if was unqualified to evaluate, I was definitely qualified to appreciate. Any Borderlander who spends some times with these poems will come away with refreshed sensibilities about what he or she has long observed.
The poems selected from Gene’s four decades on musing about la frontera cover the geographical, political, cultural and personal eccentricities of the Pass of the North.
The poems’ subjects include the landmarks that define us, such as the Rio Grande (“a spit in the face of the sun”) to the Mt. Cristo Rey statue (“If He overlooks, oversees, and overhears, then may he overfeel all our sufferings …”). The arbitrariness of the international border is a frequent theme (“A river and line divide us, but two deserts clamp yet another America together”).
The violence that has consumed so many lives in Juárez also is recurring subject in poems such as “Teach Boys that Men Do Such Things” and “La Santa Muerte.”
The final section of the book is a “Primo and the Trés Caras,” a mysterious cycle of poems about el primo, his amada and la vieja.
Gene intermixes Spanish words, phrases and verses throughout the poems, much like the conversation one hears at any market or restaurant in town. Most of the Spanish, however, will be fairly familiar to any gringo like myself who has picked up a few words here and there while living on the border.
So whether you’re a poetry buff or you think iambic pentameter is an Olympic sport, “Tongue-tied to the Border” will appeal to anyone who has marveled at, meditated upon or even been mystified by this strange convergence of nations and peoples, desert and mountains, river, winds and sun.
“Tongue-tied to the Border” is available from amazon.com, the Hal Marcus Gallery or contact the publisher, firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico’ by Beto O’Rourke and Susie Byrd (Cinco Puntos Press) When they sat together on the El Paso City Council, Beto O’Rourke and Susie Byrd questioned whether this nation’s drug policies were doing more harm than good. That stance led to a controversial resolution advocating a national debate on the issues, including drug legalization, that was vetoed by the mayor. One upshot of their efforts is this compact book outlining the current state of the War on Drug and cartel violence, and why marijuana legalization makes sense.
No matter what your position might be on marijuana use, “Dealing Death and Drugs” is well worth reading. In just over 100 short-format pages, the authors cover a vast amount of ground, from the basic economics of the drug trade to the most recent developments in the cartel bloodshed as well as U.S. and Mexican policies. It’s filled with facts, actual stories of drug dealing and concludes with a clear rationale against marijuana prohibition.
I found the writing style remarkably straightforward and easy to read. The book is all the more notable given that O’Rourke is now running for Congress and Byrd faces a recall challenge for her council seat. While their position on decriminalizing marijuana may jeopardize their short-term political future, their courage and thoughtfulness in presenting their case demonstrates the kind of leadership desperately needed at any level of government.
‘Begging for Vultures: New and Selected Poems, 1994-2009’ by Lawrence Welsh (UNM Press) This collection embodies 15 year of work, both familiar and new, by the award-winning El Paso poet, musician and teacher.
Featuring selections from his well-received publications such as “Skull Highway,” and “Rusted Steel and Bordertown Starts,” Welsh uses his own emergence into music, art, and the occasional wild night to let the reader within his soul, but just briefly enough to remain a mystery.
His succinct flashes of imagery allow the reader to tread quickly from place to place finding themselves flying through the nostalgic ghost town of Cuchillo one minute and into the colorful kitsch of El Paso Saddleblanket the next without sinking uncomfortably in too deep in any one place.
The new works in “Begging for Vultures” continue his journey into the 21st century border region well. Rather than hone in exclusively on familiar border themes, Welsh takes the reader on a poetic tour of the area’s familiar sights and experiences. Welsh has always had a flair for keeping his own heritage intact while celebrating and lamenting his adopted home in Southwest. As a result, his works may not always be pleasant, but are always, completely true to self.
My personal favorite “When the Pogues Came to Town,” sets this tone well:
“if they’re pouring
if they’re singing
if they’re crying
laughing at the moon”
An Irish heart beating with a border rhythm.
Lisa Kay Tate
‘Where Am I Going: Moving from Religious Tourist to Spiritual Explorer’ by Michelle Cromer (Balboa Press) After watching four seasons of Mad Men on Netflix, I have to admit to being a bit skeptical about reading a book on spiritual discovery by a former advertising agency executive. Nevertheless, Michelle Cromer’s journal of her spiritual travels is a thought-provoking collection of stories and observations that will at some level connect to everyone.
Cromer, a former partner at El Paso’s Sanders Wingo agency, previously authored “Exit Strategy,” a book about non-traditional funerals and other after-death arrangements. This book is more about non-traditional ways of approaching life itself. Cromer is rooted in conventional Christian soil, but her spiritual journey has roamed around the world from Sedona to Katmandu, and has branched out to various New Age disciplines, such as Transcendental Meditation.
She touches upon various life experiences along the way, including her own child’s death and a divorce, and ends with her close relationship with a teen-age girl who died of cancer.
The writing style is quick-paced and often breezy, reflecting Cromer’s years of working with concise but catchy advertising copy as well as keeping people’s attention as a lecturer and workshop leader (she describes herself now as a “spiritual capitalism consultant”). There are certainly hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of books that one might read regarding spiritual journeys such as Cromer’s, so it’s difficult to say whether this one should or should not make anyone’s must-read list. But for those who know Cromer, or who have attended her lectures or workshops, “Where Am I Going” will provide a deeper understanding of where she has been.
‘This Thing Called the Future’ by J.L. Powers (Cinco Puntos Press) -Powers’ first novel “The Confessional” was set close to home (she grew up in Vinton, Texas), centering on the lives of students at a thinly-veiled version of Cathedral High School in El Paso. Her second novel aimed at young adults, although taking place in South Africa, is even closer to home for this author. Powers admits in her “Acknowledgments” that the central character, Khosi, “has many of the same needs, desires, and fears that I had at fourteen.”
Khosi lives with her younger sister and grandmother in a South African shantytown, surrounded by poverty, AIDS, witchcraft and sexual abuse of women. All these dark forces swirl around her as she tries to find a right way - fending off a drunk sexual predator, reconciling her school studies with ancient ways, falling in love with a schoolmate, longing for a mother who must work in a far-away town and returns HIV-positive, coping with a vindictive neighbor and caring for her sister, Zi.
As the title suggests, hope is the theme throughout the book. Khosi perseveres because she sees the choices others make and believes she can make different choices with a different outcome. She manages to embrace all that is good in her life - her loving grandmother Gogo, the earnest boyfriend Little Man, even the syncretistic spirituality that includes guidance from ancestors and medicine from folk healers all mixed with Christian religion.
Powers brings to this story not only her own sensibilities from her adolescence, but years of studying African history and culture. Her first novel was published as she began a doctoral program in African Studies at Stanford University. She ultimately opted to pursue her writing career instead, although she continued some postgraduate studies at Stanford and studied Zulu in South Africa on a Fulbright-Hayes grant.
“This Thing Called the Future” is an excellent introduction to another culture and the hardships faced by young people growing up amid poverty, disease and ignorance. It’s written with enough depth and style that parents and teachers will find it a worthwhile read as well, especially so that they can discuss these issues with young adult readers.
- Randy Limbird
‘Mali Under the Night Sky,’ written and illustrated by Youme (Cinco Puntos Press). - El Paso publisher Cinco Puntos brings the true tale the childhood experience of Malichansouk “Mali” Kouanchao. Mali’s life as a young girl in Laos was surrounded by love, tight family bonds and rich cultural experiences, but was also filled with the hardship and trials of growing up in country torn by civil war. Mali not only recalls her fond memories of special times with friends and family, but of her own family’s fate as refugees traveling from Laos to Thailand.
Cinco Puntos continues to embrace cultures and topics not that are not just limited to the region. Their stories often come from real-life situations from the author that bring a real an authenticity to the story that even re-tellings of folk tales or well-known legends cannot.
‘Mali’ is prime example. Although not an autobiographical depiction, award-winning Youme made sure to grasp the experience of Mali’s story through not just the events, but also the language (including several beautifully-drawn examples of Lao text), food, traditions and even through the illustrations’ borders themselves, that celebrate the patterns and look of the region’s design. The book also includes a self-portrait and commentary by Mali herself. This makes for a package that is not only gracefully done but respectfully and graciously presented.
- Lisa Kay Tate
‘The Lovesick Skunk’ by Joe Hayes and illustrated by Antonia Castro L. (Cinco Puntos Press). This children’s book is about a three-way love affair: a boy, his stinky sneakers and a skunk. Joe Hayes is the Southwest’s best-known storyteller and illustrator Antonio Castro makes his stories even more vivid.
‘Drug Lord’ by Terrence Poppa (Cinco Puntos Press). This new edition of the 1990 classic biography of drug smuggler Pablo Acosta has been released with a new epilogue that discusses the drug cartel wars of the past three years. Poppa worked as a reporter for the El Paso Herald-Post in the 1980s and 1990s.
‘Laura’s Children: The Hidden Story of a Chinese Orphanage’ by Becky Cerling Powers (Canaan Home Communications, 379 pages, $24) Fascinated with the mysterious story of a relative who had spent 22 years caring for orphans in China, Becky Powers in 1983 began researching the life of Laura Richards.
Laura Richards was an Ohio nurse who first came to China in 1921 to work at a missionary hospital, then after a 2-year furlough returned in 1928 and shortly afterward began taking in castaway babies. She was forced to leave China in 1951, having cared for nearly 200 children, and remained in the United States until her death 30 years later at age 88.
Laura survived illness, poverty and persecution while remaining faithful to what she embraced as God’s calling to care for these children, many of whom would remember simply as Mother. She managed to escape internment during the Japanese occupation to continue running Canaan Home. But when the new Communist regime insisted that she renounce her Christian faith and her native country, she could no longer stay.
Laura Richards declined to tell the details of her story during her lifetime for fear that the orphans she left behind would suffer persecution. After her death, Becky Powers, an El Paso writer and Laura’s second cousin, collected old letters, photographs and other historical material about Laura and Canaan home, eventually going to China twice and interviewing some of the surviving orphans or their children.
The result is a reconstructed biography that uses a novelized style to weave the story of this faithful woman who gave up all the usual comforts of American life to serve as God’s caregiver for a generation of children half a world away.
Interspersed throughout the book are excerpts of letters and interviews, along with old photographs, which confirm that the author has not taken liberties with the actual story she took so many years to unearth.
“Laura’s Children” is a story of a 20th century saint who otherwise might have been forgotten except for the fleeting recollections passed on among family members. It also is a story of the tremendous sacrifices required in trying to do good and remain faithful when surrounded by opposing forces of poverty, anarchy, war and ideological oppression.
To learn more about the book, or to order a copy, go to chcpub.com.
- Randy Limbird
“Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness Into Light” by Tim Tingle - (Cinco Puntos Press). This childhood memoir by Choctaw author Tim Tingle, celebrates the strength and life of his “Mawmaw,” (grandmother) and her use of the phrase “Saltypie” to deal with troubles small and tragic. The book deals with the common memories of country life, the sad reality of racism against Native Americans in the mid 20th Century, and the importance of family, all told without preaching or accusing. However, the book grasped me (and my own 8-year-old daughter) with a surprising sad discovery from young Tingle concerning his grandmother, and the just-as-surprising happy conclusion.
The story is accompanied by beautiful painted illustrations by artist Karen Clarkson in her children’s book debut.
Tingle, once again, produces a tale well-told, well-remembered and destined to be well received by readers of all ages.
Lisa Kay Tate
‘Bell Shaped Flowers’ and ‘When Death Intervenes’ by L.C. Hayden - El Paso-based writer L.C. Hayden’s two most recent offerings demonstrate her knack for diversity in writing styles with two very different mysteries:
Her novelette “Bell Shaped Flowers” (One Night Press) is billed as an “inspirational mystery.” In this mystery (void of any violent or heinous acts to solve) well-known philanthropist Pat Reid has a near-death experience that involves a vision of walking beside a stranger in a garden with a bell-shaped flower that has a pearl center; the word “Pearl” bearing a significant, painful meaning for Reid. Soon, the seemingly random meeting of teenage runaway Pedro and Reid changes both their lives in surprising ways while discovering the meaning of this vision and of true forgiveness and personal redemption. Although not as provocative as her other writings, this easy read is suitable for both teens and adults and is particularly good discussion material for study and reading groups.
In contrast, the novel “When Death Intervenes” travels down a much darker, suspenseful path with Hayden’s continuation of the exploits of her recurring protagonist, retired police detective Harry Bronson. In this latest thriller, Bronson and his former partner team up to track the murderer of a woman’s parents and husband who has also threatened to kill her and her grandson. Bronson himself is wrongly accused of the murders, and has to not only find the real murderer, but also clear his own name. Although Bronson’s own personality flaws prevent his mysteries from having the standard “all’s well that ends well” tidy wrap-up, Hayden doesn’t leave the reader’s curiosity unrewarded, and leaves them with the hope that things will always work out for the veteran sleuth.
- Lisa Kay Tate
‘Insides She Swallowed’ (West End Press) by Sasha Pimentel Chacon The UTEP creative writing instructor and Filipina immigrant’s first book of poetry is a reminiscent tribute to her homeland. The poems’ lyrical descriptions of person and place far overshadow all other topics, which mostly focus on themes of hunger and consumption. Like a ghost drifting through a haunted house, entities such as her mother (“your tongue is wet as water/you drip across the rooftops”), grandmother with “arthritis curling into her knotted fingers” and her sister (her “finger held up like this looks ragged as a silver wound”), make the reader very aware of the presence of the physical body in everything we do. The book may possess a simplistic writing style, yet it is laced beautifully (yet sometimes uncomfortably) with an undercurrent of sensuality and flowing wordplay. “Everyday” events like dinner and tomato planting turn into an intimate slow dance, leaving the reader both hungry and sated.
Lisa Kay Tate
‘Revenge of the Saguaro’ (Cinco Puntos Press, $14.95) by Tom Miller The Southwest has been a perennial attraction for visiting artists and authors, its desolate landscapes and colorful history inspiring their city-numbed senses. Tom Miller fell in love with the region back in the 1960s, wrote about it for three decades and made it his home. “Revenge of the Saguaro,” subtitled “Offbeat Travels through America’s Southwest,” is a mix of tales and observations collected from years of free-lance writing about the area.
Local readers in particular may enjoy “Searching for La Bamba,” his triptych of tales based on popular songs. “La Bamba” brings Miller from Mexico to the U.S., “Open Pit Mine” takes him through the copper country of southeastern Arizona into southwestern New Mexico, and Marty Robbins’ classic “El Paso” lands him at Rosa’s Cantina on Doniphan.
These and the other stories were originally published by National Geographic under the title “Jack Ruby’s Kitchen Sink” in 2000, and just now released under the new title by El Paso’s own Cinco Puntos Press.
‘Cursing Columbus’ (Cinco Puntos) by Eve Tal Based loosely on the immigration story of her own grandfather, Tal draws from real-life family stories, conversations with other ancestors of immigrants, historic references and her own imagination in continuing the story of Raizel (Balaban) Altman and her family.
The story takes place in Lower East Side New York three years after its predecessor, “Double Crossing,” ended (Raizel and “Papa” reaching the dream of arriving at Ellis Island). Jumping back in forth between the points of view of Raizel and her brother Lemmel (Louis), the story takes the siblings through the joys of reuniting with family to the hardships of growing up in an immigrant family in the early part of the 20th Century.
Raizel’s struggles range from the roadblocks facing her and the education she desperately wants, to the universal dealings of “young love,” Lemmel battles his own inner demons as well as the outside prejudices and pressures of the larger-than-life world around him. Like “Double Crossing,” this book ends at a crossroads including a potential second chance for Lemmel and possible parting of ways for Raizel and her love Reuben. However, like the first book the ending of the book marks a continuation of life, with mystery and hope around every corner. Hopefully Tal will feel obliged to continue the story of Raizel, Lemmel and the rest in the future.
This is a wonderful read for young El Pasoans, many of whom may be sons, daughters, or grandchildren of immigrants themselves. Being able to learn a new culture, while relating to the same situation and coming-of-age problems through the eyes of young teenagers.
Whether crossing a sea in New York harbor or crossing a border checkpoint in the Southwest, the quandary of the immigrant remains the same what of my old life do I leave behind, what do I take, and what do I embrace of the new country?” regardless of race or national origin.
‘Literary El Paso’ (TCU Press, $29.50) edited by Marcia Hatfield Daudistel Anyone who loves the border and loves words will love this anthology of more than 60 El Paso writers, spanning nearly a century. Some of them lived and wrote here, others passed through, but all of them shared the inspiration of this unique city at the crossroads of North America.
The selected writers range from the famous and familiar, such as Tom Lea, Leon Metz, Abraham Verghese, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Denise Chavez and Pat Mora, to the relative obscure, such as Bernice Love Wiggins, an African-American poet who wrote here during the 1920s and 1930s but whose subsequent career is a mystery.
Editor Daudistel was well-qualified to take on TCU Press’s El Paso installment in its literary cities series: She is a former associate director of Texas Western Press and has served literary appointments on local and state boards.
Some of us who are familiar with El Paso writers will wonder at why some of our personal favorites were left out and question why others were selected in their place. Daudistel had a tough job settling on the sixty or so finalists, and some of her choices likely had more to do with offering a broad literary sampling of not just writers but also of subject matter that conveyed the border’s character.
This is a book that deserves a lengthy tenure on one’s bedside table or other favorite spot so that it can be explored again and again. At 570 pages and over 100 different selections, “Literary El Paso” provides a well-balanced reading diet for 2011.
‘Celebrating El Paso’ by Mark Paulda (TCU Press). El Paso’s richest human resources are often those who leave, learn and come back. Mark Paulda is one of those. The El Paso native learned the craft and art of photography around the world, winning awards and exhibiting nationally, but has focused his lens on his hometown in recent years. “Celebrating El Paso” originally was a self-published venture, but deservedly has been reprinted by TCU press, this time with a foreword by El Paso Mayor John Cook. Its 160 fine art photographs range from architectural detail to desert panoramas to aerial views. At $29.95, it’s a perfect gift for anyone’s coffee table, including your own. Get a signed copy from Paulda Dec. 3 at the Hal Marcus Gallery book signing.
“Last Night I Sang to the Monster” by Benjamin Alire Saenz (Cinco Puntos Press). This young adult novel comes with an impressive pedigree written by one of El Paso’s best authors and published by the city’s award-winning small press. The story mostly takes place inside the mind of a 17-year-old who wakes up in a rehab center and doesn’t remember or even want to remember how he got there. We learn step by step about a depressed mom and an alcoholic dad. Zach’s journey to healing is guided by two caring older men one a fellow alcoholic in rehab, the other a therapist with scars of his own.
This is the third young adult novel by Saenz, whose two earlier novels “Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood” and “He Forgot to Say Goodbye” both received high honors and critical praise.
“Last Night I Sang to the Monster” will provide younger readers with reassurance that they are not alone in dealing with the demons of dysfunctional families and painful memories, and that even though adults may have let them down, others can help them up. Older readers may find this book a way both to engage the often painful memories of their own adolescence and also to listen more sensitively to those making their way through those turbulent years.
“Images of America: El Paso 1850-1950” by James R. Murphy; and “Images of Rail: Street Railways of El Paso” by Ronald E. Dawson (Arcadia Publishing). Arcadia Publishing has just released these two books of historical archived photography, with lengthy captions by the authors, for lovers of El Paso history.
“El Paso 1850-1950” is largely based on the photo collections at UTEP and the El Paso Public Library. Author Murphy is director of development at the El Paso Museum of History (and also an active local musician). The soft-cover book has 128 pages and about 200 photos. The time period of the photos does not seem to coincide exactly with the title; most are concentrated from the 1880s to the 1930s.
This is not the sort of book you sit down and read from cover to cover. It’s great for browsing, and ideal for waiting areas and bathroom libraries. For me, books like these are like a family album, both refreshing my memory of local history and also introducing me to aspects of El Paso’s past that I did not know about. For $21.99, it makes a great gift and you can even buy a companion set of 15 historic postcards for $7.99. They should be available at local bookstores; if not, go to arcadiapublishing.com
A narrower look at El Paso history is available in “Street Railways,” which is identical in size, format and cost. Arcadia picked the perfect author for this volume; Dawson is president of the Paso del Norte Streetcar Preservation Society and historian for the El Paso Railroad & Transportation Museum.
Railroad and streetcar fans need no further encouragement to buy this book. For the rest of us, just a few minutes of browsing should do the trick. There is much to be said for learning local history through a narrow lens; the story of one family or business can often give more insight than trying to study every aspect. In the case of El Paso, our rail history is particularly significant. The modern history of our city begins in 1881, when the railroad turned our dusty border town into a booming crossroads of America.
The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906-1920 by Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler (University of New Mexico Press). In El Paso, the Mexico Revolution is local history. El Pasoans gathered on their rooftops when the first rifle shots were fired in the Battle of Juárez, and many of those rifles and ammunition came through El Paso, as did a parade of revolutionaries, mercenaries, public officials and businessmen who had a stake in the fighting. The role El Paso played in the revolution is the focus of this well-researched book by two emeritus history professors from New Mexico State University. Besides recounting the fascinating story of the revolution, whose most important battles were fought at our doorstep, “The Secret War in El Paso” brings to light the findings gleaned from 80,000 pages of previously classified FBI documents. Harris and Sadler also dug up hundreds of secret agent reports from Mexican government archives.
The book begins with the historic meeting of U.S. President William Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz in El Paso in 1909, on the eve of the revolution that would depose the dictator. The book backtracks to the early struggles against Diaz by the ill-fated Magonistas, then goes forward to the revolution launched by Francisco Madero. Madero and so many other Mexican Revolution leaders such as Carranza, Orozco, Obregon and Villa are household names in El Paso for good reason -- they relied on their border connections to arm their men, fund their war and gain U.S. support, often meeting openly at places such as the Sheldon Hotel or even a local El Paso ice cream shop. The book moves on to the infamous Villa raid on Columbus, General Pershing’s Punitive Expedition and the World War I era, all of which generated intense interest on gathering foreign intelligence by the FBI and other agencies.
What’s fascinating about this chapter in history is not just the role that El Paso played 100 years ago, but also the continuing echoes of that history today. A century ago, the U.S. worried about gunrunners supplying revolutionaries in Juárez. Today they’re supplying drug cartels. A century ago El Pasoans dodged stray bullets from the battles between federal and revolutionary forces. Today we still fear violence spilling over the border.
“The Secret War in El Paso” is available at local bookstores, UNM Press or other retail book sources. Its 488 pages include over 100 pages of notes, bibliography and index.
-- Randy Limbird
“Blue Rooms, Black Holes, White Lights” by Belinda Subraman, with illustrations by César Ivan. (Unlikely Books). This brief, yet poignant collection of poets by the El Paso/Ruidoso poet, a registered nurse who spent her recent years with hospice work, is a very real observation of life in caregiving.
It includes several revelations of going through grief as well as discovering the melancholy miracle of experiencing a person released from the chains of mortal life, as in the case of her own father, shared in several poems including “The Visit,” and “Issues, Colors.” She also brief touches on human perception, including the heightened sense of place and detail observation in pieces like “In Just One Corner of One Room in My Mother’s House.”
Ivan sets the tone of the book well with his darkly intriguing art that is both disturbing and compelling.
Like many poetry collections, the readers’ own state of mind and situation in life will determine what they get out of the book. For me, I found it at times and very reflective and refreshingly honest, and at other times a bit “close to home” in the memory department, as for anyone who may have recently lost a loved one.
Lisa Kay Tate
“Labor Pains and Birth Stories,” Edited by Jessica Powers with introduction by Tina Cassidy. (Catalyst Book Press).
This compilation of essays, features writers from across the country and overseas, including a couple of regional contributors, sharing their varied stories and perspectives on the pregnancy and birth experiences, both wonderful and heartbreaking.
One area author, Carmen Gimenez Smith, shares the familiar out-of-control racing of the mind during the last trimester of pregnancy of a second child in “Estrangement/Arrangement.” There never seems to be a relief from anxiety and doubt until the child is safely out of the mother’s belly and in her arms.
What I found refreshing is the inclusion of the male perspective as well. In Las Cruces writer Pierre Laroche’s piece “Out of the Woods,” he shares the intimate joy and horror between and man and a woman of giving birth and experiencing loss due to miscarriage. It seems we females tend to be pretty stingy with the “pregnancy and motherhood” cult, we forget the fathers waiting and praying (sometimes silently) at our sides.
As a mother (and a current mother-of-two-to-be), this read couldn’t have been more appropriate. I wouldn’t recommended it as a self-help guide or guaranteed means or healing, but it is certainly comforting to know there’s other out there with the hopes, fears, triumphs and tragedies that swirl like a tempest in the hearts (and uteri) or all mothers.
-- Lisa Kay Tate
El Paso publishers Cinco Puntos Press continue their trend of colorful Spanish-English bilingual children’s books with three new releases.
-- “A Perfect Season for Dreaming: Una tiempo perfecto para soñar” by Benjamin Alire Saenz with illustrations by Esau Andrade Valencia. When Octavio Rivera lies down to dream each lazy afternoon, he is showered with the most unlikely of treats from a magical piñata. After several dreams some filled with a passing nod to the border region Rivera struggles to find just the right person to share them with. Saenz’s poetic background and Valencia’s folksy canvas paintings were made for each other, as they take Octavio through his subconscious journeys. A pleasant read that leaves the reader feeling as if they have just woken from their own peaceful afternoon slumber, ready to share their own fanciful stories with their own children, grandchildren and friends.
Lisa Kay Tate
-- “Baila Nana, Baila (Dance, Nana, Dance) Cuban Folktales in English and Spanish” retold by Joe Hayes, with illustrations by Mauricio Trenard Sayago. Storyteller extraordinaire Joe Hayes ventures beyond the Southwest and heads east to the island nation of Cuba for his latest compilation of collected stories and folktales, seasoned with African, Spanish and Caribbean influences. Hayes compiled these tales after attending a conference in Cuba in 2001. The result is a rich as a cup of Cuban coffee, filled with magic, sorcery, demons, sometimes animals and even foolish humans. Stories include the lazy imp-charmer “Pedro Malito,” the boatman who seeks to rescue a beautiful woman from “The Hairy Old Devil Man” and a fire-hoarding sorceress. Each tale is introduced through a painting by Cuban-born Mauricio Sayago.
Lisa Kay Tate
-- “Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid,” written and illustrated by Xavier Garza. Vague reminiscent of a red-nosed reindeer called upon for Christmas Eve duties, Vincent’s Tio Pancho is summoned to help his cousin Santa complete his rounds along the Rio Grande. Decked out in mariachi splendor as Charro Claus, with a cart and burro serving as transportation, the uncle carries a stowaway his nephew Vincent, renamed the Tejas Kid. This story will serve as border variation on “The Night Before Christmas,” and the imagery of a sombrero-clad Santa’s helper might hit much closer to home.
“Historic Photos of El Paso” (Turner Publishing). This new coffee-table gift book is primarily a selection of photographs from the El Paso Public Library’s Aultman Collection, with text and captions by Sandra Fye.
I started out a bit skeptical about the book, since it seemed like a formulaic approach: Find a lot of historic photos in the public domain, hire an area writer to annotate them and market it for gift-giving. Turner Publishing has produced dozens of these collections around the country, including books devoted to historic photos of Albuquerque, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Phoenix and Tucson. They almost all sell for $39.95 each.
Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed the experience of flipping through the pages and refreshing my knowledge of El Paso history as well as learning some new stuff. The bite-sized format lends itself well to a book perfectly packaged for waiting rooms and coffee tables. Organized in five eras, the book covers a century of El Paso captured by cameras. The photos start in the early 1880s with the advent of the railroads, which turned El Paso from dusty frontier trading post to a boomtown. The last chapter claims to go through 1980, but the photos only chronicle El Paso through the mid-20th century.
The book made me thankful that Otis Aultman, an obviously prolific and hard-working photographer and collector, plied his trade in the Sun City from the time he moved here in 1909 to his death in 1943. Of the nearly 200 photos in the book, 90 percent are from the Aultman Collection; the rest came from the Library of Congress and the El Paso Historical Society.
Anyone with an interest in El Paso history will enjoy this book, and it makes a great complement to Frank Mangan’s “El Paso in Pictures,” which was reprinted last year by TCU Press.
“Historic Photos of El Paso” is available at turnerpublishing.com or call 1-800-788-3350.
Recent released from Book Publishers of El Paso include:
-- “I Forgive Them,” by David Kaplan. Kaplan, a long-time El Paso resident and Fort Bliss veteran and native of Lithuania, shares his nightmarish experience of his time in Nazi concentration camps from age 12 to 16. He decided to share his survival of the camp, as well as the infamous Death March, when he turned 78 in 2007. Through interviews conducted in 2004 by UTEP journalism professor David Smith-Soto, Kaplan relates every detail he can remember about his and other prisoners’ treatment, his own emotional and sometimes hormonal struggles coming of age in the concentration camp setting, his life prior to being taken, and even the conflicts in Russia preceding the war.
Although the interview style tends to jump around, being able to receive the story word for word as Kaplan told it gives it an intimate, conversational appeal. One of the more unnerving experiences is his description of overwhelming lice problem among prisoners that required the use of an “antilousen” oven.
Kaplan had given several reasons, for sharing his story; including letting his own grandchildren continue to tell his story. Through this book, they will be able to share his struggle and survival with their own children and grandchildren generations to come.
-- “Van SlykeRaaberg Family History,” compiled by Stuart O. Van Slyke. Now in his 90s, this Washington State native has lived in El Paso since his being stationed as a young man at Fort Bliss. Having also published a trilogy about his own life, this fourth publication, compiles the extended history of his family as told and written by other family members. Dating from 1800s through the 1970s, these memories include military and church histories, love stories, lessons in Americana and even a child’s abduction by Indians, all given in first person form. More of a collection of stand-alone anecdotes than one long history, this book is best read a little at time to prevent the various recollections from overlapping ... and some of them are very entertaining indeed.
-- “Apache Tears” by Tom Diamond. Four years after his debut novel “Rimfire,” dealing with political and racial troubles in New Mexico Territory, Diamond returns to champion the plight of the Apache Indians once again, through the eyes of proud and strong Lozen. Lozen, sister of Chief Victorio, was endowed with the gift of “Star Power,” an ability to foretell the future. Ready to fight for the “Apache cause,” Diamond uses Lozen’s journey to reflect the desperate efforts to hold on to a way of life quickly being overtaken by the “white eyes.”
From Silver City to Hueco Tanks, local readers will be very familiar with the territory, but might be left with new way of looking at it and those who gave their lives to protect the Apacheria’s sacred realm. Diamond is best known locally as a former El Paso Democratic Party Chairman and for leading effort to legitimize the Tiguas as a tribe. His sympathy and admiration for the Native American culture and history remain evident in his works. Although melancholy in its conclusion, “Apache Tears” brings a new appreciation of the spirit of the Native American, and the legacy they still work to protect.
Lisa Kay Tate
-- “Mrs. Meyer’s Beautiful Head (La Cabeza Hermosa de Maestra Meyer),” by Zita Meyer (with Spanish translation by Rosa Rodriguez). Meyer’s brief picture book serves a number of purposes: a brief memoir for cancer survivors, an unintimidating look at the disease and those who overcame it for young readers or a short “thank you” note to God and loved ones. Through basic text and simple drawings resembling those of a child witnessing the events, Meyer shares one small aspect of cancer treatment hair loss with her young students. She uses her bald head to boldly share how alike (and special) everyone is through her dialogue with these curious youth. The book also features some “face puzzles” I assume were drawn by her students and a short glossary of common cancer-related terms. The look of the book seems primitive at first, but the message of survival and self-confidence is timeless. A portion of sales proceeds go towards the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital another sign Meyer’s thankful and sharing nature will continue.
-- “Rhythm of the Heart,” Manuel Lozano. This third collection of English and Spanish poems by the El Paso poet, is a testament to his border upbringing, along with his flair for simple, passionate works. Ranging from metered declarations of love and longing to free-form descriptions of an inner turmoil, these poems seem to all reach out to those longing for a love or event just lust in a desperate, chaotic world. Often using references to nature or celestial bodies, and sometimes walking the line between desire and violence, Lozano takes the reader along with him on his pursuits, and we root for him all the way.
Lisa Kay Tate
“Renaming the Earth,” personal essays by Ray Gonzalez (University of Arizona Press). Native El Pasoan Gonzalez has published everything from poetry to fiction including his memoir “Memory Fever: A Journey Beyond El Paso del Norte.” He returns once again to his border memories on El Paso and its continual “redefining” of itself and its image from its natural landscape to its cultural identity. Now a creative writing professor at the University of Minnesota, Gonzalez’s essays depict a still deep-rooted attachment to the El Paso border area, and depicts with some fond recollections, but without sentimental rose-colored glasses.
He includes details from his guilt pangs each time he returns home, to family talk of an ill-fated two-headed lizard and even his mother’s obsession with his growing up with “normal feet.” Most prominent, however, is his sense of El Paso losing grasp of early self as it tries to scramble into the present day.
“My hometown is gone, and I wander through a different El Paso,” he writes, “loving it as I have never loved it before and wishing the ghosts of history could reenact every lost detail I need for my writing.”
If “Renaming the Earth” is any indication, Gonzalez has still retained plenty of details to work with.
Lisa Kay Tate
“Nepantla: Essays from the Land in the Middle,” by Pat Mora (University of New Mexico Press). The first book of essays by the former El Pasoan (originally released in the early 1990s) has been re-issued in a more accessible paperback form, and still stands out as prominent source of Chicana literature, touching on such subjects as education, bilingualism, family, women’s matters and social injustices. Interspersed with Mora’s own poetry, the book takes the reader with on her own physical and inner journeys, from her recollections of her life in El Paso to its contrast to Cincinnati and visits to Latin America. Although her topics and reflections range from warm remembrances, to edgier, biting observations, Mora’s words are her way of opening up her home to her readers, and not trying to hide the dusty corners. Her introductory verse from “Welcome to My Word-House” sums it up best: “In the kitchen, family bread is always rising.”
“The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History” by James J. O’Donnell (HarperCollins). Native El Pasoan James O’Donnell, a professor of classics at several prominent northeast colleges and Provost of Georgetown University, offers a new angle on an ancient topic: the decline of Rome. Taking a more sympathetic view of the Romans, who he says are often depicted as “barbarians,” he brings the lessons that their downfall could teach man about today’s wars, including the conflicts in Iraq.
Not one to shy from controversy, O’Donnell touches on such unlikely angles as Rome’s “illegal immigration” crisis to first-century ruler Theoderic’s imposition of “tolerance and civility.” The book flows with easily digestible prose as opposed to a dry matter-of-fact, textbook style of writing. I’ve always personally found this topic extremely interesting, and feel a sense of “hometown” pride at O’Donnell’s accomplishments not only in writing, but also in his compelling new ideas.
“What Men Call Treasure: The Search for Gold At Victorio Peak,” by David Schweidel and Robert Boswell (Cinco Puntos Press). Originally turned down by New York publishers because the title “treasure” hasn’t yet been found (or even been proven to have existed at all), this book is more if study on what drives the treasure hunters themselves. Co-authored by former El Paso resident Schweidel and NMSU teacher Boswell, the focus is on the legacy and family of Ernest “Doc” Noss, who originally claimed to have found and lost the treasure hidden in the mountains of New Mexico in the late 1930s. It follows Noss’s search for the treasure that extends beyond his own life to his wife Ova’s (Babe’s) grandson, Terry Delonas, who took on his own heartbreaking quest for the treasure through the 1990s. From lawsuits, to conspiracies and personal family and inner struggles, Delonas’s quest, albeit seemingly futile, captures the ageless psyche of the human spirit always looking for the end of the rainbow. Starting with a nod to “Treasure Island,” and winding down with a nod to Odysseus, this book is filled with enough pitfalls and promises to make any would-be treasure-seeking throw down their shovel and give up the hunt ... or purchase a better one and look even harder.
“A Surprise for Baby Ruth,” by Barbara L. Rodgers, with illustrations by “Grandma” Helene Dadoune (Publish America). Rodgers, an El Paso librarian, offers this simple story based on a real-life event that occurred to her mother, Ruthie Lee Anderson, at Cohay Swamp in 1918. Ruth, who carries on each day helping her mother with chores and wishing for friends, finds an unexpected yet memorable visitor at her door one day. Dadoune’s illustrations (featuring a subtle foreshadow of the “visitor” for kids to find) resemble the simple, charming Grandma Moses style, yet aren’t reproduced with the best clarity. Other than that, this “plain-folk” little story is a good way to share a bit of everyday, early-American rural life with younger generations.
“The Socorro Blast” by Pari Noskin Taichert. (New Mexico Press). This continuation of the “Sasha Soloman Mystery” series by the Agatha Award-nominated author centers on the Socorro area. Readers will find many familiar sites including Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge and Very Large Array. Soloman’s niece, who studies explosives at NM Tech, finds herself the victim of a potential hate crime. Not familiar the past exploits of Taichert’s fiery and feisty public relations consultant (and self-appointed sleuth) protagonist, I couldn’t get too attached to any of the characters, not even her “intuitive” friend Darnda or Leo the Cat. I also found the “resolve” a little shallow. The situation itself, however, lends itself to fodder for discussion groups concerning racial profiling, hate crimes and ethnic prejudice in a post 9-11 world. Mixed with some fun and spirited wordplay and off-beat humor, this book can serve as both a “summer reading” mystery or a deeper look into one’s own hidden preconceived prejudice.
“The Smell of Old Lady Perfume” by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (Cinco Puntos Press). This El Paso native’s debut novel is a melodic and melancholy tale of a girl’s sixth-grade year. The book begins with the high expectations of most incoming sixth graders looking forward to being the top of the food chain at an El Paso elementary school. Chela Gonzalez soon finds her friends leaving her behind in shallow pursuit of popularity. After her loving “Apá” (father) is rushed to the hospital, her mother’s mother moves in to help and the air becomes thick with “the smell of old lady perfume, dying flowers and alcohol.”
I normally shy away from anything that includes “bittersweet” in the promotional description, particularly when it concerns the fate of a “daddy’s girl” and her father, but I found the middle school struggles (and personal triumph) faced by Chela endearing, particularly as a fellow nerd who was continuously put off by the “tween girl hierarchy.” Although she now resides in Chicago, Martinez hasn’t lost her connection and passion for her border roots, which I hope to see continued in her future works.
-- Lisa Kay Tate
Young Reader’s Picture Books:
“Little Zizi” by Thierry Lenain with illustrations by Stéphanie Poulin. Translated from French by New Mexico photographer Daniel Zolinsky. (Cinco Puntos Press). It doesn’t seem like a ten-year-old reprinted book by a French author and Canadian illustrator would hold any significance to the border region, but it’s a testament to Cinco Puntos ever-expanding diversity of subject and style. An adolescent Martin becomes the point of ridicule when he is accidentally caught with his pants down....and the reader meets the “zizi” in question. For an unsuspecting parent, this book may come to a bit of a shock with its lovingly illustrated, yet brief look at the “zizi,” as well as some rather humorous depictions of distance peeing practice. With the seemingly uncomfortable nature of the story, I wouldn’t personally read this to my five-year-old daughter who thankfully lacks “zizi” issues, but for parents of young boys everywhere who face a sympathetic dilemma, it’s a good way to teach them early that love comes the heart, not from the pants.
-- Lisa Kay Tate
“Border” by Leon Metz. Reprint release in paperback by TCU Press. War, nature, diplomacy and even surveying mistakes all played a major role in the nearly 2,000-mile long border separating the United States and Mexico. El Paso historian Metz tells the story spanning nearly two centuries i over 400 pages in what may well be his finest work.
-- Randy Limbird
King of the Road: Adventures Along New Mexico’s Friendly Byways by Lesley S. King (New Mexico Magazine). This sturdy little book is not so much a guide, but one woman’s narrative on her encounters with some of the state’s scenic points of interest. No real surprises in the regional findings -- Christmas on the Pecos, The Lodge in Cloudcroft, Double Eagle in Old Mesilla, Lake Roberts near Silver City, among others -- but the conversation with some of the friendly locals makes this book a stand-out. In conversation with Lodge bartender (and former Californian) Greg Stoner, Stoner says “My dad told me it would take me a couple of years before I learned how to mosey.” Includes a brief reference of her recommended lodging and dining and, in some cases, reading opportunities.
-- Lisa Kay Tate
The World in Pancho’s Eye by J.P.S. Brown (University of New Mexico Press). At age 77, Arizona author, and one-time El Paso reporter Brown offers a sort of “autobiographical” fiction in which the life of young protagonist Mikey mirrors his own childhood. Although set in Depression-era Arizona, area readers will relate to the hard-edged ethos of life on the U.S-Mexico border, as young Mikey witnesses the strength of his mother, the betrayal of some of the adults in his life, his own struggles with growth a self-reliability. The books title refers to the young boy’s horse and the beautiful other world that can be seen when looking into the beast’s eye. Filled with some very humorous and also very painful moments, the book ends with one satisfying and loving act on the part of Mikey’s mother.
-- Lisa Kay Tate
Field Guide to the Saints by Kate Rushford Murray with artwork by Krystyna Robbins (KRM Guides). Intended as a guide to travelers who wonder who all the saints are that they see in cathedrals and in various religious art, this book will interest anyone curious about these venerated heroes of faith. El Paso’s own artist Krystyna Robbins painted about 80 originals to illustrate the book, from Acacius (a converted Roman soldier known for carrying a crown of thorns, hence a patron saint of headache sufferers) to Wilgefortis (who prayed that God would make her so ugly that her husband-to-be would reject her). An “Object Clue List” at the back of the book reference each saint to objects associated with them and their characteristic attributes. For more information on the book, go to fieldguidetothesaints.com.
-- Randy Limbird
AbeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill and K.B. Basseches, with wood sculptures from Oaxaca by Moisés and Armando Jiménez (Cinco Puntos Press). Although the title and credits are longer than the book’s content, don’t let its simplicity fool you. This colorful little ABC book took a goodly amount of preparation, with each wooden folk animal (depicting both real and mythical beasts) carved especially for the publication, photographed by Basseches and compiled by Weill. The result is an attractive and effective way to introduce beginner reading, foreign language skills and art appreciation to kids. I even learned something new myself -- “ll,” “ch” and “rr” haven’t been recognized letters in the Spanish alphabet since 1994, but are nonetheless still used by Spanish speaker. “¿Por que?” How come I never got that memo?
-- Lisa Kay Tate
“The Confessional” by J.L. Powers (Knopf). The novel focuses on the interior lives of six teen-age boys attending a fictional counterpart of Cathedral High School in El Paso, nearly a year after a terrorist attack on a border bridge that has fueled anti-Mexican feelings.
An Anglo student is mysteriously slain shortly after his vicious beating of a Hispanic classmate. In the chaotic aftermath, each of the novel’s characters examines his own life and the lives of their friends, with everyone suddenly suspect -- if not of the murder itself, perhaps in some way as an accomplice.
In her debut novel, Powers successfully takes the readers into the hearts and minds of these six narrators. While the story is a whodunit, the propelling elements of the story are the contrasting characters and the different ways they express teen-age angst.
The novel is billed as “young adult” fiction, although parents and teachers might be taken aback by the harsh language throughout the book. So don’t look for it on any required reading lists, particularly at Cathedral High.
Teens themselves, however, will find plenty to identify with. So will any El Pasoan who enjoys a story saturated by border culture and local landmarks.
Powers’ writing should not be unfamiliar to long-time Scene readers -- Jessica wrote several feature stories for the Scene a few years ago. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in African History at Stanford University.
-- Randy Limbird
“Beating the Devil” by W. C. Jameson. (University of New Mexico Press). Jameson has been a songwriter, editor and non-fiction author for several years, but “Devil” is his first stab at fiction. A young El Paso -area man named Carlos, disillusioned and embittered with his childhood in the United States, crosses to Mexico for a more genuine existence. What he finds is the stark reality of blurred lines between good and evil as he joins a band of guerilla vigilantes battling to reclaim their land against a the land-grabbing hacendado Joaquin Mueller and his henchmen. He befriends an ill-fated dwarf, El Enano, and guerilla leader Chávez in a quest for vengeance against Mueller, learning about the complexities of a country marked by everything from unimaginable violence to unconditional loyalty.
Jameson’s narrative reads like an oncoming storm, filled will a sense of overwhelming darkness, and a few bright spots, followed by violent bursts of intense rage and finally a quiet, and somewhat unsettling, calm.
Unfortunately, like life, this book comes not to a satisfying, tidy conclusion, but rather a look back with mix of both nostalgia and regret in a land, Carlos refers to as one of “poverty and passion, of repression and conflict, of celebration and mourning, of mystery and magic...of death and rebirth.”
Lisa Kay Tate
“El Paso in Pictures” by Frank Mangan (TCU Press). Originally published in 1971, El Paso in Pictures served as the definitive pictorial album of the Sun City, spanning nearly 100 years of photography. TCU Press has reissued the book, which now is entirely a historical collection rather than an up-to-the-present reference. Nevertheless, the reprint will be a boon to anyone’s “border bookshelf,” featuring many photographs unavailable anywhere else.
Mangan himself has done more than nearly anyone else to preserve and promote the history of the El Paso region. He and his wife Judy owned Mangan Books for years, publishing many of Leon Metz’s works of El Paso history, and also Frank’s own books, among others.
“El Paso in Pictures” begins with woodcuts and drawings illustrating the first European expeditions into the Pass of the North, then skipping forward quickly to the era of the railroads and El Paso’s rapid growth. The days of the gunfighters, the Mexican Revolution that took place in plain view of El Paso’s balconies, the development of downtown, UTEP and residential neighborhoods are all faithfully recorded through photos and accompanying text.
The final chapter is a snapshot of El Paso as it entered the 1970s. Much has happened in the generation since, but an update bridging the book’s content to the 21st century remains a task for another day.
“The Face of Pancho Villa: A History in Photographs and Words” by Friedrich Katz (Cinco Puntos Press). This is another good choice for those who prefer their history well illustrated. El Paso’s own Cinco Puntos Press has published an English-language version of “Imagenes de Pancho Villa” first published in 1999.
The book’s 80 pages include 20 pages of text by Katz, professor emeritus of Latin American History at the University of Chicago, and 42 archival photographs, selected from the archives of the Casasola Collection owned by the Mexican government. The Mexican Revolution was the world’s first major conflict to be recorded so freely by camera.
This book is the third offering in Cinco Puntos’ Mexican Revolution Collection, which also features David Romo’s “Ringside Seat to a Revolution” and Elena Poniatowska’s “Las Soldaderas.”
“The Long Journey of Mister Poop/El Gran Viaje del Señor Caca” by Angéle Delaunois and Marie LaFrance (Cinco Puntos Press). At last, a bilingual companion to the popular children’s picture book “Everybody Poops.” All kidding aside, this kid-friendly journey through the digestive system is actually a pretty practical little item dotted with several little pieces of science knowledge and simple diagrams of parts of the body in both English and Spanish. It works on several levels: kids can get their mischievous chuckles reading about an apple slipping through the body on its way to the “final exit,” basic anatomy and physiology can be discovered, and simple Spanish (or English) skills can be strengthened. LaFrance’s illustrations are both endearing and rather nauseating, but on this level, they work. I’m not exactly sure how the Lobo doctor factors in, or if seeing a little pair or legs sticking out of beret-clad piece of feces will cause some permanent emotional damage to a potty training toddler, but this book doesn’t stink (no pun intended). I’m just glad the authors had the good taste to demonstrate with an apple instead of corn.
Lisa Kay Tate
“There’s A Yak in my Bed” by K. Pluta with illustrations by Christy Stallop (Blooming Tree Press). El Paso native Christy Stallop offers her endearing artwork to the tale of a young boy trying to coax a stubborn yak out of his bed, that eventually leads to the large animal following him to breakfast and school. Poking fun at adults’ inability to see the extraordinary in life, no matter how “in their face” it is, this playful and silly book is as much fun for parents to read to their children as it is for beginning readers to romp through on their own.
-- Lisa Kay Tate
“Latina Mistress” by R.F. Sanchez (Floricanto Press). Veteran sportswriter Ray Sanchez’s first novel since “The Gods of Racing” in the early 1980s, is a tale of a young family spanning nations, cultures and generations. Although Sanchez is admired by El Paso readers for his sports columns that have appeared in a variety of local publications, he is also a surprisingly gifted storyteller who can paint vivid and familiar pictures of the border culture. Those who think they are familiar with his style will be surprised by his very serious handling of such issues as bigotry, cross-cultural marriage and sexual matters. Filled with local references from landmarks to favorite restaurants, the novel proves that Sanchez’s writing talents span more than a love for UTEP and the Dallas Cowboys and encompass a unique (and often melancholy) nature of the area.
“Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration,” by Sam Quinones (University of New Mexico Press). Quinones, a freelance journalist, has spent more than 10 years traveling among Mexico’s rural towns and villages where migration affects everyday life. Although his nonjudgmental observations and stories come from all along the Mexico-U.S. Border, as well as from Mexico City to Kansas, there is plenty of familiar territory for El Paso readers. such as a look at the “Old Colony” Mennonites, and a melancholy story of Juarez velvet painter Chuy Morán and his El Paso counterpart Doyle Harden. Quinones’s writings are similar to adventure traveling, sharing experiences that are not always pleasurable but often unforgettable.
“The Desert Remembers My Name: On Family and Writing” by Kathleen Alcalá, (University of Arizona Press). Known for her Southwest novels and short stories, Alcalá’s first nonfiction endeavor blends her life’s memoirs with a subtle creative writing lesson. With many of the essays previously published in various journals, newsletters and other publications, the subject matter is as varied as one’s own memories, ranging from bilingualism and literacy to spiritual matters. Her writing is both comforting and comfortable, and is by no means geared towards writers or writing students. Her writing observations just naturally fall into her life’s history and passion. As she describes in her essay “A Woman Called Concha,” “I want my writing to insinuate itself into the subconscious of the people of the Southwest, so that we might remember who we were and who we will be... I feel as strongly about this as any fanatic. This is my job.” Well done, indeed.
“The Line Between” by Kelsie Nygren. (The Benchmark Group LLC). Part of a Young Writers Series of books penned for teens by teens, 16-year-old La Union area high school student’s fantasy offering is slim but very readable. The story is of a young 21st century warrior, Jo Whitaker, who belongs to Rytra Organization to Defeat Darkness (RODD). Gifted with the power to control the elements of light to fight evil, she also possesses a strong, fiery personality worthy of any modern teen’s approval. Those with an overly-critical eye will find many standard “beginning writer mistakes” such as some rushed conclusions, but Nygren’s offering to this series released in March holds its own with the other young authors’ contributions to the series, and has been getting enthusiastic response from teens, the book’s intended readers. With one book under her belt, and the encouragement from peers to keep going, Nygren’s has plenty of motivation to keep up her writing pursuit.
“The Bee Tree” by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Cohn, illustrated by Paul Mirocha. El Paso’s Cinco Puntos Press offers this beautifully illustrated book inspired by Pak Ten, the leader of a honey hunting clan in Malaysia. The book tells the legend and traditions of this fascinating ritual of collecting honey from towering tualang trees. A bit wordy for some younger readers, this ecology and anthropology-minded book is a good choice for reading to (or with) your kids. What appealed to me more than the story itself was the textbook style information on Malaysia, the rainforest and the honey hunters themselves that follows the main story; a nice feature that will encourage children to keep this “sweet” read around even after they’ve outgrown most picture books.
-- Lisa Kay Tate
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