It’s clean up time! Jorge Luis Borges once said, “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books,” and we agree. Let’s take a moment to go through our shelves and organize the books we’ve accumulated over the past few months. It’s a great time to dust off the novels that have been sitting on our bed stand, and also start planning out future reads for the upcoming months. In the words of Joan Didion, we tell ourselves stories to stay alive. We need stories that let us drench ourselves in experiences other than our own. It’s an opportunity to be aware and empathetic.
From Junot Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel exploring love and fantasy to Alice Bag’s chicana punk experience, here are some works by authors that perfectly illustrate pain, grief, and the strength to overcome.
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero (Henry Holt, 2016)
The Orange is The New Black actress, Diane Guerrero, was 14 when her parents were deported to Colombia. Guerrero pens her experience, and amid pains, it is a story of triumph. Her memoir allows readers to understand the distress and pain of separation, and deepens the conversation about immigration. As she writes:
“My work on Orange has taught me this: Human beings are not categorically bad because of their mistakes. They can learn from their errors and get back on track. No one should be forever written off because of one part of his or her history.”
I Got This: To Gold and Beyond by Laurie Hernández (HarperCollins, 2017)
We first fell in love with Laurie when we witnessed her audacity, strength, and beauty at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Laurie Hernández became the first Latina to go to the Olympics with the U.S gymnastic team in 30 years. She was part of the best girl-squad since the Spice Girls, and together, they took home the gold medal. One of the most hair-raising moments happened when the camera caught Laurie whispering to herself, “I got this,” just before her routine — a moment that became a viral mantra and illustrated her strength and self-confidence. In this memoir, she shares her story and road to gymnast superstardom. She’s young, latina, and proud, and we love her!
Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, A Chicana Punk Story by Alice Bag (Feral House, 2011)
When we talk about Alice Bag, we are talking about years of music, talent, feminist empowerment, and activism. Violence Girl illustrates the 1970s punk landscape in Los Angeles. But it is more than a history lesson; Alice’s memoir is about her life in music, and the hybrid identity of living in the barrio and going across town to perform at Hollywood punk clubs. In a recent post on Instagram, Alice explains, “Punk has been portrayed as music by and for angry white males but in its inception, it was a rebellion against all rock cliches. Gender, ethnic, sexual and class taboos were all challenged by our early Punk community and that is a story which is not very often told. People of color, queer folk, women – all were present from the very beginning of Punk.”
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (Riverhead Books, 2007)
No introduction needed, but let’s recap. Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer fiction prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and explores the hood-nerd identity of a boy obsessed with comics and falling in love — all under an umbrella of mysticism and fukú (a curse that has plagued his family). Oscar Wao has been read by many – as we would certainly hope! We want to celebrate its 10th anniversary, so now would be a great time to re-read this American classic.
Con una remera de Sonic Youth (With a Sonic Youth t-shirt) by Malén Denis (Nulú Bonsai, 2009)
The majority of Malén Denis poems have been written in tears at airport terminals. Malén Denis is one of Latin America’s prominent poets, and her Spanish language books and poems have garnered tons of media attention. She addresses anxiety, loneliness, and love. In a Spanish-language interview, Malén says, “Poetry is a way of not feeling lonely.”
Stomachs (Translated by Luis Silva) by Luna Miguel (Scrambler Books, 2016, originally published in La Bella Varosvia)
Hailing from Spain, Luna Miguel is one of Spain’s most talented poets. Her writing is commonly referred to as “alt-lit,”and Luna Miguel surpasses the traditional forms of writing and genres. She pens poems mostly inspired and derived from the pain and grief she has faced. Stomachs explores the loss of loved ones and the road to recovery. Her words in Stomachs are painful, but eloquently and beautifully written.
Sobre Piel y Papel by Mayra Santos-Febres (Ediciones Callejones, 2005)
Hailing from Puerto Rico, Santos-Febres is one of the greatest intellectuals focused on race, gender, and culture. A poet and cultural curator, Mayra explores womanhood and Caribbean culture by highlighting race and gender in hip-hop, reggaeton, and art. Her collection of essays give us a deeper understanding of intersectional feminism. Mayra Santos-Febres also serves as executive director for Festival de la Palabra, Puerto Rico’s literature festival and space for Latin American writers.
Give yourself a chance to read something new, and explore new experiences through these books!