film recommendation: a scanner darkly

AScannerDarkly(1stEd)Lately for many reasons I feel I’ve been living inside of a Philip K. Dick novel, so I’ve been rereading a couple of my favorite–Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly.

What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.

And Richard Linklater’s film adaptation visualizes Dick’s themes of shifting realities–internal and external–and also shifting identities so perfectly in its animation. It’s funny how today we are reading post-modern novels with shifting narration, and Dick’s work was seen as genre and a lesser form of novel writing back in the sixties and seventies. I’m looking forward to tracking down his so-called “straight” novels.

quick review of junot díaz’ this is how you lose her

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I’ve long read and admired Junot Diaz‘ style of prose. I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I’ve modeled my own work after his. This latest collection of work contains all the themes of trouble and failure at its heart. And also the redemption. I continue to admire how the work follows a consistent universe and also how his work stays composite. Overlapping. The voice here feels just as dynamic and strong as his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown.

stuart dybek’s the coast of chicago

9780312424251We’re discussing a few stories tomorrow from Stuart Dybek‘s collection The Coast of Chicago. I admire “The Woman Who Fainted” and “Pet Milk” (4:27) and I was happy to find this reading for my Lit 50 students. So important to hear the author’s voice.

I was lucky enough to hear him read years back at Oregon State. I remember he mentioned the stories began as failed poems. And a few years back a former student gifted me a nice hard bound version that was also signed.

the house of order indie reader review

cropped-jaramillo-front-cover.jpgGrateful for the thoughtful review at Indiereader.com:

“…the book is filled with beautiful moments, like shards of broken stained-glass window lying in the dirt. This book will open your eyes to a new way of life and will leave you with haunting images not soon forgotten. A worthy read.” –IndieReader.com

quick review of daniel chacon’s hotel juarez

51NRyxFCCNL__SY346_A few months back I wrote a quick review of Daniel Chacon’s book Unending Rooms. I admire Chacon’s aesthetic and overall writerly choices.  I look forward to picking up his novel and his other work Chicano Chicanery. His work at times is surreal and also thought provoking. I find his work here playful and intelligent. And I’ve been in the habit of reading work that is more composite in terms of plot or character lately but in his work it is also refreshing to see each story linked by idea or abstraction. So does he choose idea over characters? Perhaps, at times, yes. And I’m not sure we have a collection of complete stories. Felt more like fragments but I think that too serves the chaos that is Chacon’s style.

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ManWithTheGoldenArm

Finished reading through Algren’s The Man with the Golden Arm and I’ve enjoyed the story of self-destruction. I can see why this book is such a classic. Does feel a bit overwritten at times but Algren’s Chicago is a gritty and dirty place–very naturalistic. I most enjoyed the sweeping third person narration.

quick thought on the man with the golden arm

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Jaramillo - Cover - Final.inddThe good folks at CIELO: Culturally Integrated Education for Latinos Organization here in Springfield, Illinois will be discussing my book at their August book club meeting. And they’ve invited me to come and discuss the book on Aug 6. I’m getting excited.

the house of order: cielo august book club selection

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Here’s a quick excerpt from the writeup in the August San Francisco Book Review:

Star Rating: 5 out of 5

“Raw and highly emotional at times, Jaramillo’s stories give a realistic look in to the lives of his characters as he presents short vignettes that hint at a deeper family saga. His style is easy to read and his concise wording retains a surprising amount of detail. All in all, The House of Order is a compelling set of stories and should Jaramillo continue to present such fantastic storytelling, there is no doubt he will gain many new readers.”

the house of order writeup in the san francisco book review

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I’m grateful for the nearly half-page writeup in the hometown newspaper:

“Jaramillo is writing about working in Southern Colorado farm fields, driving and drinking beer and smoking pot; visiting family members in the state penitentiary; about tattooed pregnant girls, dirty kids in laundromats and their desperate mothers–and the pain-filled list goes on, back through several decades. What saves these stories is the grace in which they are written.”–Mary Jean Porter, Chieftain.com

half-page writeup in pueblo chieftain

quick review: orwell’s down and out in paris and london

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Drafting and revising semi-orphaned novel project but had some time to finish reading Orwell’s memoir/nonfiction/autobiographical novel about a young writer’s time in the ghettos of Paris and London. He works in restaurants and sleeps in homeless hostels. Pawns his clothes for food and also closely observes the down and out people he encounters. What strikes me most in Orwell’s work has to be his readability and the chapter movements. I’m also struck at his closely drawn character studies of those he encounters–the fat man in Paris and also Bozo in England are the stand outs. One thing that seems consistent throughout his writing is the strong sense of empathy and humanity. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

“Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then what is work? A navy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out-of-doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course – but, then many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout – in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.

“Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? — for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that is shall be profitable.”

quick review: luis alberto urrea’s the hummingbird’s daughter and queen of america

I first read the short fiction of Luis Alberto Urrea in graduate school. The discovery of a prolific Latino author whose work moves so adeptly from English to Spanish was important to my development as a writer. I enjoyed his collection of short stories Six Kinds of Sky and the keen worlds and characters drawn, his humor and surrealist edge. At the time I was struggling to capture Spanish speaking folks and the stories from the old neighborhood of my youth, struggling to make my work less obvious and overtly political. And the influence of his work stays fresh in my mind.

hummingbirds-daughterIn reading Urrea’s most recent novels, The Hummingbird’s Daughter and its sequel Queen of America, I am pleased to find these lengthier works equally representing for me what writing should aspire to be.

Over the course of two novels, set in the 1880’s to the turn of the century, the incredibly dynamic character of Teresita the Saint of Cabora, the Mexican Joan of Arc, rises from abject poverty and abandonment to her place as spiritual leader. Described as a “saint with grit” by Stacey D’Erasmo of the New York Times Book Review, Teresita survives rape, returns from the dead and learns to practice ancient magic, and travels to the United States after the Mexican-Tomochic rebellion. In the sequel Teresita survives as a celebrity of sorts travelling and experiencing the United States—St. Louis, San Francisco and New York City—and she marries and divorces. She also survives a medical industry out to exploit her healing powers. All based on historical events and Urrea’s research.

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The most influential aspect of the two books for me though is the form, the lyrical and dream-like passages. The masterful use of third person limited omniscient narration. How the dreamscape that is Urrea’s writing style creates so many varied characters and experiences in an incredibly wide and brilliant spectrum. From field hand, Indian healer, to Teresita’s Mexican landowner father, Don Tomás, to the bandits, cowboys and tycoons, the cast of characters represents the complicated nature of hierarchical class structures at play in pre-turn-of-the-century and pre-revolutionary Mexico. Masterfully, Urrea immerses us in Teresita’s myth across a multitude of voices. I admire the novels’ contrast of authorial voice and character in nearly every chapter, creating this Mexican and American border world from inside and out, and more importantly, in terms of social class, from quite literally the bottom up. (Urrea’s lively and playful performance in the downloadable audiobook versions only enhanced my experience of these distinct voices.)

Ultimately, I have to admit to taking advantage of Urrea’s skill—stealing stratagems of technique once again into my own struggling work. I’m thinking of the author and critic Jim Harrison’s words: “One finds and understands his own voice finally through the voice of others.”

I tell my Midwest community college students that the key to nonfiction is in the facts and that creative nonfiction—as well as fiction—is in the telling. And the power from Urrea’s work perhaps is that he devoted twenty-years of research and study of Mexican political, cultural and religious history as well as struggled with the form. And in many other historical novels or footnoted historical books, the political thought becomes so blatant and relentless that readers stop hearing it. Yet in Urrea’s two novel saga, the insight into Mexican, American Indian and American history, I believe, along with the shifting voices create an inextricable link between human experience, political conflict and historical socioeconomic conflict. Another lesson for writer in the merging of form and content to craft a meaning greater than the sum of its parts.

ernesto galarza’s barrio boy

Reading Galarza’s book Barrio Boy I was amazed at the brilliant memoir of Galarza’s boyhood experience of the Mexican Revolution and segregation in American neighborhoods. I was interested to find a different definition of the term chicano and also I was interested to read about the struggle for work and how that struggle for work drove the family to head north to Sacramento, California. I delighted in the entirety of the literacy narrative and Galarza’s attention to detail and description of his boyhood village and the American colonia he later lived in with his family. I hope to add this book to my proposed Latino Lit course for the Spring 2013 term.

quick note on troncoso’s from this wicked patch of dust

From_This_Wicked_Patch_of_DustLast week–despite mountains of grading and student conferences–I spent time with Troncoso’s sweeping novel From This Wicked Patch of Dust and found so much to admire.  I admired the form as well as the content. Told in a third person limited omniscient narration the story drops into the thoughts, feelings and questions of each member of a Mexican American family–the children and parents–working and struggling in Ysleta, Texas. The narration hovers above the family and drops from section to section into certain family members thoughts and feelings. I also admired how the story fragments and separates by jumping years in between chapters. Something I work on in my own writing. One week later and the story stays with me. Overall the narrative gave me such a realistic and positive representation of an American family and quite simply it spoke to me. And I’m happy to say I sent Troncoso a quick message on Goodreads stating that and he was prompt in responding a kindly thank you.

This week I’m spending time with Luis Alberto Urrea’s Six Kinds of Sky and hope to have some thoughts soon.