Sunday, February 28, 2010

Return to Georgia's Thrift Shop

Jyg wanted to do something today, so I dragged her and Izzy to Georgia's Thrift Shop so I can see what Mike had in stock today. My hunt was cut short because Jyg needed to take care of certain business. Never go hunting after she's eaten, I've made of note of that.

However, I didn't come out empty handed. I bought The Epic of Gilgamesh - something I'm told is an important read for English majors - and the piece of shit book that I've been meaning to read, A Million Little Pieces by novelist and liar, James Frey. Why am I reading that book, you might be asking yourself. Well, it's simple. I want to see if it's believable as nonfiction.

The price for both, $1.50 plus tax. Nice, hu? Until next time, happy huntin'. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom

I trekked down the street yesterday, lungs filled with mucus and chest cramping up. The cold air blew my coat opened. The sun was hot, but the air was cold. This confused my already sick body. But still, I had to trek on.

In the Valley, we have a handful of writers that actually get published by presses like Arte Publico, but there isn't any venue where you can go and buy their books. Save, the Museum of South Texas History's gift shop. It's not so far from where I live. A walk, no less. But I'm sick and moving isn't the best thing for me at the moment.

Couple that with sinus issues I have on windy days, I'm in a living hell. But I know I have to make to the gift shop and back before it's three because the book I'm buying is Chicken Foot Farm by Anne Estevis - a friend of mine - and is going to be a gift for my mother, whose birthday is today.

I'm going to be honest - aside from what was included in Valleysong, I've never read anything by Anne. I've heard several of her stories as she read them at different readings we've hand. Most notably, in this book, however, is a story that brought my mother to tears. This was the reason why I chose to buy this book for her. She's already working on it, while I'm looking for the next book to read.

Until then, happy huntin'.

Proving the Impossible

It feels like a lifetime where I'm sitting down listening to a cassette tape a friend made for me with different types of music. We called these samplers, not to be mistaken for the mixed tape which proposed feelings. None of these songs went with each other, there was no underlying message other than, "Hey, buddy, check these bands out."

Out comes a strange combination of sounds, with a dull-voiced singering singing:

Life is white
And I am black
Jesus and his lawyer
Are coming back

As cliche as it sounds, "Novacaine for the Soul" was my introduction to the music of Eels. And since that time, I've been making an attempt to collect every song they ever recorded, every movie they were ever featured in and wrapped myself completely inside the Eels world blanket.

The fact that I grew up in a house that only played hair metal, hip hop, gansta rap, boy band and "modern" country, this sound was something completely insane. It sounded the way I thought sometimes. Most of my friends were revelling in bands like Nirvana, Korn, Marilyn Manson and Rammstein, I was busy enjoying the crude sounds of Beautiful Freak, a recorded cassette tape I managed to swindle off a friend. 

Living life in a small town in the butt of Texas, I couldn't go to any record store anywhere in the location and pick up an actual copy. This was before BMG or Columbia House started sending me their mail in vouchers. Sadly, in my high school world, the sole album that Eels ever made was Beautiful Freak, which was damaged in my backpack on frightful day. 

Years passed and a Best Buy opened. Without thinking, I walked around looking up CDs I could buy. Among my search Beautiful Freak, Electro-Shock Blues and Daisies of the Galaxy were all there, reinviting me into the world of Eels music. Sadly, I didn't buy them that day. But I never forgot the power of their music, never forgot their sound. So when I heard the other albums that followed, I wasn't at all appalled or surprised the way they allowed themselves to morph into something new, rather than attempting the same thing countless of times. 

Then one day, I was in college and thought I should buy something that would make my life a little easier. Returning to Best Buy, I selected Blinking Lights and Other Revelations because it was two CDs long. I put it in my CD player the next day and walked to school listening to the first CD and then, on my walk home, the second. I was lifted and taken to another world, again. 

The song that hit the closet to home was "Things the Grandchildren Should Know." Three years later, I learned from Amazon that Mark Everett Oliver, the singer and man behind Eels, had released a memoir by the same title. 

I read other autobiographies in the past - Marilyn Manson's The Long Hard Road Out of Hell - also named after a song he'd recorded - comes to mind - so I wanted to read this one badly. Just sad to say that it took this book hunter two years before he could find it cheap on

Reading the words of Mark Everett comforts me. He removes the flowery, poetry shit that a lot of people feel they need to pad the books about their lives with. Blunt, like his music, you can take it or leave it. And while the man has no children, let alone grandchildren, the book allows anyone who wants to know him easy access into his mind. It's one of the greatest memoirs I've ever read, and the best book I've read this year - which is still young, by the way. 

Like his music, Everett's book has its own tone. It allows you to relate to a man you'd think wouldn't have anything in common with the rest of us. 

And if there's some slim chance that he should read this - which is extremely slim, I would believe - and despite how corny it sounds, but I really want to thank Mark Everett for his music. I'd be lost in this world if it wasn't for Eels or his earlier stuff.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Of Pollitos, Life, Swimming Holes & H.E.B.: The Echos of the Rio Grande Valley

The most important thing in any culture is stories, a history. Folklore that is passed from father to son across generations are essential. I don't know where I would be had it not been for the "camp fire" stories from my  grandfather, or those moralistic tales told by my grandmother. Valleysong is a collection of such stories, essays that remember the past of looking toward the future. 

And that is where my crux begins. How can both appreciate and frown upon a book? 

Both my grandparents and my mother taught me well. Let me start with the negative before I can sort out the positive.

Dr. Rob Johnson - English professor at the University of Texas, Pan American - once told us that several people were upset over a book he was an editor of - Fantasmas - because it set our culture back several decades, making us out to be naive and foolish. The collection of short stories revisited several folkloric tales that molded the thoughts of our parents and grandparents, which painted us in a manner of still believing the spooks that haunted our childhood. 

Off the bat, that is how I felt about Valleysong in the first few essays. Here we had outsiders looking inside our culture, describing us in a light that might be rather unflattering. Our way of life has altered so much over the generations that I felt the Mexican-Americans, los tejanos, the Hispanics, y Chicanos weren't represented well within the pages. I almost didn't get passed the first section. 

But the words of Emmy Perez - a creative writing professor at the University of Texas, Pan American - echoed in my head as I continued on: Who will tell our stories? 

With my grandfather's passing when I was just in third grade, the ghost stories came to an end. At least, for a couple of decades. When I started writing, I focused on the present. These days, I think about the past. Who was I? How did I come to this place?

I may not be a writer of the tortilla story. I may not be a writer who has lived in the age when the Valley was still young. And may never be able to write an authentic story of the yesteryear. What I am sure of is that the writers featured in Valleysong - my friends, my second family - are that voice.

So who will tell our stories? Who will record our histories? Pues, I'll tell you who: Siân Taylor Gonzalez, Ann Greenfield, Elizabeth Gearhart, Judith Bowen, Olga Valle-Herr, Audrey Engels, Euchay Ngozi Horsman, Richard Sanchez, James C.H. Evins, Virginia Villarreal Mann, Jan Seale, Barbara Barens Ertl, Anne Estevis, Peggy Snodgrass and B.J. Ewing

Valleysong, in the few days that I took to read it, has taught me more about the past of this melting pot than any history text. We are even better with it in our lives. Thank you.

Top 10 Unreliable Narrators According to Henry Sutton

Whether or not you agree or disagree with it, has published the top 10 unreliable literary narrators according to Henry Sutton. Drum roll, please? 

10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
09. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
08. The End Of Alice by AM Homes
07. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
06. The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
05. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
04. Money by Martin Amis
03. The Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
02. The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James
01. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Now go see why.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Barnes & Noble annouces Free Shipping for one weekend only!!!

Planning on purchasing some new books? Maybe for class? Well, this weekend only, Barnes & Noble will be offering free shipping when you spend $10 or more. If you happen to be a Barnes & Noble member, you don't even have a minimum, just free shipping.

Why are you still lingering around? Shop, man, shop!

Amazon Kindle for BlackBerry

About a month ago, I upgraded my phone to match the service I'm on. This led me to get a BlackBerry Curve because...Well, because they're cute. Just yesterday, however, I logged onto Amazon and saw this banner. My jaw literally dropped. I started itching like a junky who sees his friends works laid out in the open. I must exploit this, I said to myself. Exploit it and use it for my own personal, bibliomanical pleasures.  Now that Amazon Kindle has an application for BlackBerry, I don't know what will happen to me. But believe you me, every good English major knows there's on sure way of knowing you're following your path, and that's by always, no matter where you're going, taking a book with you. Amazon Kindle is taking that one step further, no longer having to purchase the actual device, but keeping all your reading material snug in your back pocket. I just hope my little guy is one of the models that allow this feature. 

Until next time, happy huntin'.

[Edit:] So after checking out the page again, sadly my BlackBerry Curve 8530 isn't one of the supporting devices. That sucks, Amazon! 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Slice of Life

I must tell you, I've only read one book by Chuck Klosterman before this one. Even before that book, I was already a fan of the writer. Back when he had a column in Esquire, that's how far I've been reading his work. The first book, by the way, was Killing Yourself to Live which I bought in the discount table at Barnes & Noble after spending most of the previous year dying to read it.

Because everything I've ever read by Klosterman has been nonfiction - or at least 85% nonfiction - I was somewhat skeptical whether or not to read his novel, Downtown Owl. While I expected to encompass everything thing about Klosterman that I've come to love, I was worried that it might not hold on to my attention. Klosterman, for me, is still very much the music critic - how can he write about a small town in North Dakota and quite possibly make it interesting? Well, he managed to hold onto it. He managed more than that. 

While reading the novel, I kept getting various songs stuck in my head, leaving me wonder if he listened to them while writing. It's not that he retold stories from those songs in his book, but they seemed to fit the mood. One of those songs would No Children by The Mountain Goats - but that was just for a brief moment while reading the novel. 

And even though his wit and wisdom of popular culture - again, namely music - still graces the novel and that it still read like something Klosterman wrote (because, let's face it, if he wrote any other way, I don't think I've would've made it passed page two), the storyline seemed a little too down slope for me. There wasn't really anything that I could take from this novel like I have from others that I've read. Klosterman also remarked about this sort of reader: John Laidlaw, football coach and English teacher, read books only to imagine he was reading about himself.

What I do gather, and that's only if I read it right - yes, there is a wrong way to read a book - is that this isn't a novel in the most conventional sort. Character development happens and there's sort of a beginning, middle and end, but it feels more like a sketch. A slice of life of in the small town of Owl, North Dakota. And reading it that way, makes the book slightly more realistic. 

Even though I hated the ending, I loved the journey it took me on. Kudos to you, Mr. Klosterman. 

Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Library book find


As usual, I wasn't out book hunting last night. I was at the library for the reading. But after talking with Anne Estevis for a bit, I got up and walked toward the book sale shelf and looked at some spines. Found a couple that caught my eye, but nothing that drew me in. That was until I saw Kinky Friedman's Kill Two Birds & Get Stoned

I had the opportunity to meet him a few years back when he was running for governor of Texas. Anne and I both agreed that the man's a little crazy, a little strange. Which is probably why he is so damned likable. The book was only a dollar. 

After showing off my find to Anne, she said that one of the many reasons it probably found life on the cart was probably because in its years of release, no one probably picked up the book. "Why leave it to collect dust?" she added. Why of course. Well, Kinky Friedman's novel has found a home on my shelf. 

Until next time, happy huntin'.

Chocolate lovers theme

We weren't exactly the motley crew I was expecting, but we were all in attendance even if some of us (El Senor) didn't read. Richard Sanchez, as always, proved a better MC that I'll ever be. The night's theme was Chocolate Lovers, which was completely obvious by the oddles of chocolate candy thrown about - no complaints here, people.

The Texas Rio Writers, led by author Jan Seale, I believe, was also in attendance. They presented and read from their recently published anthology, Valleysong. They included Richard Sanchez, Siân Taylor Gonzalez - the one with the British accent - Jim Evins - who read from his collection of essays, A Happy Man - Ann Greenfield, Olga Valle-Herr and Jan Seale herself. Also in attendance and a part of the anthology, was Dr. Anne Estevis - a dear friend of mine and retired educator (though, as I've seen, one never truly retires from education). I had Anne's book, Down Garrapata Road, in my bag - the copy belonging to my mother who wanted Anne to sign it. Amado Balderas, another good friend of mine, also made an appearance and, as they say, was our the-best-is-saved-for-last reader.

Several other writers were in attendance and read. The night started off with the young writers of the Valley, which included Anne Estevis's granddaughter, Richard Sanchez's son and one little girl whose name escapes me. I read my short story, "12 Notes to my 12-Year-Old Self," which details an awkward period of my life and the receiving of my first love letter from a secret admirer.

All in all, it was a great night of reading, amour, humor and experience. For me, these readings aren't just a gathering of friends. They are a family reunion.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Maintaining our paths

I first read "Finding Our Way," the title short story from the collection of the same name, in an issue of The GSU Review. My, at the time, creative writing professor and author of the collection, René Saldaña, Jr. passed over the publication, not because he wanted to show off his story, but merely map the path he'd taken to get to where he was.

Alternations and editing later, "Finding Our Way," the final piece in the collection, comes to life. Still, I imagine of all the stories from the book, this one makes the best story for a feature film. A lot of times, book readers who happen to also love the flashing lights of a motion picture can snap their fingers and say, "Hey! There's a movie in here if it's done right." My opinion hasn't changed, and, if it has, it has grown surer of the idea. But only if it's done right.

I just put down the book for the second time in my life and I'm happy to say that my thoughts on it have changed for the better. Being YA lit, something I hardly touch, this book shows that there are two versions of the Valley: The one in which we live in and the one we remember living in. René Saldaña, Jr. ventures into both. Leaving us nostalgic for our lost innocence, but appreciating the course of events that brought us here.

It's a joy to read for both adults and teens alike. Each powerful story reminds us that if we should trip and fall in our journey into adulthood, the world does allow second chances. All we have to is pick ourselves up, dust off our clothes and never lose our way.


Para Guillermo

Ojala que I'll be begging for your autograph sooner than later. The field is wied open, and you're good. I'll be all jealous when you start making the big bucks.

R. Jr. 05/13/05 UTPA

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Thursday 11 February 2010: Hastings in McAllen, Texas will be officially closed. This marks a bitter blow to the book readers of the McAllen/Edinburg area as we are forced to march the lines to Barnes & Noble. This isn't a big deal, though. Barnes & Noble is still a respectable store (even though the one on 10th St. has an incredible douche working for them), and still a haven for a book hunter like myself. But it lacks one thing: used books. 

Hastings was my small heaven for this reason. I strive for a cheap copy of a first edition, salivate for the five dollar copy of a beloved collection of poems. I walked through the doors one last time, today. Most of it was blocked off, boxed away and ready for the shipment to the great beyond. Frothing book hunters, music diggers and movie aficionados were running rampant looking for a deal. Along with the books (photo above) I bought Crime & Punishment in Suburbia.

Other than Barnes & Noble, book hunters of the area still have Books -n- Things and Georgia's Thrift Shop, but in the end, it's never the same.  Not to mention the various Friends of the Library book sales.

Still, there will be a void in our hearts by the end of the week. And no matter  how many books we collect, it will never be filled.

Until next time, happy huntin'.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sinking my teeth into "30 Days of Night"

I'm one of those people who saw 30 Days of Night the movie before picking up a copy of the graphic novel - written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith. And while the movie is rather vague now - I must've watched it at least two years ago - I have to utter the unholy phrase of "I liked the movie better."

Don't get me wrong, the graphic novel's a must read - dare I say, a part of the ever growing canon of Vampire Literature. But it's lacks something that the movie offers: Build up.

Sure, I'm not a fan of plot devices, stringing the audience along and what not, but this leaves us hungry for more. It gives us little to work with. There isn't much character build up, isn't much plot build up and the climax is like an erection that grows flaccid immediately.

And I'm not cutting down on Steve Nile's story. The story is great, which is why I feel starved myself. If he didn't have the ability to tell it, or I felt that he was a hack, I wouldn't be here wishing there was more to this book than what was offered to me.

The edition I have - because I'm not certain that all the editions have this - also features the comic script written by Niles. It's pretty detailed for only a portion of the book. It also bears witness to the fact that he is a great and talented writer. So why is 30 Days of Night leaving me feel incomplete? I read a beginning and an end, but the middle was thinner than an bulimic prom queen.

I'm aware there are other books to the series, not just this one. But shouldn't I have been treated with something more in this novel? Or perhaps the novelization might come in handy, which I doubt as most of them suck anyway.

But to make up for the hunger of more story, I must admit that Ben Templesmith's artwork is beyond anything I've ever laid eyes upon. The man, like his writer counterpart, is a genius. These to are the dream team of Vampire graphic novels.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Scanning my thoughts

I've never read anything by Philip K. Dick before, to be honest. This here is my first novel by him. And I'm having a hard time thinking about what to write because it's almost like a lot of things I've read about drug users, yet, nothing like I've ever read before. It's no wonder why the movie was made the way it was - any other way wouldn't have done the novel justice. 

Before you jump ahead of me, I haven't watched the movie either. I started to, but never came around to completing it. I wasn't ready for another movie made in the same vein as Waking Life

Another reason I decided on holding off on the film was because I wanted to read the novel first - something I rarely do these days. I picked up a copy, used, at Hastings during the outing where I discovered it was closing. It's one of the last books I purchased from the store and will be very dear to me as will the others

The back of the book reads as follows:

Cops and criminals have always been interdependent, but no novel has explored that perverse symbiosis more powerfully than A Scanner Darkly. Bob Arctor is a dealer of the leathally addictive drug called Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually bust him. To do so, he has taken on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D - which Arctor takes in mammoth doses - gradually splits the user's brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn't realize that he is narcing on himself.
What I expected from that semi-misleading description was a dual personality. Here we have Fred following Bob, never being the wiser. However, Fred, at least at the beginning, knows he's Bob Arctor and vice versa. However, the deeper he gets into Substance D, the more the becomes two individual minds within his own head. 

The ending also leads me down a stray path, leaving me wanting more. In other words, it's misleading to the core, but never completely leaving me disappointed with the story in of itself.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Let the Hunting begin!


With the sudden death of the local Hastings, I decided that my hunt of the year would be Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.  I've already found a few cheapies online, but nothing that's tickling my fancy. I might have to leave the area for this one. 

Until next time, happy huntin'!