Latino Lit: 5 Must-Read Books For Summer 2014

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Twitter: @AndreaGompf

Summer reading usually fall into two camps: the kind of books you were assigned before heading back to school in the fall, or the kind of books you buy in the Hallmark card aisle of the grocery store and then read furtively because you’re ashamed to be seen with Twilight in public. Neither tends to feature many Latino authors. Which is why we reached out to Aurora Anaya-Cerda, of the East Harlem bookstore La Casa Azul, for a summer reading list that blends the best of both worlds: guilty pleasures, compulsive page-turners, and options for literary snobs included.

La Casa Azul’s recommendations below:

Take This Man: A Memoir by Brando Skyhorse

PEN/Hemingway award-winning author Brando Skyhorse didn’t find out he was Mexican until he was a teenager. His memoir tells the true story of his turbulent childhood in Echo Park, California, where he grew up believing he was actually the American Indian son of an incarcerated political activist. Why? Because his mother fabricated a whole new identity for him. Brando doesn’t begin to untangle the truth of his own past until well into his adulthood, when a surprise discovery online leads him to his biological father at last. This is a compelling and beautiful read about identity formation and the search for family.

Give It To Me, by Ana Castillo

File this under guilty pleasure. This novel is an entertaining chronicle of the love and dating misadventures of bisexual chicana heroine, Palma Piedras. Navigating various suitors, including a butch lesbian restaurateur, Tommy Lee Jones’s stylist, and  an ex-con cousin she feels an overwhelming sexual attraction toward, Piedras’ character defies stereotypes. It’s hard to make explorations of race, gender and sexuality lighthearted and humorous — raunchy even —  but Castillo manages it.

The Amado Women by Desiree Zamorano

“There are no gardeners, maids, or gang members in my book,” Desiree Zamorano, a playwright and Pushcart Prize nominee recently told Publisher’s Weekly. “Hispanics in this country are wildly misrepresented. The media presents a snapshot of who we are that enrages me, but then I take a deep breath and get writing.” Her novel The Amado Women strives to represent what she refers to as “true-to-life middle-class Latinas invisible in the fabric of American culture.” The family drama explores the lives of four very different Latinas, bound by blood, who struggle for their piece of the American Dream while confronted with family tragedy.

Quesadillas: A Novel by Juan Pablo Villalobos

Villalobos’ surreal satire has gotten rave reviews pretty much everywhere. Its adolescent narrator Orestes, who has a part-time job preparing cows for artificial insemination in Mexico’s western state Jalisco, lives in a shack at the “Cerro de la Chingada” on the outskirts of town. Every night he eats the titular quesadillas prepared by his mother  — quesadillas that vary in thickness depending on the state of the economy (i.e. inflationary quesadillas, devaluation quesadillas, etc.). When two of Orestes’ siblings go missing, he and his brother set out looking for them, and wind up in a a series of absurdly comic situations –involving alien invasions, psychedelic watermelons, religious pilgrims, and more. Touching on issues like poverty, class, and violence, and Mexican politics, the novel still manages to be hilarious — it’s a must read.

The AmeRican Poet: Essays on the Work of Tato Laviera

This collection of thirteen essays about renowned Nuyorican — or perhaps more appropriately, “AmeRican” —  poet Tato Laviera cover diverse aspects of Laviera’s life and work, which includes five published collections of poetry, twelve written and staged plays, and many years of political, social, literary and healthcare activism. Fifteen emerging and established academics look Laviera’s use of language; his relationship to writers from the island; his concern for mestizaje; Afro-Latinoness; music, sound and rhythm; utopian spaces; code switching; Civil Rights and feminist movements; Mexican migrant students and homeless people, among others. The anthology also features a testimonio composed of interviews in which the author speaks in English, Spanish and Spanglish, four unpublished poems, and the play King of Cans. This collection confirms Tato Laviera’s much deserved reputation as a major poet in any language.