Leslie from Regular Rumination and Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness (two bloggers I love!) are co-hosting a really cool nonfiction project this month. Each week in November, participants will write posts on a given topic. I didn’t get a chance to write one last week, but this week’s topic is Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:
Share a list of nonfiction books on a topic you know a lot about. Or, ask some advice for books on a particular topic. Or, put together a list of books on a topic you’re curious about.
I love memoirs and I looooove reading about other cultures, I decided to go the “Be the Expert” route and share some great memoirs (or memoirish writings) written by people of color. Here are five excellent memoirs listed in alphabetical order (the links lead back to my reviews):
1. Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness ed. by Rebecca Walker
What is that Cool that iconic Black people always seem to possess? The seed of this book began with one particular image of President Obama and branched out from there: what is Black Cool? In this slim anthology, sixteen writers interpret the concept in their own ways. Some reference Black icons in their essay, but all of them ultimately turn to themselves and the people they know to examine the historical and contemporary roots of Black Cool.
2. The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez
Okay, so I can’t personally put this one in the “other cultures” category: Martinez is a Rio Grande Valley native (where I’m from). His memoir, The Boy Kings of Texas, is about growing up in Brownsville, TX in a hyper-macho abusive household. It’s painful to read at times, but Martinez’s writing is fantastic and the book was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award in the nonfiction category.
If I’m rich or if I’m poor
I will always get my way
and my word is my law
I’m without throne or a queen
nor anyone that understands me
but I will keep on being the king
— Lyrics from “El Rey” (“The King”) by José Alfredo Jiménez, translated
Domingo Martinez’s couldn’t have written a more appropriate prologue for The Boy Kings of Texas. Referring to Jiménez’s song as “the lyrical genome for machismo,” which “mapped the emotional DNA of the border male,” Martinez perfectly establishes the tone of his painful memoir. Martinez came of age in the south Texas border town of Brownsville — as south as you can get in Texas before hitting Mexico — and he grew up steeped in the culture of Mexican/Mexican American machismo.
The Boy Kings of Texas is about coming of age in the Rio Grande Valley (south Texas) in the 1980s but never quite fitting in. Martinez and his siblings were only the most recent members in their family’s generations-long cycle of dysfunction, violence, and abuse, much of it stemming from the culture in which they were raised. Given everything that happened in his life, it probably would have been easier for Martinez to write a straightforward retelling of what his life. Instead, what Martinez produced was a powerful book that often feels more like a series of related vignettes rather than a standard memoir.