Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Haunting Spanish Lullaby

My mom always sung this to me as she rocked me in the wooden rocking chair she bought when I was born. She rocked me nightly, even when I was way too big and long for her arms or the rocking chair and this was one of the songs she sung to me:

El Escapulario

Nunca se supo quien fue su madre,
Porque la ingrata lo abandono
Una viejita lo vio en la calle
Y con carino lo recojio.
Tan solamente un escapulario
Lleva el chavelo por capital
Colgado al cuello como un sudario
Para librarlo de todo mal.
Y esperando la viejita A su nino ,
a su nino lo abrazo
Y besando sus manitas
Al oido le canto.

(coro) Quiero que mi escapulario
Nunca, nunca se aparte de ti,
Guardalo como un sudario
Que yo te entrego al morir.
Reza por mi , reza por mi toditos los dias
A la virgen del Rosario
solo te quizo en la vida
Solo te quizo en la vida
Quien te dio el escapulario.
Lalalolelolela Lalalola, lalola lalola lalola.

Pasado el tiempo fue un gran torero
Y una marqueza Le dio su amor.
Y al enterarse que era un plebeyo
Con gran desprecio lo abandono.
Y en una tarde en que el toreaba
En un descuido la vio el chaval
Y al descuidarse mientras miraba
Cayo en la arena de una corna.
Y un lamento de agonia
En la plaza, en la plaza se escucho
Y el chaval mientras moria
Escucho esta cancion.

(coro) Quiero que mi escapulario
Nunca, nunca se aparte de ti,
Guardalo como un sudario
Que yo te entrego al morir.
Reza por mi , reza por mi toditos los dias
A la virgen del Rosario
Solo te quizo en la vida
Solo te quizo en la vida
Quien te dio el escapulario.
Reza por mi reza toditos los dias a la virgen del Rosario
solo te quizo en la vida
solo te quizo en la vida quien te dio el escapulario.
Quien te dio el escapulario.
Fue la virgen del Rosario
Quien te dio el escapulario
Oye quiero quiero que mi scapular
Quien te dio el scapular
Que ven aca tu ahora Rosario
Quien te dio el escapulario
Fue la virgen fue la virgen del Rosario
Quien te dio el escapulario
Escapulario, escapulario, escapulario
Quien te dio el escapulario

Quien te dio
Quien te dio
Quien te dio escapulario
Nunca se supo quien fue su madre.

It always made me sad, but it's so beautiful.

You can hear a sampler here:
El Escapulario - Perfomed by Los Papines

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lust by Any Other Name

So it was another frigid, gray Monday here and I feel so very restless, not physically but spiritually. I want to write more, exercise more and just be overall happier but instead I feel trapped. I try to write and can't get my disk to open, or I'm too tired too exercise. I feel stuck in rut.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rest in Peace, Viejito!

World's oldest person dies at 115
From the UK Telegraph:

The world's oldest person has died aged 115, just six weeks after inheriting the title.

Emiliano Mercado Del Toro died of natural causes today at his home in Isabela on the northern coast of Puerto Rico.

Mr Mercado del Toro had been having difficulty breathing but was conscious and alert shortly before his death, according to his grand-niece, Dolores Martinez. "He died like a little angel," she said.

Born in Puerto Rico when it was still a Spanish colony, Mr Mercado del Toro was drafted into the US Army in 1918 but was still training when the First World War ended. Later, he worked in the island's sugar cane fields. He married three times but never had children.

In his home town, he became a celebrity after he being recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records last month.

"We're all crying, but we knew this day would come," said Rosa Luciano, the town spokesman.

Mercado del Toro took over the title of world's oldest person following the death of Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolden aged 116 in a nursing home in Tennessee. She had held the title for just over three months, according to Guinness World Records, after the death in August of Maria Esther de Capovilla of Ecuador, who was also 116.

The current title holder is now thought to be Emma Tillman, 114, who lives in Connecticut. Born to former slaves in North Carolina on Nov 22, 1892, Mrs Tillman became the world's oldest woman last week after the death of Julie Bertrand of Montreal, Canada, in her sleep aged 115.

Mrs Tillman, who once worked as a maid for Katharine Hepburn, has been widowed for 70 years and spent the past four living in a rehabilitation centre.

According to her carers, she takes no credit for her long life. "I think as she gets older, it gets a little less exciting only because reaching this age is something she feels she didn't really do herself - she says the good Lord did it," said Karen Chadderton, administrator of Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Centre, where Mrs Tillman lives.

Longevity runs in the family. One of Mrs Tillman's brothers lived to be 108, while one sister lived to 105 and two others lived to 102.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Fashionista Steps Out

So yesterday was supposedly the "most depressing day of the entire year' according to a study discussed here: and I was feeling down. I took matters into my own hands and went to a fashion show/party sponsored by and saw my friends.

Some of you might not realize but "Literanista" is a fusion of the words "literature" and "fashionista" because I am crazy about both clothes and books. Well, anyway on the 5th Avenue bus going home I spotted this dress in a window display:

And, I swear I would've gotten off the bus if it wasn't almost 10 at night. Today I checked the Jcrew website and of course the dress is completely sold out. But, on closer inspection of the dress, I realized that I have a dress just like this but with a different neckline. My dress is near identical!

The best part of it...I got it a thrift shop like 7 years ago for like $10. Ah, it feels good to always be ahead of the game!

Friday, January 19, 2007

In the Time of the Fists: Vargas Llosa Punched García Márquez 3 Decades ago

From Criticas Magazine:
End of Vargas Llosa and García Márquez Row Denied
By Aída Bardales

Literary agent, Carmen Balcells, denied that Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa will write a prolog for the commemorative edition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude). Balcells told Colombian newspaper El Tiempo that the special edition will include an excerpt from Historia de un deicidio (“History of a Deicide”), an essay Vargas Llosa wrote about the novel when the two were friends.

The misunderstanding came about after Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia reported that Vargas Llosa would write a prolog specifically for that edition. Various news agencies and media subsequently recounted the reports, including British newspaper the Guardian. A spokesperson for the Real Academia Española (RAE or Spanish Royal Academy) reportedly told the Guardian that “Both men are in agreement…” but no official confirmation was made. “This scandal is nothing more than the trivialization reporters commit when dealing with serious matters such as this one,” Balcells told El Tiempo.

The supposed prolog would have ended 30-years of hostility between the two Latin American writers. The two have shared an enmity since Vargas Llosa punched García Márquez at a cinema three decades ago. Neither author has divulged the reasons for their feud and both have only said it was based on personal matters. However, it is widely suspected it was triggered by differences in political views: García Márquez is a loyal friend of Fidel Castro while Vargas Llosa is an avid believer in democracy.

The special edition of García Márquez’s classic work will be published this March by RAE in conjunction with Spanish publisher Santillana and will be presented at the fourth Congreso Internacional de la Lengua (“International Conference of Language”), which will take place in Cartagena, Colombia, the Nobel laurete’s hometown.

The commemorative version of Cien años de soledad will be similar to the 2004 edition of El Quijote—published in celebration of its fourth centennial and presented at the third Congreso two years ago. It will include introductions by fellow “boom” writers—the one by Vargas Llosa, one by Mexican Carlos Fuentes, and one by Colombian Alvaro Mutis—complementary essays, and a glossary.

The centennial edition of El Quijote also included a prolog by Vargas Llosa and sold more than 2.5 million copies.

The Congreso Internacional de la Lengua is organized by RAE—the institution responsible for regulating the Spanish language—and by the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española (“Association of the Academies of the Spanish Language”). At this year’s conference, special tribute will be paid to García Márquez, who marks his 80th birthday this year, as well as the 25th anniversary since receiving the Nobel prize.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My Soul Needs...

Just a few notes:

I saw Akeelah and the Bee the other night on DVD and discovered this wonderful quote, which I wanted to pass on to all of you:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel unsure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.

As we let our own Light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson (1952-)

How wonderful and inspiring is that?

On a sadder note, why do people think it is okay to beat their animals?

This is from Gothamist:

This past weekend, a Queens man was arrested for animal cruelty. Oswald Joudan faces up to a year in a prison and a $2,000 fine for a number of terrible things he did to his Chow Chow "Lumpy" (pictured). A neighbor called the ASPCA, which found the dog so badly beaten that its face is distorted. The dog was also starved to the point of being 30 pounds (!!) underweight and had a 14-inch collar on the its 17-inch neck that was so restricting that it was embedded in the flesh. The dog needed 100 stitches to close up the wound. The ASPCA will determine whether the dog, who has a "great disposition" and will be renamed, can be adopted, but in the meantime, you can call 212-876-7700 to find out.

And why do people think it's okay to joke about Senator Barack Obama's name (how assinine is it to call him "Osama")? Are you haters, and racists, um showing your true colors?

I'm excited about the possibilities of having either a woman or a Black man in office, it's been a long time coming! I hope it just doesn't divide and hurt the vote.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Support Hispanic Film: Movies to See This Weekend

Children of Men


Mexican director, Alfonso Cuarón once again proves his dexterity at turning his hand to different genres and subjects with this thrilling adaptation of a PD James novel, which is his first film since directing ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ and his first screenwriting credit since his 2001 arthouse hit ‘Y Tu Mamá También’. Set in Britain in 2027, it’s a sort of sci-fi movie, but it’s the film’s nervous and energetic verité style, and creepy familiarity – not any wild vision of the future – that make it so involving. It helps, too, that Cuarón doesn’t allow the writing or the performances, most notably from Clive Owen and Michael Caine, to sink amid the film’s futuristic detail and pointed ideological concerns.

‘Children of Men’ is a clever and credible vision of London in the near future – a violent, paranoid, claustrophobic time when Britain is the only surviving nation, and a fertility crisis means that no babies have been born for 18 years. The Department of Homeland Security has ordered a militarised police to arrest all illegal immigrants and dispatch them to a fortified compound at Bexhill-on-Sea. Meanwhile, a rebel outfit of guerrilla refugees (or ‘fugees’) known as The Fish loom threateningly in the background, fighting for the rights of illegal immigrants and determined to cause major unrest. Cuarón’s smart trick is not to explain too much. Instead, he leaps straight in to his story, which is a good old-fashioned chase yarn that’s gilded with some unobtrusive and cheeky social commentary.

It’s civil servant Theo (Owen) – hapless innocent, reluctant hero and middling everyman – versus a miserable world in which his activist ex Julian (Julianne Moore) continues to take a political stand that he’s long since abandoned. It helps that Cuarón’s prognosis of the future is gripping from the off. Theo (wearing a faded ‘London 2012’ sweater) is buying a coffee on Fleet Street when he notices a news report on TV. The newsreader (a voice recognisable from television today) announces that the world’s youngest person, 18-year-old Diego, has died in a street brawl. It’s major news. The public weep. Theo takes a day off. And it’s no leap of the imagination to connect the reaction to Diego’s death with the death of Diana in 1997. It’s a moment that’s symbolic of Cuarón’s film: the future is not another planet, but a familiar version of our own.

The focus on migrancy and terrorism has an uneasy potency (not least when a bomb blows up Starbucks), and signals Cuarón’s determination to avoid distancing sci-fi tropes. It’s a film that could have been ridiculous. When Theo finds himself unwitting guardian to the only pregnant woman on earth (Claire-Hope Ashitey), a Messianic tone threatens to infect the film, but Cuarón backs off from stressing the Biblical overtones of James’s tale; at one point, he pointedly pulls the needle off a solemn John Tavener number and returns to the din of conflict as immigrants battle it out amid Bexhill’s ruins.In Cuarón’s hands, this film emerges as quite an achievement, both technically (look out for the impressive one-shot take that graces a battle scene late on; Cuarón resists the cut throughout) and dramatically (even Caine is amusing as Theo’s old mate Jasper, a cardigan-wearing, pot-smoking old sage).

It’s the director’s boldness that makes it work. He doesn’t bother with easy explanations, choosing instead to plunge straight into the action, shooting in a frenzied, documentary style (always handheld) and employing only the most necessary of special effects. His London is ours. The same red buses crawl the streets, only they’re older and more tatty. It rains incessantly and, though the city’s grey buildings are now adorned with moving-image advertising, the majority of our cityscape endures, from Brick Lane to the gloomy fly-overs of the East End. There’s fun to be had from all this – zebras roam St James’s Park and Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ now hangs in a (finally!) refurbished Battersea Power Station. But this is no joke: this is as real and as provocative as the future gets on screen. Dave Calhoun

Source : Time Out London Issue 1883: September 20-27 2006


Pan's Labyrinth


The guardian of a labyrinth tells a young girl that she is the long lost princess of a magical kingdom and sets her three dangerous tasks that she must complete in order to achieve her destiny.

A girl on the cusp of adolescence is inducted into a threatening fantasy world where she discovers her own power. It’s a familiar, even archetypal story well suited to the dreamlike parallel reality of cinema: Alice, Wendy and Dorothy found their ways on screen and have been joined by the young heroines of ‘Labyrinth’, ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘Mirrormask’, to name just a few.
Pan’s Labyrinth’ is another version of the tale, but an unusual one in that it isn’t suitable for children. Not only is it replete with violence visited on the body, but its lessons – in the inadequacy of fantasy as a countermeasure to repression – might have sensitive youngsters chucking in the towel. As in ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and a prospective new project, ‘3993’, Guillermo del Toro (who is Mexican) arranges his supernatural drama against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.

The setting is 1944, so the conflict proper is over, but skirmishes continue between anti-fascist guerrillas and forces under the command of sadistic, narcissistic Captain Vidal (Sergi López) – or ‘father’, as young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is instructed to address him when she arrives at his forest base with her pregnant, ailing mother (Ariadna Gil), Vidal’s new bride. The maid, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), is friendly and in some ways a mirror character for Ofelia, but the girl is basically alone – until a large cricket transforms into a fairy and leads her to a crumbling stone maze in the grounds, where an ageing faun greets her as a lost princess, pending her completion of certain tasks…It’s no coincidence that the fairy appears after the double-killing that establishes this fable isn’t kids’ stuff, or that the jeopardy of Ofelia’s challenges pales in comparison to real-world struggles.

Reality increasingly dominates the story; in fact, the faun’s realm can seem merely the stage for a series of set-pieces whose grotesque and detailed design impresses more than any sense of momentum or high stakes. Yet as escapist fantasies go, this supernatural is markedly muddy – both literally, as when Ofelia ventures into the belly of a great tree, and in the general creepiness that marks even those ostensibly sympathetic to her, like the faun, with its unnerving habit of appearing in her bedroom.

The labyrinth has echoes of authentic atrocity: a pile of children’s shoes lies ominously near the banqueting table of a bald-bodied, blank-faced baby-eater. At least as evident, though, is del Toro’s own immersion in fantasy and horror cinema, with nods to ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Shining’ among others (not to mention Goya and ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’). It’s as a filmmaker, rather than storyteller, that del Toro is most successful here: a disjunction remains between the story’s childlike form and its gruesome execution, but few directors are so adept at conveying both the uncanny in the real and the recognisable in the fantastic.Ben Walters

Source : Time Out London Issue 1892: November 21-28 2006


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Is Herman Badillo Right, Do We Not Value Education?

So everyone is taking about Herman Badillo's book, One Nation, One Standard: An Ex-Liberal on How Hispanics Can Succeed Just Like Other Immigrant Groups. In fact a lot of brouhaha is stirring, which will surely sell him a lot of books and also open up a much needed discourse on education. I wanted to bring up the topic here to address a couple of points but also see what your thoughts were on the book and the issues.

From the Baltimore Sun:

Mr. Badillo, 77, the first native-born Puerto Rican elected to Congress, is
being criticized for writing in his new book, One Nation, One Standard, that too
many of his fellow Hispanic-Americans are stuck in poverty because they don't
value education.

"Education is not a high priority in the Hispanic community," wrote Mr. Badillo.

"Hispanic parents rarely get involved with their children's schools. They seldom attend parent-teacher conferences, ensure that children do their homework or inspire their children to dream of attending

Unfortunately, Mr. Badillo is right, and not only about Hispanics.
Indifference to education is unfortunately epidemic across racial and ethnic
lines, and it is particularly damaging to the poor. For earlier waves of
immigrants to America, unskilled jobs were much more plentiful. Upward mobility
for most of today's kids requires at least a couple of years of schooling beyond
high school.

Yet instead of discussing the points Mr. Badillo raises, many will try
to shout him down. Bronx Democratic leader Jose Rivera has blasted Mr. Badillo
in a New York Post interview as being a "total insult" to Latino parents. That's
OK, Mr. Badillo says. He wanted to stir up a dialogue. The controversy will help
him sell a few more books too. Puerto Ricans certainly are not the only
Americans who need to read it.

Read the entire article here:

I agree that in my experience many parents in the Puerto Rican community do not focus on their children's education. In fact, having grown up in Spanish Harlem in very close proximity to the Jewish community around the upper east side I have admired the cultural importance that they place on education and the arts.

I haven't read the book and was infuriated to read that in discussing the book the Wall Street Journal referred to Badillo as an immigrant -Newsflash: Puerto Ricans are US Citizens, whether they live in the States or the Island. The ones who have migrated to the mainland are emigrants. You would think that a journalist would know better.

But maybe Badillo did it to himself because his title implies that ALL Hispanics are immigrants, which isn't always true.

What do you all think about the issue?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ponderings by Literanista

So, I got back on Monday, fully tanned and wishing I had the money to live in the Bahamas...

And, so now as I watch Top Chef (yeah, I'm a closet, reality TV fanatic, shh!) I thought I would post some random ponderings?

Why was it as warm in NYC on Saturday (In January, mind you) as it was in the Bahamas?

Why do people not clap anymore when a plane lands or a movie ends? Am I the only excited cornball that wants to clap?

At what point did skeletal become fashionable and our country so conservative and intolerant?

When did it become okay to honor a wife beater and convicted criminal/celebrity with a street named after him in NYC? What's next an all-girls' school named after R. Kelly?,0,1354404.story?coll=ny-nycnews-headlines

When did it become cool to make products which you are compelled to buy and then put out a better one that makes almost everything you own obsolete six months later and then again and again? inot, impressed.

Is it possible to be burnt out from retail therapy? Do I just have too much stuff or am I seriously depressed? LOL!

That's it for now.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Happy Three Kings Day, Mi Gente!

Growing up in El Barrio, my family never really celebrated Three kings Day, instead we got our presents on Noche Buena, which is Christmas Eve.

But now as an adult, I do feel compelled to share my cultural traditions and my past with those who don't know lest we forget.

Mami often told us tales of her shoebox stuffed with hay for the Reyes who would bring her trinkets and candies one Three Kings Day and if I close my eyes I can almost see the little girl she once was; long, fine black hair, translucent skin, flimsy cotton bata, bare feet, coquis singing and night-blooming flower perfumed air, she peeks under her cot to make sure her shoebox is still there and twist and turns from excitement at the prospect of camels and magic, wisemen coming all the way from Jerusalem to her little town, Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Read more about the Hispanic traditions of Three Kings Day:

And, while this weekend I will be in Bahamas, for a much needed R&R trip & my boyfriend's Birthday, I wish you all a happy and magical Three Kings Day and even found a recipe for Rosca de Reyes, a Mexican sweetbread holiday treat.

The Bimbo cookie company is now selling the treat too:

But here is the recipe for my foodies:


Courtesy of Rocio Diaz Patino

While Rosca de Reyes is always made on Epiphany, many families make it for other special occasions as well.


1 package dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
3 to 4 cups unbleached flour, divided
1/4 pound (1 cube) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks, beaten
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 cups of the fruit and nuts, chopped, such as citron, dried figs, candied cherries, raisins, nuts, or prunes
Small porcelain doll (optional)
1 hand-full butter
2 hands-full flour
1 hand-full sugar
1 egg yolk
Alternate Topping
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
Additional fruits for decorating bread


Combine the yeast with the water and add 1/2 cup of flour. Mix well and gather into a ball. Allow the mixture to rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
Mix the butter, sugar, eggs, milk, salt, and vanilla together.

Gradually add the yeast mixture and candied fruits. Add the remaining flour a little at a time. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl and let rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size

Punch the dough down and let it rest for 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ring or braid or twist bread, shape into a ring, and place on a greased baking sheet. If you want to include the doll, now’s the time to tuck it into the wreath of bread. Allow the dough to rise for 1 to 2 hours or until double in size.

Mix the pasta with a fork until smooth. Paint the pasta over the bread with a brush or knife. Adorn the bread with additional candied cherries or almonds if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until browned. Remove and cool slightly.
Alternate topping: Combine the cream and sugar and mix to form a thick icing. Spread over the cooled ring, allowing it to drip down the sides. Garnish with the candied fruit.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Salon readers and staffers weigh in on their picks from 2006


Your favorite booksSalon readers and staffers weigh in on their picks from 2006
-- from Bob Woodward to Kathryn Davis to Stephen King.

Dec. 15, 2006 Earlier in the week we shared our favorite authors' picks for 2006, as well as our own selections of best debuts, best fiction and best nonfiction books of this year. Along the way we invited you to share with us -- and your fellow readers -- what book you loved most this year, and you responded with thoughtful, surprising and exciting choices. Here they are, with some suggestions from Salon staffers, too. There's surely something for everyone in this delighfully colorful mix.
-- Hillary Frey, Books Editor

"The People's Act of Love" by James Meek is good enough to measure up to some of the classics. It's reminiscent in some ways of "Dr. Zhivago" because it is set in Russia in 1919; and it's a novel of ideas, but only as they are expressed through the characters' humanity. It's a thrilling adventure story also!
-- David Baynham

"Special Topics in Calamity Physics" by Marisha Pessl. A smart, funny and mysterious novel about Blue, a brainy teenager in an academic world. Structured around a syllabus for a great works of literature class, this is a wonderfully original novel with brilliantly developed characters and plot twists that will engage you right to the end. Pessl is a great new voice in literary fiction and an author to be watched.
-- Claire Benedict

Between the lines of relatives and lovers chiseled apart, lonely as hell and stoic as old cowboys, streaks a rare and deep compassion so stripped of sentimentality, and so powerful when it surfaces, that you realize Thomas McGuane is writing not as some old pro, spinning nostalgic tales from his Montana ranch, but writing with a bracing wisdom earned only through decades in the rough country, ages at the typewriter. So many images from "Gallatin Canyon," his first collection of stories in 20 years, will stick with me forever. And all of them, I realize, surprising and violent as they often are, are finally about the silent redemption of America's few unspoiled lands.

In the remarkable "Miracle Boy," the teenage narrator navigates the insidious hostilities within his family, as his grandmother lay dying. An outpouring of emotion by his uncle disgusts his cold and ironic father, who ditches him and his mother; as it turns out, a blessing. "I thought my mother really had no chance to absorb the death of her own mother as long as my father was around," he writes. The boy and his mother go walking. "The clouds on the horizon made a band of light on the deep green Atlantic, and the breakers that lifted and fell with such gravity might have drowned our conversation, if there had been any. We must not have felt the need."
-- Kevin Berger, Salon Features Editor

My favorite book of 2006 was Ellen Kushner's "The Privilege of the Sword," which was a sharp and often hilarious take on social mores in a Regency setting. The characters leap off the page, and it maintains its exhilarating narrative to a breathtaking end.
-- Aliette de Bodard

Jeff VanderMeer's "Shriek: An Afterword" is full of the grotesque and the beautiful. The secret history of a family, and a city, it's the fantasy novel of the year, not to mention an absolutely gripping, luxurious read.
-- Gwenda Bond

For sheer storytelling prowess, my favorite novels of the year were Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants" and Diane Setterfield's "The Thirteenth Tale." I read other books this year that were more poetically written, more "literary" perhaps, but none that swept me up so completely in the characters' lives and kept me with them long after I'd finished the book. Both were page-turners that I absorbed in a sitting or two, yet did not feel guilty about admitting I enjoyed.
-- Jennifer Boulden

Gore Vidal's opinions, creativity and wit have been vital companions throughout my life. His novels opened my eyes to the history of the United States; his opinions on government, entertainment and philosophy helped me formulate my own. The journey he began in his youth, chronicled exquisitely in the first volume of his memoirs, "Palimpsest," has eloquently continued in "Point to Point Navigation." I wish Mr. Vidal many more years of rich, creative life for I selfishly look forward to many more informative essays and the next volume of his memoirs.
-- Susan Bragg

"New Moon" by Stephenie Meyer. This series should not be ignored by adults because of its YA label. "New Moon" is filled with emotions every bit as intense and characters as memorable as those you'd find in an any epic romance, and the fact that some of the main characters are more/less than human should be popular with that growing sub-genre in both sci-fi and romance.
-- Anna Marie Catoir

I feel like "Memorial" by Bruce Wagner, a book with fine notices by an author with some heat, got lost in a shuffle, as no "Corrections"-like breakout novels leap to mind for 2006. Which seems a shame, as Wagner has only become more nuanced, as well as more heartwarming (not that difficult, given the downs and ups of the characters in his earlier novels) since the big splash of "I'm Losing You," his second novel. With each of his books he seems to swing for the fences -- his mainstay themes might be expressed religion, disease, celebrity, cruelty and failure -- and with arguable exception ("Force Majeure," I'd argue) he clears them handily, beautifully. He writes circles around far more famous rivals
-- Kip Conlon

Faiza Guene's "Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow" was sometimes hard to read for its harsh truths but much harder to put down for its honest, sharp and often funny writing. This book, about being an outsider both in a culture and in your own skin, did more in its few, finely honed pages than many of the overblown, big books of the year.
-- Andrea Ferguson

"The Meaning of Night" by Michael Cox. The author has written a terrific first novel (albeit with credits editing numerous other works in and around Oxford) that allows the reader to feel like a fly on the wall in the time of Jack the Ripper in foggy old London. It is a satisfying compilation of romance, mystery, guilt, envy, murder and revenge that left me wishing, at story's end, that the tale had some more twists and turns on its way to resolution.
-- D. Fisher

"After This" by Alice McDermott was my favorite this year. A splendid book for boomers. McDermott takes us through our youth through the lives of one family. An astonishing accomplishment.
-- Karen Fredericks

I read so many fine books this year (including those on our lists this week), but I have to say again that I loved Justin Tussing's debut, "The Best People in the World." It's a road trip novel and a coming-of-age story, but most of all, a portrait of the desperation of first love. More remarkable, though, is Tussing's prose, which somehow manages to be both spare and outrageously visual; in simple, deliberate sentences he can paint a perfect scene -- of a dying house, of Vermont forests, of two young people making love. There is no doubt in my mind that this was the best overlooked book of 2006.
-- Hillary Frey, Salon Books Editor

"Exile on Main St." by Robert Greenfield tells the riveting story of the making of the Rolling Stones' celebrated double album amid the chaotic summer of 1971. Greenfield describes the Villa Nellcote in the South of France as the "hippest place in the world" where drugs, sex and rock all merge amid the conflicting personalities of Jagger and Richards. Mick writes the lyrics on a yellow legal pad and does not share his drugs. Keith is Keith, totally undisciplined, ingesting any drug available. Anita Pallenberg, Keith's beautiful girlfriend (who was also in the Stones' movie "Performance"), eventually becomes Jagger's girlfriend until Mick marries Bianca ... whew, what a soap opera! After reading this totally entertaining page-turner, I'm not surprised Keith Richards fell out of palm tree in Fiji recently!
--Harvey Gamm, V.P. Sales and Marketing

"The Accidental" by Ali Smith is the story of the seemingly accidental and temporary adoption of a free-spirited young woman by a dysfunctional English family on summer vacation. As the book is narrated by the four family members, we are exposed to a brief, confusing and oblique history of the young woman who calls herself Amber. Despite Amber's apparent near-sociopathic deceit and dishonesty, she manages to alter the lives of the individuals, but to unexpected ends. What makes this novel particularly fetching is Ms. Smith's humor and perception, and her ability to mimic and mock other writers' styles, while getting each character exactly right.
-- Stephen Ginsburg

Best fiction of the year: "The Foreign Correspondent" by Alan Furst. I have been waiting for this master of the WWII spy novel to finally cover the anti-Fascist Italians. Though when he did, I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the high standard set by earlier books like "Red Gold" and "The Polish Officer." But this is a tour de force. Paris 1939 was the epicenter of resistance espionage. Many of Furst's earlier characters make appearances, but our hero is from Italy this time and we go from Paris to Civil War Spain to Berlin to Genoa to Marseilles. It's a great and moving tale.
-- Joanna Hamil

The best book of fiction I read this year was Richard Ford's "The Lay of the Land." This is the finale (if Ford is to be taken at his word, which, why not, he's not a politician) of the Frank Bascombe trilogy, which began with "The Sportswriter" in 1986 and continued in 1996 with the Pulitzer- and PEN/Faulkner-award winner "Independence Day" (the first and so far only book to win both the Pulitzer and PEN/Faulkner). What makes Ford so special, especially when writing in Frank Bascombe's voice, is the way his sentences meander, taking their time, one richly evocative clause after another. In a lesser writer's hands, such lengthy sentences would seem flabby -- but Ford manages to fill them with increasing amounts of tension, like a rubber band being stretched just up to but never beyond its breaking point, and by the time you get to the period, the rubber band snaps back and leaves a satisfying ping of an epiphany. The characters are full-bodied (like a good wine?) and satisfyingly flawed and never beyond redemption. They are wholly real. A hundred years from now, readers will still be marveling at the Bascombe trilogy.
-- Scott O. Handy

"The Brief History of the Dead" by Kevin Brockmeier -- a chilling, non-sappy treatment of heartbreaking themes like death, love, global destruction; an unusual plot that portrays the afterlife even more inventively than Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones"; and amazing writing that sucks you in from the start and keeps you frantically flipping the pages until the end.
--Karyn Hinkle

"Collected Poems" by C.K. Williams. His first major poem was about Anne Frank; many of his most recent touch on the Iraq war and the complexities of life today, the intersection of the public and the personal. No quiet navel-gazer, Williams has for over 40 years been that rare poet unafraid to tackle head on the largest themes: war and its repercussions, the battles of the races and sexes, the joy and exhaustion of family. His signature long lines and narrative drive also make him both accessible and appealing to many who prefer prose or feel intimidated by much contemporary poetry.
-- Steve Kasdin

"Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime" by Patricia Hampl was my favorite. This tiny exuberant book carries within it no less than the hidden mystery of the healing essence of art. As the author reveals, it is the pursuit of the sublime that allows art to speak to us and jolt us into exaltation beyond space and time. I love Patricia Hampl's prose. Her metaphor for her search for the Holy Grail of healing by art is that of Matisse's "Woman Before an Aquarium."
-- Ron Kendricks

It's not often these days that I have the time, or the inclination, to knock off a 411-page book in two days, but Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" just screams for that kind of attention. Frankly, someone at his publishing house needs to rethink their subhead style, because describing the book simply as "a natural history of four meals" doesn't do it justice. This is a book about food, sure, but more than that it's an account of just how profoundly the way this country eats affects every aspect of our society and policy. Such a subject could be horribly dull, but Pollan manages to imbue it with a real voice and narrative, not to mention a wealth of shocking information.
-- Alex Koppelman, Salon staff writer

Peter Behrens' "The Law of Dreams" was the best first novel I read this year. Fergus, his family's sole survivor of the Great Famine, lives an entire life in a single year as he makes his way from Ireland to Canada. "The Book of Lost Things," by John Connolly was the best novel by a previously published writer. Twelve-year-old David loses his mother and his ordinary life during the Second World War, and retreats into a world of books; what he finds is that the fairy-tale world is just as dangerous as the "real" one. This is a book for everyone who ever sought refuge in books, and one people will be reading for generations.
-- Ellen Clair Lamb

"The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan made me want to become a vegetarian. I did not want to eat for a week and it has started me really thinking about where I buy my food and what I eat. A real eye-opener.
-- Gilbert Maker

"The Willow Field" by William Kittredge was my favorite. Gorgeous prose of the sort only William Kittredge can write, about a West that no longer exists, but far from nostalgic. "These people wait in a web of dreams, as if the old days might return..." They won't and the old days weren't even the old days when they were the old days. This book gives them back to us, though -- in all their sometimes quiet, sometimes brutal glory.
-- Peter Orner

As a devotee of traditional beginning-middle-end storytelling I have absolutely no explanation for the fact that I was completely seduced by the wheels-within-wheels metafictional games of Jennifer Egan's "The Keep." If you want the high-concept version, think early John Barth meets late Stephen King. The ending may go one twist too far, but you'll be so entertained you won't care.
-- Michael Padgett

Without a doubt, Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" was my favorite. It has been many years since I have felt so totally absorbed by a novel. The "new world" McCarthy so meticulously and yet concisely describes is a character in itself, and one that I just can't shake even weeks after concluding the book.
-- Roxanna Pisiak

Earlier in the year Patrick Ryan released his debut, titled "Send Me." Reading it transported me from the middle of a New York City winter to a very hot and sticky situation, both weather- and sibling/parental-related, in Central Florida. His simple prose and colorful characters, plucked straight out of Richard Russo land, made "Send Me" a very enjoyable read. Also, the original use of non-linear storytelling put forth by Mr. Ryan was highly effective -- I had no idea how it was going to end. But it all made perfect sense once I finished.
--Alan Roberts

I would nominate "Suite Française," by Irène Némirovsky, available in French and in English translation. The book itself was discovered in the 1990s by the author's daughter -- two handwritten novellas, out of a projected five, the remainder unfinished at the time of the author's death in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942. They are a brutal, unsparing look at wartime France, written in a luminous, almost cinematographic style. Némirovsky's portrait transcends its period, as a firsthand testimonial to the nobility, and failure, of human beings in the face of terrible events.
-- Jonathan Scoll

Book of the Year: "Suite Française" by Irène Némirovsky. OK, the year is 1941. But this novel, written with unimaginable confidence and restraint, amid the chaos and carnage of the fall of France, may be as close as we will come to a fusing of contemporaneous history and literature.
Nonfiction Book of the Year: "State of Denial" by Bob Woodward. It's rare (especially for followers of the Woodward oeuvre) that a book this influential in the political debates is actually readable. Whatever happened in the Woodward book factory to produce it is one of the major Washington events of the year.

Novel That I Most Recommended to Friends: "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen. No it's not epic literature, but I was gripped by this account of circus life in the 1930s. It also wins the award for the best unexpected and, yes, heartwarming ending of the year.
-- Walter Shapiro, Salon Washington Bureau Chief

My pick is "The Thin Place" by Kathryn Davis. This mysterious novel -- as haunting and magical as Davis' masterpiece, "The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf" -- somehow makes the reader deeply care about dozens of characters (and animals) in a small New England village. It also manages to dip in and out of eons of time. I'm really surprised this hasn't made any of the "10 Best" lists published so far; it's one of those rare novels I could imagine rereading instantly.
-- Ted Schaefer

Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" was my favorite book of 2006. Although the tone was hectoring at times and Dawkins' prose not as well-crafted as in his scientific books, the intellectual fearlessness was invigorating and his arguments well-reasoned. And it seems his work, along with that of Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet, has created a stir in our otherwise complacent society.
-- Sanford Sharp

With "Rose of No Man's Land," Michelle Tea moves from being the sharpest eye on the queer underground ("Valencia," "Rent Girl") to the torch-carrier of the comic coming-of-age novel. No other book this year had me laughing and wincing in perfect balance at the memory of what it was to be a high school freshman making every exciting wrong choice.
-- K.M. Soehnlein

Joanne Harris' "Gentlemen & Players" is the gold standard for this year's best mystery. Set around an exclusive English boys school, it's filled with plot twists, possible red herrings, and solid narrative voices and pacing. It left me breathless, completely suckered, at points -- a delightful read.
-- Sheila Stanley

As one who has traveled to Afghanistan twice in the last three years, and easily devoured 25 books about the place, I cast my vote for Rory Stewart's "The Places in Between" as the best book of 2006 and the best book about that country and its people. Stewart has an appealing view of the world and its people, open to understanding the customs and observing the way of life he meets as he walks across Afghanistan in January 2002. That he did not die is a testament to this man and his dog -- a Mastiff he adopts early on and a typical marvelous thread the reader follows with deep engagement. The author's description of the world he meets, including, for example, people's toilet behavior, is in no way gross, but is typical of the detail and vividness of this book.
-- Laura Stevens

Karen Armstrong's "The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions" is an important book, in this year when religion is running amok in our country. Armstrong writes about religion, mythology and belief in ways that engage both non-believers and believers. (Maybe not True Believers). She traces the changes in religious beliefs from early beginnings in bloody sacrifice to more humanistic Golden Rule practices. The book starts around 900 B.C. with middle European hunter-gatherers, then moves to China, India, Greece and the Middle East, and ends around 200 A.D. By the time Judaism and Christianity show up we can see where many of the beliefs in those faiths came from. Great notes and bibliography. This may sound kind of dense but really it's quite thrilling -- Armstrong is a swell writer!
-- Pat Stoll

I know a lot has been made of the over-the-top style of Marisha Pessl's debut, "Special Topics in Calamity Physics," but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I actually found the style to be consistent with the age and precociousness of the narrator. It's definitely the best fiction book published this year that I read.
-- Kate Teffer

I realize I'm not alone in this, but my favorite book of the year was Claire Messud's "The Emperor's Children." It brought back to life and then neatly eviscerated a post-synergy, pre-Sept. 11 New York City in devastating detail. Messud nailed not only the city's vainglorious peaks, but the sticky crevices of its often passionless ambition, and it still makes me squirm to think of exactly how familiar some of the characters felt.
-- Rebecca Traister, Salon staff writer

Well, Salon, once again you've let us all down by completely ignoring the genre of poetry! My favorite poetry book of 2006 is "Ooga-Booga," by Frederick Seidel, who is something of a literary outsider. I can't describe in a few sentences how utterly unique this stuff is. These poems are frightening, suave, spooky, silly, brutal, mesmerizing, perverse. The lines have a free-flowing rigidity, an off-the-wall stateliness that is always surprising. His subjects range from sex to mortality to geopolitics to high-end fashion to Italian motorcycles to all these things wrapped up together, but whatever he's writing about, he always does it with an honesty that spares nothing and no one.
-- Matt Walker

I rediscovered the public library this year, so I had the pleasure of reading a lot of the books that in earlier years I would just have perused in the bookstore. Hands down, my favorite was "Brookland" by Emily Barton. An absorbing, detailed quasi-historical novel, it tells the story of the Winship sisters and their gin distillery (!) on the shores of 18th century Brooklyn, N.Y. At that time the borough was a pastoral backwater, with bustling Manhattan only accessible by rowboat ferry. The heroine, Prudence, runs the distillery by day and dreams of constructing a high-flying wooden bridge over the river by night. Her struggle to realize her dream, while keeping the family business going (who knew that the minutiae of crushing herbs to flavor gin could be so lyrical?) and living with her mercurial sisters and supportive husband, make the novel so resonant to the modern, multitasking woman. A beautifully imagined blend of historical fact and inventive whimsy, the book was so satisfying I nearly flipped right back to the beginning once I finished it.
-- Emily Woodward

Julia Child, with Alec Prud'homme, "My Life in France": In this delightful, spirited memoir, the woman who introduced Americans to the pleasures of French food recounts her early years of married life in postwar France, her training at Le Cordon Bleu, and the arduous but rewarding task of cookbook writing. Most amazingly, she describes in lush detail meals she ate in France as far back as the mid-'40s: Potently briny oysters, rye bread dotted with unsalted butter, Dover sole "perfectly browned in a sputtering of butter sauce." Child died in 2004, but this book suggests she was sharp until the last: The only thing greater than her recall is her charm.
-- Stephanie Zacharek, Salon film critic

My pick is "Blue Nude" by Elizabeth Rosner. Its roots live in the nightmare of the Holocaust of the 1940s. Weaving together the stories of the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and her experiences growing up with the equally troubling stories of the son of a Nazi, we see glimmers of a new way of being through these difficult situations.
-- Christine Zecca

Readers also wrote in to suggest the following titles:

"The Inheritance of Loss" by Kiran Desai; "The Stolen Child" by Keith Donohue; "In the Company of the Courtesan"; "Kensington Gardens" by Rodrigo Fresán; "A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan" by Michael Kazin; "The Ha-Ha" by Dave King; "Lisey's Story" by Stephen King; "Widdershins" by Charles de Lint; "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero" by David Maraniss; "Black Swan Green" by David Mitchell; "They Call Me Naughty Lola: Personal Ads From the London Review of Books" by David Rose; "Changeling" by Delia Sherman; "The Ruins" by Scott Smith; "Eat the Document" by Dana Spiotta; "The Courtier and the Heretic" by Patrick Stewart; "Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern" by Joshua Zeitz

Latina Nancy Drew Coming Soon

New Latina sleuth is a strong, smart, psychic teenager
By Melissa Renteria

SAN ANTONIO — As a child, Michele Greene was a fan of Nancy Drew mystery novels because of the young sleuth's intelligence and independence. The heroine of Greene's early reading is a lot like the lead character in Greene's first book, but with a modern twist. In Greene's debut young-adult novel, "Chasing the Jaguar," protagonist Martika Galvez is a Mexican-American teenager with psychic powers solving a mystery while planning her quincenera (a 15-year-old girl's coming-of-age ceremony), dealing with school and coping with her parents' recent separation. For inspiration, Greene, an actress best known for playing lawyer Abby Perkins in the 1980s NBC show, "L.A. Law," turned to her own family and upbringing to make Martika a believable character who could connect with young readers.

"She's Mexican-American, and I am, too," said Greene, 43, who, as an author, uses her mother's maiden name Dominguez to pay tribute to the woman who influenced her most. The book, which was published in June and is dedicated to Greene's mother, Dorita, recently was nominated for the American Library Association's 2007 Best Books for Young Adults Award. The association and several book critics have said the book is a fast-paced, fun read that's refreshing in its depiction of a Latina heroine. "I wanted to write Martika as a smart girl who's really independent and has a plan for her life," Greene said, adding she wanted to show a working-class Hispanic family living in the barrio that had goals and dreams for their children.

"I wanted to have a Latina mother who was not hounding her daughter to marry. Her mother pushes her to get an education. I never thought I would not go to college, because my mother taught me that," said Greene, who is of Irish descent on her father's side but grew up in a bilingual and bicultural home. Greene, who lives in Los Angeles, had to fight book publishers to keep some aspects of Martika's life as she'd written them. One publisher wanted to make Martika's mother a corporate executive instead of a domestic worker as Greene had written her because they said "it would be more believable that a woman working in the corporate world would push education for her children," Greene said.

"I thought that was ridiculous because I've never known a Mexican-American family that didn't want to see their children do better than them," said Greene, who grew up about 10 miles from the Echo Park neighborhood in Los Angeles where "Chasing the Jaguar" is set. Greene said Martika was the most challenging character to write because she wanted to take her time developing her. Secondary characters were easier to write, Greene said. Greene, who continues to work as an actress and has a recurring role on CBS' "The Unit," said such experiences of fighting bias isn't new to her. Casting agents have declined to see Greene for Hispanic parts, despite her Latino heritage and fluency in Spanish, she said, because they didn't think she was believable as a Latina.

When she starred in "L.A. Law," from 1987 to 1992, Greene said she and fellow Latino castmate Jimmy Smits often pointed out what they saw as stereotypical or inaccurate depictions of Latinos in the show's scripts. "I think things are different now. I think people are more sophisticated about cross-culturalism," said Greene, who has released two bilingual CDs and plans to make a book series out of Martika Galvez and her adventures solving mysteries and training as a curandera (folk healer).

The second book in the series is planned for 2008, and Greene is negotiating with production companies to make a feature film of "Chasing the Jaguar." Greene said she wants to develop Martika as a person, a young woman who achieves her goals and isn't just focused on getting a boyfriend. Greene's inspiration for Martika will remain her family, although the character is a composite of many people she's known and not a direct reflection of her own life. "She's a better student than I was," Greene said, laughing. "I wish I had been that smart and focused as a teenager."
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