The power of an unread book

via The Millions:

Go to your bookshelves and pick a book you have not read. Hold it in your hands. Look at the cover and read the description on the back. Think about what the story might be about, what themes and motifs might be in it, what it might say about the world you inhabit, whether it can make you imagine an entirely different world. I suggest that the literary universe you just created might be more exciting and enlightening than the one contained within those covers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that book. It might prove to be a great book; the best book you have ever read. But your imagination contains every possible story, every possible understanding, and any book can only be one tiny portion of that potential world.

Brownsville: Stories

Book cover: Brownsville by Oscar CasaresI wish I had read Oscar Casares’s debut collection of stories when I was living in New York and feeling homesick; I read this in one sitting!¬† Set in Brownsville, Texas, Brownsville definitely captures the essence of life in the Rio Grande Valley.¬† The Texas-Mexico border is at times a world all of its own, and Casares certainly uses this to his advantage throughout his work.

The protagonists in each of the stories vary widely, from a little boy working at Mr. Z’s fireworks stand, to an older woman whose prized bowling ball is stolen.¬† Yet each of these characters are so incredibly recognizable to people living in south Texas.¬† I was especially delighted at the language and incorporation of local pronunciations of Spanglish (some of it is hysterical).

My favorite stories were “Mr. Z” (about the little boy working at the fireworks stand), “Domingo” (about the old man working in the U.S. to send money back to his wife in Mexico), and “Big Jesse, Little Jesse” (about a man whose son was born with a slight deformity).

After reading this collection of stories, I very much look forward to reading Casares’s debut novel, Amigoland.

Brownsville: Stories was released in 2003 by Bay Back Books.

Goodreads | Amazon
I read it as a(n): Paperback
Source: Purchase
Pages: 176

Black Like Me

In 1959, John Howard Griffin (a white journalist) developed and participated in a controversial experiment.¬† Curious to learn what life was like for black people in the South, he darkened his skin with medication and dye, then headed on a six-week-long journey through the south.¬† Black Like Me is an autobiographical account of Griffin’s experiences.¬† Starting in New Orleans and working his way into increasingly dangerous parts of the south, such as Mississippi, Griffin recounts his hardships and personal revelations.

Half a century has passed since Griffin’s experiment took place, and much literature has been published about racism in the South since that time.¬† As such, many of the events in the book were unsurprising.¬† One of the few parts that intrigued me was where Griffin was hitchhiking at night; he’d get picked up by white men, then get peppered with questions about his sexual experiences.¬† That white men were basing their questions on the stereotype of the hypersexual black man did not surprise me; however, the bold nature of some of their questions was a bit startling.¬† What also surprised me was that Griffin would even hitchhike in the dark on lone rural roads, much less get into a vehicle with a total stranger in such settings.

Continue reading “Black Like Me”