Saturday, September 29, 2012


My book-reading list emerged into existence soon after I read an interview, in which actress Minnie Driver mentioned her  reading list, which  she had been slogging through since she left high school.

I consulted popular reading lists: from the New York Times Bestseller’s List to 100 Greatest Books to 500 Great Books by Women to Oprah’s Book Club.

But I wished for a more personal list that reflected--and spoke to--me.  So I got a blank sheet of white paper and these are some of the books and authors I jot down:

V.  Woolf
Jean Rhys
the Brontës

Laura Esquivel The Law of Love; Like Water for Chocolate 
Judith Ortiz Cofer  Silent Dancing
Julia Alvarez  How the Garcia Sisters Lost Their Accents
Sandra Cisneros  The House on Mango Street

Louise Erdrich Love Medicine;The Blue Jay’s Dance
Doris Lessing
Sigrid Nuñez
Russian writers
Asian writers
Charlotte and Emily Brontë

My list (now with over 150 entries) included books I’d always wanted to read–like Doris Lessing’s classic novel, The Golden Notebook.  Also included on the list were books I’d read in adolescence–like Wuthering Heights–and wished to re-read.  Or books I was curious about (I read E.  Gaskell’s biography of the Brontë sisters in my college library). If I read  an exceptional review of a book that interested me, it went on the list.  Also, any book I had not read in high school or college (such as Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife).

And, finally, books by Latina authors–based on my need to feel more grounded in my Latina heritage.   I wanted to see what other Latina women were saying or feeling.  How did my life experience compare?

So I spent the summer of ‘99 reading only Latina authors–from Sigrid Nuñez to Laura Esquivel.
First, I’d buy the book, then I’d write the name of the author and book in the opening page of my journal.  As I read the book I’d write about it in my journal.  Or sometimes I’d jot down my feelings about the book in one fell swoop–after I’d finished the book.

At some point, I began posting brief reviews to book websites.  My screen name was Book-reading Woman.  My first review using this screen name was of Louise Erdrich’s The Blue Jay’s Dance.  It was--and still is--a book I love.   I stated in the review that TBJD was “stunningly beautiful,” like a prose poem, and that reading it was like holding your hand in a sun-dappled brook, unable to “catch” water.  I loved that imagery.

Moreover, I loved writing in secret.  For it was a wonderful release. I’d write my commentary before-hand, then post it to the site.  I preferred a crafted review as opposed to an off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness comment.  As my confidence grew, I got the courage to use my own name.  I took off the veil, so to speak: For me, reading women authors--Latina authors, especially--is like looking in a mirror.
So here is a partial list of must-read Latina authors (in alphabetical order):

1.  Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing and Havana by Stephanie Elizondo Griest. Wonderful anecdotes of the author’s travels.

 2. Feather on the Breath of God by Sigrid Nuñez—A transluscent book that defies
categorization, FBG is (to me) more memoir than novel.  It describes the author growing up with a German mother and her distant, stilted relationship with her Chinese-Panamanian father. 

3.  Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.  A delectable, poignant novel during the Mexican Revolutionary era and held together by recipes.  Most poignant scene: the main character, Tita,  creates the wedding cake for her sister, who is marrying the man Tita loves.

4. Mama’s Girl  by Veronica Chambers—The story of a Panamanian-American girl growing up in  New York.

5. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys—A classic and beautiful novel that is a companion of sorts to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  WSS is the story of Antoinette Cosway, and how she met and married Mr.  Rochester, then went insane.

This reading list is by no means comprehensive.  Yet, through it, I’ve connected with other women when conversing about books.  And–more importantly—I’ve connected with myself.  Also, I’ve explored my interest in other cultures.  I set imaginary boundaries for myself.  For instance, in Around the Bloc, the author describes how she drank “snake blood” while living in China. I, too, would like to see the Yangtze River some day (however red it is).  But I know I will, uh, politely pass on the snake-blood aperitif.

--Yolanda A.  Reid


Copyright © 2012 by Y. A.  Reid

Thursday, September 27, 2012


ANIMAL VEGETABLE MIRACLE is the beautifully written book by Barbara Kingsolver. In the book, the author chronicles “one good year of food life” during which she and her family grew a garden on a little farm in the mountains of Appalachia. Kingsolver, her husband and daughters also raised their own food—hens, roosters, eggs, turkeys, etc.--and, as “locavores,” ate from local farmers’ markets in Appalachia.

They ate seasonally. Asparagus in springtime. Squash at harvestime. In summertime, writes Kingsolver, “Rare is the August evening when I’m not slicing, canning, roasting, and drying tomatoes. Tomatoes take over our life. . . . The summer [Lily] was five, she wrote and illu/>
Every vegetable has its own season and rhythm. “Canning [tomatoes],” writes Camille
Kingsolver, “always puts me in a kind of trance.” The art of zen-canning.

Moreover, all this time spent gardening and cooking and canning together strengthens familial bonds. Family fun is sleeping on the back porch, under the stars. Watching a mesmerizing sunset. Canning yet another tomato. Or baking a dozen “chocolate chip zucchini cookies”—which are scrumptious and approved by nine-year-olds. (Camille shares this unusual cookie recipe at the end of Chapter twelve.)

Inevitably, Kingsolver broaches the subject: Vegetarian vs. meat-eater? Kingsolver makes no bones about it. A sort of paradox, she is an ex-vegetarian who likes meat. But she has preferences: grass-fed and free-range over corn-fed and caged. The difference in flavor, she states, is both subtle and dramatic. Apparently, caged hens and cows secrete stress toxins that alter the flavor of their flesh, eggs, or milk.

Contrary to what one might expect, Kingsolver does not support or agree with those who embrace vegetarianism on “high moral grounds.” For if we stopped to consider the cruelty of the current food system, we must acknowledge that it’s ALL cruel. Plants have feelings, too. ”If we draw the okay-to-kill line between ‘animal’ and ‘plant’ and thus exclude meat, fowl, and fish from our diet on moral grounds, we still must live with the fact that every sack of flour and every soybean-based block of tofu came from a field where countless winged and furry lives were extinguished in the plowing, cultivating, and harvest. An estimated 67 million birds die each year from pesticide exposure on U.S. farms. Butterflies, too, are universally killed. . . . Foxes, rabbits, and bobolinks are starved out of their homes or dismembered by the sickle mower. . . . To believe we can live without taking life is delusional. Humans may only cultivate nonviolence in our diets by degree.”

Furthermore, in Chapter fourteen, she cites an unnamed vegan-actress who wished to raise happy hens, roosters and farm animals, to live out their lives. (I played the guessing game of whom this actress might be. Natalie Portman--Queen Amidala in “Star Wars” and a staunch vegan--is my best guess.) The notion, the author argues, is impractical as we’d be faced with a glut of eggs and millions of hens and beasts. Global overpopulation triple the numbers now.

What sets this book apart is that, as an experiment in family living, the author’s husband and daughter, Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver, respectively, contributed writing segments to the book. A bunch of recipes at the end of each chapter and referrals to web sites all make for interesting and informative reading. (The recipes are also at the book’s web site http://

Add to that, the fact that the author is a former scientist/science writer herself (earning a BA in biology from DePauw University and an MA in “evolutionary biology” from the University of Arizona), so the book has sound scientific explanations for the US food system as it exists today. Alas, food that is biologically engineered to endure long distances does not taste like non-engineered-local food. She explains that there are other consequences for being a corn-soy-based food system. Obesity, for one.

Other topics covered include: milk production in US, why corn-fed cows are unhappy, the authenticity of slaughtering your own food, cooped-up turkeys cannot reproduce unassisted.

Chapter fifteen chronicles Kingsolver and her husband’s sojourn to Italy: in the tradition of writers--such as Frances Mayes (UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN and BELLA TUSCANY) and Elizabeth Gilbert (EAT PRAY LOVE)--who’ve travelled and written about Italian culture and food. Ahhh Italia!

At home, Kingsolver is a wonder: she makes her own pickles and sausages, yogurt and ice cream, slaughters hens and turkeys, cans tomatoes from her own garden, even as her husband, Steven, makes fresh bread. Everything is made “from scratch.” When they make “Friday Night Pizza” (a staple recipe cited in Chapter nine), even the mozzarella was made in her own kitchen!

Everyone who eats meat ought to read ANIMAL VEGETABLE MIRACLE. Even non-meateaters will be interested. It is a rich, evocative, informative book, chock-full of bits of information you may not like or agree with but will encourage discussion in a book club or spur you to either plant a garden or form your own food co-op or reject beef forever.

It’s, er, food for thought.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

Copyright © 2012  by Y. A. Reid

Friday, September 21, 2012


When I was nearly fourteen years old, I tried a couple of times to read WUTHERING HEIGHTS but always fell asleep. Maybe it had to do with how I read the novel: in my grandmother’s room, my hand propped up to my ear for support, as I lay (too comfortably) on her bed which was bedecked in an old pink chenille bedspread. I’d begin to slog through old Joseph the manservant’s Yorkshire dialect, faithfully rendered by Emily Bronte, and that drone as he said,Owd Nick” would send me into dreamland. Maybe it had to do with the darkness I innately and intuitively sensed in the novel, of the moors at night, as inky, awesome, impenetrable a darkness as Heathcliff’s mind at the end.

One day, I had to read this peculiar work, for we were to write a critique/paper for my ninth grade English class. I resolved to read past Joseph and his brass pans, into the world of Emily’s dreams. For two days—one weekend—I was in the novel’s thrall. I quietly read much, as I kept to myself in my room. Since then, I have read WUTHERING HEIGHTS—a perfect Gothic novel, I think—once a year, each year that’s elapsed.

This experience with WUTHERING HEIGHTS illustrates that reading is an activity, an exercise—neither passive, nor effortless.

If you’re willing to be won over by a novel’s irrepressible beauty or by its luminous other-worldly darkness, then the task is well worth it.

Briefly, WUTHERING HEIGHTS—a 19th century novel--is the poignant, haunting, dark and eerie story of Catherine and Heathcliff’s love for each other, from childhood. It is also a generational tale about the Earnshaw family and their descendants.

In my ninth grade class, all the girls were mesmerized by WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I remember one tall, big-nosed, not very pretty girl—let’s call her Mala—would often lament how Charlotte Bronte, Emily’s sister, had burned Emily’s poems and, sigh, how sad it all was.

For some reason, young women—even today—claim Catherine as their own. They bemoan their Catherine’s fate. To me, it means that the novel’s story, and Emily’s life, lit a flame in Mala’s mind so that, months after we’d read WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Mala would insist Charlotte had done irretrievable wrong. Indeed, the novel had set all our minds aflame. WUTHERING HEIGHTS had formed an impress on our minds, like the impress of a leaf-fossil on the loamy earth. One can trace the shape and history of a leaf years after the leaf’s death. The impress remains. So too with a good novel, especially when read in childhood. The reading forms an impress of feeling, awe, and inspiration.

Every novel read and loved forms a leaf-fossil.

I will share with you two leaf-fossils from WUTHERING HEIGHTS: The first is evoked by Joseph, the persnickety old man as he boiled huge portions of porridge on the kitchen hearth at the Heights. Two instances I remember: One when Isabella, Heathcliff’s bride, offers grudgingly to make the porridge, spurred on by Joseph’s haphazard method of plunging his hand into the oatmeal as he made the porridge:

“Joseph was bending over the fire, peering into a large pan that swung above it; and a wooden bowl of oatmeal stood on the settle close by. The contents of the pan began to boil, and he turned to plunge his hand into the bowl; I conjectured that this preparation was probably for our supper, and, being hungry, I resolved it should be eatable—so, crying out sharply—‘I’ll make the porridge!’ I removed the vessel out of his reach. . . .”

The second instance occurs when Catherine Heathcliff causes Hareton to giggle by tossing primroses into his porridge. But the leaf-fossil echoed childhood memories, as I ate the porridge my grandfather made. Steamy and disliked by me, the porridge was boiled for at least two hours until so thick it was scarcely stirrable. I loved watching my grandfather pour the porridge, in seesaw motion, from one pan to another in order to cool it. Then, we would spice the porridge with nutmeg and cinnamon, as I poured in all the milk I could without being reprimanded.

The second leaf-fossil formed from Heathcliff’s young sassy Catherine, who wrote a make-shift diary in book-margins, as she sat in the lattice-window. There she revealed Hindley’s wicked behavior toward her and Heathcliff:

Hindley hurried up from his paradise on the hearth, and seizing one of us by the collar, and the other by the arm, hurled both into the kitchen . . . and so, comforted, we each sought a separate nook to await his advent. I reached this book, and a pot of ink from the shelf, and pushed the house-door ajar to give me light, and I have got the time on with writing for twenty minutes; but my companion is impatient and proposes that we should appropriate the dairy-woman’s cloak, and have a scamper on the moors, under its shelter.”

As a child, Emily Bronte created an elaborate imaginary world of complex characters and their families that infused her adult writings. As a pastor’s daughter, she led a solitary life, along with her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, and brother, Patrick. Each sibling wrote stories to entertain himself/herself and each other.
Later, as adults, each sibling wrote poems and a novel which they scrimped and saved to publish.
Emily’s novel was published in 1847 under the pseudonym “Ellis Bell” to negative reviews, some might say because of the book’s other-worldly quality.

Today, however, WUTHERING HEIGHTS is regarded a classic.

When I read this novel, I am transported into that dream landscape—a place that has fascinated me since that weekend I read the book in my room, while silvery rainwater drenched the mango tree outside my window.

The impress of WUTHERING HEIGHTS remains.

--Yolanda A. Reid