Category Archives: publishing

The Monday Book: The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

The Tortilla Curtain

Apart from today, the 1990’s were perhaps the most disputatious time for immigration in America. Ronald Reagan had signed a controversial amnesty bill in 1986, and in the nineties, Bill Clinton commissioned a study of the immigration problem chaired by former Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Jordon. Immigration was at the forefront of the national conversation. Against this backdrop, T. C. Boyle wrote The Tortilla Curtain image(Penguin, 1995).

The story juxtaposes the lives of two people: Delaney, a white suburban middle-class California writer, and Candido, an illegal immigrant with his pregnant wife. The two lives cross paths when Delaney hits Candido with his car on a winding California canyon road. Candido is seriously hurt but refuses medical attention, as he is illegal and subject to deportation. Delany gives him a $20.00 bill as compensation for almost killing him.

The book is quaint in some ways, prescient in others. It takes place at a time when the term “wetback” was still used in polite conversation; before sanctuary cities, before MS13, before the Wall, before the movie Sicario, when immigrants were actually “in the shadows,” forced to hide from the law and doing  stultifying and often dangerous odd jobs for slave wages to scrape by.

Though Boyle has a knack for laying out both sides of the argument, there is no doubt where his sympathy lies. There’s no mistaking the allusion to Madonna and child, as Candido and his pregnant wife wander around the California canyons seeking shelter. Instead of a barn, she has her child in a tool shed. Candido is more Job than Joseph, as nearly all his efforts to support his wife are either fruitless or end in catastrophe.

While Candido and his pregnant wife dig for food in dumpsters, Delaney is planning his sumptuous Thanksgiving meal. Meanwhile, his neighbors complain about the Mexican invasion. They even build a wall to insulate themselves while at the same time leaving out food for the coyotes who eat their neighbor’s dogs and cats.

Through a series of coincidences Delaney and Candido cross paths several times, ending in a final cataclysm where Boyle seems to be saying that no matter our differences, we are joined by a common humanity.

The book is a sobering reminder that, as anyone who has recently watched a re-run of All in the Family knows, even after a quarter of a century we are still arguing about the same things.

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I Finishes my Book, I Cleans my House

f2f262695ba52a8387ccb4c57703b3daIt is as inevitable as it unexplainable. As soon as the book is finished, I clean house. Perhaps it’s because there’s a lot of build-up while one is ignoring all the little surrounding things during that last push of editing and adding things.

Whatever the reason, the day after I push send, I’m in the bathroom with a toothbrush, tackling grout-esque problems.

Perhaps this ritual marks the passage from writing to marketing; you finish the part everyone thinks is cool, and you start the part that makes people edge away from you at parties. Make lists of festivals, make a nuisance of yourself on Facebook, Vimno, Instagram, and whatever other platforms somebody invented over the weekend.

But it never fails: Push send Friday, spray every surface in the house down Saturday, rip out contents of closets and cupboards, and dusty corners, stack your t-shirts by color, alphabetize the pantry, everything.

It’s like reclaiming space, but with benefits. My spice rack is organized by genre: Indian top shelf, Italian center, and the fundamentals at the foundation. Purged packaged food  lines the counter. “This is what I couldn’t fit back in after I separated the boxes by size, so this is what we’re eating this week,” I tell Jack.

He nods and smiles and finds an outdoor project. He’s seen it before and knows how this plays out.

Call it ritual, or clearing the path for what comes next, call it what you will, because it will happen. My home will be shiny-tidy this weekend and there will be a purge of useful boxes that weren’t and squished plastic containers that didn’t survive storage.

It doesn’t last long, but it’s fun while it lasts.

HIGH HOPES: Prescribers and Therapists Explain how they Fight Substance Abuse comes out from McFarland Press this summer. The title is still in edits, so if you have a suggestion, let us know.

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The Monday Book: The Dylanologists by David Kinney

Jack gets to write the Monday book post because Wendy is deadlining-

dylan

Wendy had some meetings a few day ago in Johnson City TN, so I tagged along. We had an excellent buffet lunch at Sahib Indian Restaurant in honor of my birthday, and then I hit some thrift stores after dropping her at the first appointment.

For our Scottish friends that’s charity shops. You never know what you’ll find, although the book sections tend to be predictable and not particularly exciting.

But in one of them I found a happy surprise! Regular readers will know I am an avid Bob Dylan fan, and here was a book I had not read.

The Dylanologists is a delightful examination of a slew of ardent fans of Bobby Zimmerman, and although I am a big fan myself, I’m not in their league. These are folk with extensive archives of memorabilia and bootleg recordings, some of whom run blogs and websites. They trek to Hibbing (Dylan’s hometown) to New York City and to anywhere else that has any connection to their hero.

Given the number of books about Dylan, including his own ‘Chronicles’, I wasn’t sure what to expect but Kinney has produced a fascinating and well researched book. He manages to negotiate a trail between the fans, their obsessions, and the known history of the man himself.

Of course Bob is notoriously reclusive and is well known to protect his privacy while continuing to re-invent his public persona, so these obsessive fans can never hope to end their various quests. Some are trying to find the ‘real’ Dylan, while others seem to use him to find their ‘real’ selves!

If you’re a fan, like me, and have read all the other books, like me, then this could maybe broaden your understanding of Bob Dylan and possibly yourself too.

 

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Home is where the Heartspace is – –

Jack gets a guest post on a Saturday – what next?

Wendy and I have ended up in lots of great places so she could get some peace for writing. We thought Fayetteville in West Virginia was the best, when she was offered three months as Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. That was a lovely time, but the best was yet to come!

blue house

When we moved to Wytheville from Big Stone Gap, we couldn’t have imagined that among our first new friends would be Randy and Lisa who own Oracle Books down on Main Street. During our first year here we’ve helped them run events at the store and they’ve introduced us to many new friends, as well as supplying us with wonderful eggs from the farm where they live. Lisa raises goats for their fleece and I do believe the ladies have done some trades the hubbies are not privy to, as well.

But here’s the rub – Wendy found herself suddenly hit with two book deadlines. Her contracted book is due to McFarland Press in mid-February. Wendy’s been working almost non-stop at editing this volume, tentatively titled High Hopes: Appalachian prescribers and therapists take on the substance abuse crisis. It has some fifteen or so contributors, and all I know is my darling comes around the corner in our house from time to time, tears streaming down her face, or laughing, and says, “Listen to this.”

The second deadline is not specific, but Wendy feels driven. For years she wanted to publish a book about our cat rescue work, but her agent (a wonderful woman we both respect) didn’t feel it would work. Out of the blue, the editor Wendy works with at McFarland messaged to ask, hadn’t Wendy been working on a cat book at some point? Could she see that when Wendy had a chance?

It can be hard to concentrate at home sometimes—chores, cats and (dare I say) the husband can call my wife’s focus away. Randy’s sister Linda came to the rescue with the offer of her gorgeous 1900 house tucked off the beaten track. It doesn’t have cell-phone coverage but does have internet – perfect. So a bookstore is helping an author to get a couple of books published.

My job is to keep the wood stove going (oh bliss), walk Bruce our dog, and run out for provisions when necessary. In other words it is to guard Wendy’s head space so she can do what she does best – write. That’s what I guess all marriages are about, in a larger sense: guarding each other’s heads, if not hearts as well. You support each other. It’s always a negotiation as she supports my musical stuff and I do my best to support her writing. On the other hand, she’s also musical, becoming among other things a very good harp player, and I am writing a blog post at this moment. So perhaps as much as guarding each other’s space, it is making space for each other in our own?

 

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The Monday Blog Overhaul: Wendy finally moves on!

kira

This cat is judging me

We moved about a year ago from our beloved Little Bookstore to our now-beloved Wytheville. The house is great, the town is friendly, the region is beautiful, the neighbors are fun and the musicians are rabble-rousers. All is as it should be. :]

Including, at last, with my blog! Updated in domain and appearance, it may take a few days to stabilize (wordpress tells me) but those of you who have been using the old domain name should be redirected. Thank you for being loyal readers these last eight years. And welcome aboard to the new ones! We’re a fun bunch.

If you have suggestions as the blog continues to upgrade during February, please let me know. I’m thinking a new banner photo, a connection to the Monday Book bibliography, and maybe some as-yet-undefined widgets? Let me know what you think.

 

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The Monday Book: THE COST OF COURAGE by Charles Kaiser

The Monday book comes to us courtesy of Paul Garrett this week. Enjoy!

courage Charles Kaiser’s work, The Cost of Courage (Other Press, 2015) focuses on one Parisian family during the occupation of France from 1941-45. Of the six family members, three fought in the resistance but all paid the price.

At the beginning of the occupation, the parents, Jacques and Helene Bulloche are upper middle-class professionals. Their two sons Andre and Robert work for the French government. Their daughters Christiane and Jacqueline are in school. The three youngest children all join the resistance. Andre pays for his decision by being shot, tortured and eventually put in a concentration camp, which he survives.  The two sisters play supporting roles; ferrying messages and contraband weapons around Paris.  As the war draws to a close, their parents and older brother are all arrested and sent to Germany to be tortured (Helene is eventually waterboarded). None of the three survive.

The surviving siblings rarely talked about their experiences. One example to the contrary was when Andre gave his only daughter Agnes chilling advice after she was beaten during a protest march.

“…If you carry a weapon it is always to kill. Do not think it is to defend yourself. If you draw your weapon never get closer than three meters from the person you want to kill, because otherwise he can take your weapon from you.”

Though he had a successful political career after the war, Andre never fully recovered. He always wore a crew cut and black necktie in memory of those who did not survive. He was brutal to his children and filled with rage which he took out on other drivers. Christiane never spoke of her war years until, as an elderly woman, she wrote a 45-page memoir which was part of the genesis of this book. The  work reminds us that often  in war even the winners lose, and the cost of courage is sometimes nearly too much to bear.  This is a great book for anyone interested in the unsung heroes of the war.

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The Monday Book: WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi

breathA surgeon used to the negotiation between buying people time and curing them suddenly finds himself in the same position. And sums up the advice he’s been giving, the thoughts he had on this moments, from both sides.

One of the central themes of the book is “when you know you’re going to die, what do you spend your last year or two doing?” In that framework, Kalanithi’s writing moves between poetic and lyrical, and surgically precise.

He struggles with returning to work, and someone says this to him:

“That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

That one’s lyrical. Then he and his wife (who were having marital problems coping with their dual schedules as medical residents, drifting apart in exhausted frustration) have this exchange, after they decide to go ahead with trying for a baby once they know he’s sick:

“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”

Surgically precise.

The book was Kalanithi’s dying wish, and that is actually recorded in the book when his wife Lucy takes over, and recorded in the afterword as well. The afterword makes clear that, had there been more time, more editing might have occurred, and that the book as it reads is a singular walk less than a full narrative. Paul was concentrating on Paul, which makes sense.

Even then, there are several magic helpers in the book, although they appear but briefly. Most notable are Lucy and their oncologist (and the subtle between-the-lines understanding of what the couple are dealing with when colleague and friend becomes doctor).

Although this book is about dying, the “both sides of the desk” nature of it, reminiscent of Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight, is a rare peep into a world none of us are too keen to explore: what happens when death happens to you? When you know the diagnosis but not the timeline, and when you have advised hundreds of people in the same position? What do words mean, actions mean, family mean, when you are the one making the singular journey?

Highly recommended.

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