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:
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
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