Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

How Do You Get People to Read?

Jorge Luis Borges, perhaps Argentina's greatest writer, available at an Argentinian cafe near you.

In Buenos Aires, the government is putting Borges on the cafe shelves.

To combat the seeming luxury of reading, Argentinian officials are displaying books by the nation’s greatest writers, including Jorge Luis Borges (one of my favorite writers–Ficciones was one of those books that absolutely floored me with its literary invention and myth), in 13 cafes. Some say resources should go into teacher training and curriculum rather than displays for the elite who frequent cafes. The government is also giving schoolchildren up to three books a year to build their own libraries. Why the urgency to get people reading?

According to Argentine publishing industry research, today only 10% of the population buys and reads books, while half of Argentines never do. Books have become a luxury for many.

Another literacy trend I’ve noticed in major U.S. cities is the city-wide book club. I don’t know how successful these campaigns have been (and I dread the kind of sentimental, least-controversial selections chosen for these programs, like To Kill a Mockingbird–an earnest, if simplistic tale of good and evil) but they seem an honest attempt to connect literacy with conversation. Of course, lots of book people disagree.

I have mixed feelings about these large-scale literacy programs. On one hand, free books in cafes, a single city-wide book club, and influential people like Oprah are necessary to encourage literacy and buying books. On the other hand, it’s frightening to consider the power of one person or some committee telling a large population what to read. I love the idea, but wish readers made their choices more discriminately, consulting book reviews, talking to local booksellers, investing in the world of literature as a way of life instead of the latest (passing) fad.

Ultimately, if people are talking about books–no matter what the book–it’s a good thing, no? If everyone’s reading Harry Potter and The Kite Runner, we can rightfully claim ourselves a nation of readers. Whether these books should have as much notoriety or sales as Richard Yates is another thing altogether.

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Filed under: education, literature, , , , , , , , , , ,

What if Spiderman Weren’t White?

There’s a Facebook group trying to cast Donald Glover as the new Spiderman.

Interesting proposition: is it essential that the next incarnation of Peter Parker/Spidey be white? It would be mildly subversive–and a shock to mainstream audiences, I think–to cast a person of color in this role. Under all that skintight superhero wear, it would be great to see a dark-skinned face as the superhero.

Glover himself is a fine actor and comedian. I’ve blogged about Glover and his hilariousness in the past; he’s done hilarious work in Community.

Hey, if it worked for Betty White on Saturday Night Live

Filed under: comedy, entertainment, race, , , , , , , ,

NYT Profiles M.I.A., to Her Displeasure

The New York Times published a long profile of rapper/musician/provocateur M.I.A. in today’s Magazine. Last week, Maya vehemently expressed her displeasure with reporter Lynn Hirschberg’s profile, tweeting Hirschberg’s phone number to her thousands of followers.

It’s an interesting piece, criticizing M.I.A.’s Tamil sympathies with her penchant for agitprop. Among other tidbits, Hirschberg discloses M.I.A.’s interview for film school admission (“If you don’t admit me, I’ll become a prostitute.”), her posh five-bedroom home in the affluent L.A. neighborhood of Brentwood, and the reporter’s understanding of hypocrisy within M.I.A.’s persona (as when M.I.A. claimed to want to give birth in water, though in reality birthing in a private hospital room). The profile creates a portrait of M.I.A. as mysterious as Lady Gaga.

How exactly does Maya meld art and fashion, the personal with the political?

“They have a jumpsuit that I like,” Maya said. “But instead of using their fabric, I want them to use a fabric that’s made from a document I found.” She took out her laptop and clicked on an official-looking typed letter that had been censored. Black bars erased certain words. “I’d like to turn this page into fabric,” she said. “I know someone who can do that. And then I want to take that fabric and make it into a jumpsuit. I’d like to turn censorship into fashion.”

I’ve embedded Maya’s video for “Galang,” one of the catchy, underground beats that launched her career in 2003. It’s obvious from the video how talented M.I.A. was, and how her artistry transcends music to include fashion and politics. No matter what the NYT reports, M.I.A. is in a league of her own.

Filed under: music, politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Another Sad Report: Dennis Hopper Dead at 74



Sad news. Dennis Hopper has died of prostate cancer.

From Easy Rider to Apocalypse Now to his terrifying, hard-to-take-your-eyes-away performance as Frank in Blue Velvet (not for the faint of heart), Hopper was one of the best actors around. RIP.

Filed under: entertainment, film, , , , , , ,

Gay Couple in Malawi Pardoned

Heartening news from eastern Africa: the president of Malawi has pardoned the gay couple who were sentenced to 14 years of hard labor.

The BBC reports that President Bingu Wu Mutharika announced the pardon during a visit by UN head Ban ki-Moon. Mutharika seemed to enact the pardon with a sense of duty and under international pressure, still hewing to his country’s discriminatory culture:

“These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws,” he said after meeting Mr Ban.

“However, as the head of state I hereby pardon them and therefore ask for their immediate release with no conditions.”

Whether a political move or out of humanitarian largesse, the release of Monjeza and Chimbalanga is welcome news. Perhaps the win for human rights in Malawi will affect the virulently homophobic culture in other African nations.

On a related note, Current television broadcast a fantastic documentary about the anti-homosexual legislation in Uganda called Missionaries of Hate. A thorough, well-researched piece of investigative journalism that I highly recommend.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Filed under: africa, gay rights, global justice, world, , , , , , , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
May 2010
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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