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WaPo’s Book Nerd on the NBA

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I was at a conference in Denver earlier this year, and brought one of my old college friends to the keynote by Michael Chabon. He’s a high school history teacher, one of the smartest guys I know, and, most importantly, a person interested in literature.

Chabon was his usual entertaining self: waxing poetic on the business of publishing, sharing secrets about his hipster-comic book-literary successes. At one point, he even cracked a joke about loving Proust–at which the audience of approximately one thousand writers laughed.

It was at this point that my friend leaned in and whispered to me, “Book nerds.”

Okay, I admit it. I’ve even blogged and lamented about our short attention society in the past. Lucky for me, Ron Charles, the book critic for The Washington Post, is also a book nerd. Here, he attempts to infuse a run-down of the nominees for this year’s National Book Award with his dorky, low-fi comedy. His joke about viewers confusing the NBA (National Book Awards) with the NBA (the multimillion dollar sport) certainly falls flat.

Though Charles doesn’t always succeed, I love his enthusiasm. Hell, how can one book nerd criticize another?

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Filed under: books, culture, literature, , , , , , ,

Women Writers Rule!

There was a period of time when I allowed myself only to read women writers. I devoured Virginia Woolf, E. Annie Proulx, Amy Hempel, and Toni Morrison. I was reading (and still do) a lot of the astute, original, and, in an eggheady kind of way–loopy–writing of Lydia Davis. For some reason, I felt some sexist part of me gravitated to male writers.

I like that I forced myself to consciously choose women writers; I’m somewhat disappointed that I had never assessed my choices. Does the gender of a writer make a difference to you?

Flavorwire published a slideshow of their favorite female writers, including Sarah Vowell (pictured above), who (whom?) I adore. She’s a regular contributor to This American Life, of course, but I like the fact that book-length essays allow her the room to showcase her wide-ranging knowledge and her wry voice. Flavorwire’s lovefest for Vowell:

7. Sarah Vowell

Why we love her: Vowell validates our inner history geek. She was also the voice of Violet in The Incredibles.

Best known for: Assassination Vacation; The Partly Cloudy Patriot; Take the Cannoli

The line that made us fall for her: “Once I knew my dead presidents and I had become insufferable, I started to censor myself. There were a lot of get-togethers with friends where I didn’t hear half of what was being said because I was sitting there, silently chiding myself, Don’t bring up McKinley. Don’t bring up McKinley.”

Vowell is one-of-a-kind smart. Self-effacing, with one of those hard-to-believe life stories (she makes growing up in Montana as hilarious as David Sedaris makes growing up in South Carolina), Vowell is only one on this list of remarkable women writers. I’m a big fan of the fiction of Barbara Kingsolver and Aimee Bender, who also grace the list.

Filed under: literature, women, , , , , , , , , ,

Sad But True: Libraries in Malls

Prisilla Gluckman reads to her four-year-old son Oscar Gluckman at Bookmarks, a Dallas Public Library Branch at NorthPark Center mall in Dallas.

I’m back from a whirlwind summer trip to the Midwest for a family wedding and a week in Ptown for a writing fellowship. Hope you’re enjoying the langourous days of summer. It’s hot as hell in Boston.

In the Sad But True Files: a Dallas public library moved into a shopping mall two years ago, and found that it circulates “as many items as branches eight times its size.” Seems as if the librarians have increased usage of the public library by locating it to a hub of commerce. An informal tally of U.S. public libraries in shopping malls puts the number at about two dozen branches.

Good or bad thing? Or both?

The cynic in me sees it as part of the trend toward devaluing literature and reading. Why draw a line between art and commerce? Oprah’s Book Club may be another study in ambivalence: How can it be bad for publishing and literature if Oprah sells all those books?

After all, who needs to make a separate stop at the library when you can pick up a jalapeno cheese pretzel and a sweater on sale at Abercrombie and Fitch at the same time?

Filed under: consumerism, libraries, literature, , , , , , ,

Parents, Give Your Kids Books

I was one of those kids, raised in small-town Iowa, baffled by adolescence and most definitely oblivious to affairs outside the United States. Yet I was always surrounded by books.

My mom, a teacher and school counselor, is as much of a bookworm as I am: Filipino American authors, pulpy romances, child psychology texts disguised as children’s books. Her choices were idiosyncratic and a bit haphazard (we didn’t have that much money), but they strike me now as multitudinous and wide-ranging. Her books were a source of endless possibility.

As an adult and someone intimately connected to literature in my life work, I know that access to these books shaped me in unconscious ways.

Outside the house, one memory I have is of visiting the Council Bluffs Public Library with my mother sometime in middle school and picking up The Stranger. Junior high! The language in The Stranger was simple, the plot a real thriller with something sinister that I couldn’t put my thumb on, and I was captivated. I knew nothing of Camus’ existentialism at that age, but I know that my mom’s trips to the library were the foundation for a great love of the very act of reading and of thinking about my life through literature.

Now there’s proof that book owners make smarter kids. Perhaps one of the most obvious theories ever to be given its own research study, the conclusions summed up by Laura Miller in Salon reiterate that more books in a household exponentially increases the chances of smart kids. Books, it seems–more than education or income–are a real predictor of your kid’s intelligence.

If my mom had chosen to invest in an Atari or a Nintendo set instead of books (which I definitely nagged her about), where would I be now?

Filed under: consumerism, intelligence, literature, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Holy Batman! People are reading novels again?

0112-cul-reading-web

Technically, yes. The National Endowment for the Arts released a report this morning that more Americans are actually reading fiction than in the past:

Among its chief findings is that for the first time since 1982, when the bureau began collecting such data, the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen.

This seems like a positive development, though it still worries me that the criteria used by the NEA is “at least one novel, short story, poem or play”–and over the course of one year!

Come on, people: is it too much to better yourself by reading more than one book a year?

Filed under: education, literature, , , ,

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)
September 2017
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About Me

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

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