If you are Barnes & Noble regular, you need to know this.
It reported that on the 10th of October Barnes & Noble was subjected to a cyber attack. In the address to their customers, B&N reassures that customer’s payment, card information, and financial data were not compromised. But the systems that were impacted during the cyber attack held email addresses, billing, and shipping, telephones number if they were provided.
This a huge blow to the bookselling chain as they are relying heavily on online book sales in the wake of COVID-19, quarantines, and global lockdowns.
They haven’t received word if this information has been leaked or gotten out in any way but it is, unfortunately, a possibility. We will be following the situation for any updates, but keep yourselves well informed and be extra wary of strange emails just in case. Stay safe!
It is likely that, if you’re here, you have turned to stories and poetry for comfort during dark times (or any times). Mental Health Day is around the corner and, while you may already have your go-to validation lit, I’m going to go ahead and share some of my literary chicken broth. I will confess that every fiber of my will power was involved in keeping me from sticking exclusively to Maya Angelou quotes, because that woman’s wisdom could bring me back from the dead on my worst days. So, in addition to two of my favorite tía Maya quotes, I invite you to take in some of these hot-tea-and-a-thick-quilt thoughts and put them in your pocket for the next time you’ve lost faith in humanity or find yourself at a dodgy dead end. I give you no snark as of this point, only vulnerability because I believe in safe spaces.
“Maybe the hardest part of my life is having the courage to try.” —Rachel Hollis, Party Girl
2. “I respect myself and insist upon it from everybody. And because I do it, I then respect everybody too.” —Maya Angelou
3. “You can’t write a script in your mind and then force yourself to follow it. You have to let yourself be.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun
4. “Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.” —Neil Gaiman
5. “I think Destiny’s purpose is merely to shock us at moments into a state of awareness; those moments are milestones in between which we have to find our own way.” —Attia Hosain, Sunlight on a Broken Column
6. “We all have an unsuspected reserve of strength inside that emerges when life puts us to the test.” —Isabel Allende
7. “She uttered a quick prayer for him. Let him find balance and moderation in all things; let him listen to himself and not the noise of others.” —Balli Kaur Jaswal, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
8. “I know for sure that love saves me and that it is here to save us all.” —Maya Angelou
9. “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light.” -Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Mental health is often about being seen, and seeing is one of the often unspoken powers of stories. Sure, we hear of readers opening a novel, bumping into a character, and saying “hey, that’s me!” But we seldom hear of that wise Grandma Literature who sits us down wherever we are in life, holds our attention, and says “See? That’s you. You’re not alone.” You’ve heard me say this before, so I’m going to say it again: Abuela has the answers.
It was announced today, that Louise Glück is the recipient of this year’s literature Nobel Prize.
She is only the 16th woman to win this honor and also the first American since Bob Dylan in 2016.
She is professor at Yale University who teaches english and has published twelve collections of poetry, in addition to many essays on the topic of poetry. Her writing usually includes a look at childhood and family life.
Glück isn’t new to winning prestigious prizes, however. Her collection The Wild Iris, won her a Pulitzer in 1992, she won another the very next year for “Firstborn”, The National Book Award in 2014 and the National Humanities medal awarded to her by President Barack Obama.
Censorship is everywhere and the general assumption is that it’s for the utmost moral reasoning. From a young age, people instantly recognize the bleeps on TV and know they weren’t supposed to hear the naughty words coming from the screen. It’s so ingrained in us so young that no one thinks to question it until adulthood. People go through an equal amount of experiences that hopefully allowed their skin to thicken to such things no rational person would pepper into a child’s ever-developing brain. However, there is indeed a large divide between an obscenity being blurted out and something much more obtrusive to the artist’s vision. While censorship can have some positive benefits to it, just like an egg in a frying pan the degree set can quickly burn away everything that was worthwhile.
When it comes to the world of literature, censorship can often steers away from the moral standpoint that is practically the sole principle that holds the whole idea together. I’m focusing on American Literature specifically because I feel this is where it’s the most contentious, which brings us to the grandaddy of timeless American classics: Mark Twain. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a ton of different controversial themes are painted in a more starkly realistic light. The poor downtrodden of the south, race relations of the time, child abuse, con artistry, slave liberation, racial acceptance, and to put it bluntly, the perfuse usage of the N word are all covered through the novel. At the time the book was being heavily criticized and censored to the point where some regional copies of the book were redacted to change what offended many members of Twain’s audience. What were these people trying to keep away from the younger eyes of all the controversial subjects listed? The diction of some of the characters.
image via medium
The whole novel takes place in the south where ostensibly people speak ‘funny’ as Twain once put it in some of his travel writing. Twain didn’t write the dialogue of Huck Finn the way he did out of malice but for accuracy. He believed that if his characters spoke authentically in their respective regions that it would drive the points the novel was making about how people treat one another that much further. A very effective way to reflect in real life is to make a distinct but subtle connection between the two, acting as a conduit for the readers.
Twain brilliantly chose the manner in which different characters spoke to make the world of Huck Finn feel as real and at times subtly tragic to the world he and his contemporaries inhabited. His critics on the other hand believed that the use of diction would instil bad grammar and speech in the youth. All while completely missing the point of the novel which was a grand statement on race that wouldn’t be too different from an abolitionist pamphlet, at least in a didactic sense.
As a result, the book was censored in a way that would fly over most people’s heads. Obviously, through modern eyes, the N word would be the focal point of the issue but for the popularity of the timeless novel. What shuts down that argument is that despite the word, the usage it drives home the point of how people interact with each other. Huck admires Jim as a father figure even though he uses the word just as much as the other characters do but Huck’s intentions are ultimately altruistic as he fights to set him free in the end. All of this brave content would’ve been lost had the censorship gone further and in fact, the argument against the book’s usage of the racial slur still comes up today. Once more with good intentions, these critics miss the point as to why it’s used.
image via Smithsonian Mag
With a plethora of increasingly graphic content in books as well as other mediums ever-growing, this serves as a good example of when the purest idea of censorship can get muddled under issues that are fueled by a lack of understanding. The art suffers tenfold when people try to censor anything under the guise that the minds of the youth shall not be tainted by the content adults take for granted. When it’s not backed for the right reasons, the public doctors the novelist’s thoughts to something that more resembles a vivisection as opposed to a gulp of medicine.
If authors aren’t allowed to reasonably explore differing and oftentimes difficult subject matters then that alone can sully the minds of the youth as those ideas explored encourage them to etch out the literary landscape further. Stagnation of forethought is infinitely worse than any diction a southerner can muster. While censorship can help, I reiterate, in some disturbing scenes that I won’t go into detail about in say, Stephen King’s It, the line between safe tinkering via the masses and displaying the woes of mankind is finely drawn. Censorship can indeed be beneficial but only under just cause as well as forbearance for the sake of the message the world needs to witness.
I grew up on Gabriel García Márquez and Julio Cortázar, and as is the case with anyone with minimal sensitivity for masterful language and smart poetic prose, I fell in love with their work. It wasn’t a healthy kind of love, though; it was the kind of love in which I pretended not to see all the red flags and continuously reminded myself how perfect the object of my affections was, in hopes that my affirmations would make the soul-crushing bits disappear. Since this is literally the first thing I would call out in any relationship between humans (fictional or otherwise), I had to walk the walk and face my actual feelings: it’s hard to enjoy a novel with total abandon when the female characters are unidimensional, flighty, and blatantly, exclusively there for the consumption and advancement of their male counterparts.
The truth is One Hundred Years of Solitude was my favorite novel for over a decade, and the fabric of it is so deliciously intricate and wild that I can’t bring myself to just chuck it. Realizing how completely colonized most of García Márquez’s women are (as strong as they may appear at first glance), and how blatantly abused romantic leads like la Maga are in Cortázar’s most famous work (no one bats an eye at this, by the way), was jarring, eye-opening, and heartbreaking for me.
That doesn’t mean I’ve personally cancelled Gabo or Julio; it just means that my relationship to Hopscotch now looks a lot like my relationship to The Sound of Music’s “Sixteen Going On Seventeen”: I flow with its dated, vintage charm, but die a little inside every time the sexism screeches through like a banshee.
So, as a hungry hungry bookworm and a devout lover of my mother tongue the Spanish language, I have set forth on a quest to find stories with relatable female characters with thoughts, feelings, and dilemmas of their own. They do not have to be necessarily strong or liberated or accomplished (although it rocks when they are); their relationship with the world, with domesticity, or with other genders is irrelevant, as long as they reasonably resemble actual women you might meet in real life. I’m feeling like a feminist Doña Quixote, setting forth on a literature-inspired morality quest in a world of manic pixie windmills and disposable characters. Onward, Gato Panza!
Below is a list of characters I have come across that have fit the full-fledged/realistic criteria, as well as some of the newest notches on my TBR list.
I love Don Quixote, I love Cervantes, and I especially love the unexpected proto-feminist speech that the beautiful goatherd Marcela gives when her admirer Grisóstomo commits suicide due to unrequited lovesickness. As was the custom in seventeenth century Spanish literature, the beautiful woman who rejected the perfectly good man whom she was just not interested in, got a tsunami of hate from the male characters in the story, who curse her cruelty and her wickedness in supposedly taking the life of her poor admirer, and so on, and so forth, evil evil evil woman. Not only does Marcela stand her ground and honor her commitment to her simple farm life and her lack of interest in marriage, but Don Quixote defends her, claiming that Marcela is the kind of woman that knights like himself have the duty to protect—single women, who were more vulnerable to opportunistic men and rapists. This was written by a man in the early seventeenth century, by the way, which makes the fact that Marcela’s speech still applies today particularly surprising. You go, Migue.
I would actually not mind a retelling of this story entirely from Paulina’s perspective. Paulina Del Valle is the full character package: we see her as the young daughter of nineteenth century Chilean privilege, falling in love with her future husband, and eloping together. We see her as a wildly successful entrepreneur with a jolly sex life. We see her as a woman who loves to eat (if you lived in the land of dulce de leche, you would too), and who becomes so insecure about her body, she puts cracks in her own marriage. We see her as an immigrant, as a jealous wife, as a seasoned sailor of the social ropes, and as a voraciously committed grandmother. Paulina is human and monument in equal measure, and so real you’ll be sure you’ve met before, or wish you had.
3. Xiomara Batista, The Poet X (Elizabeth Acevedo)
This one is on my TBR list, so while I will be able to speak more at length about it once I have read it, the premise is promising. Xiomara Batista, a young Harlem native with Dominican heritage, is growing up in a devoutly Christian household, and in a world that desperately wants to hypersexualize her curvy body. Author Elizabeth Acevedo puts the infuriatingly common “spicy latina” trope under a microscope and an interrogation lamp at the same time, and gives us a character who, in the midst of being silenced by religion and made afraid of her own body by society, finds empowerment in poetry. A harmful trope down the food disposal and good slam poetry? Count me in.
A middle-grade book, but nonetheless a shiny stereotype-breaker, Malú’s adventures in school is the happy latinx kid story you didn’t know you needed. 12-year-old Malú does not appear able to mesh the palpable mexicanidad she sees in her mother with her own Chuck Taylors-and-loud-punk-rock personality. But this story is not about that; this story is about Malú going through the universal struggle of coming to terms with being herself. No tragic losses, no chronic abuse, no telenovela-worthy storylines.
Also on my TBR list, the entirety of Marcela Serrano’s work has been at some point dubbed by male critics as “a glimpse into the female psyche.” This is both dryly amusing (as male critics could alternatively just ask their wives), and telling of how authentic Serrano’s female characters are. In We Who Love Each Other So Much a group of women come together and air out their wounds, their wants, and the dead ends of their place in society. Serrano’s works Ten Women; The Hotel of the Sad Women; Farewell, Little Women; and My Sweet Enemy follow similar premises. It would seem that Marcela Serrano has set out on a journey to write a complex woman for every woefully flat female character ever created, and I am all for it.
6. Narrator, Palabras sin escolta (Elsa Tió)
Poetry has been a relatively safe space for Latin American women to articulate thoughts and emotions, so of course I must include at the very least a drop’s worth on this list. In this salty, breezy, beachy anthology (metaphorical mentions of the sea as a rejuvenating force propel me to describe it thus), Elsa Tió notices the movement of the world around her and never stops shifting herself. The exoskeleton of her reflections are rooted in the natural world around her: the mystery of shadows, the permanence of the moon, the depth of water, permeate throughout, gripping and grounding the reader. Tió levels with us and speaks of fear, freedom, love, and solitude, delivering us an unlikely cocktail of grounded humility and cyclonic empowerment.
A writer as prolific as she was bold, Gabriela Mistral gives voice to every emotion that remained under the skin of Latin American women, should they survive in society. Each poem is titled a label— “the anxious one,” “the abandoned one,” “the detached one”—and unpacks the tides of emotion beneath the skin of such a labeled person. Mistral doesn’t make up anything; she listens to the women of the world and puts the most painful of their stories on wings.
Latinx poetry, honestly, could be its own category in unfiltered expression, but since prose has a tendency to skew even more male than poetry traditionally has, I remain determined to tell the giants from the windmills. Honorable mentions include the essays of Ana Lydia Vega and the poetic work of Alfonsina Storni (if you want to see a nineteenth century woman stick it to purity double standards in a way that is still relevant verbatim).
Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!
Personajes Femeninos en la Literatura Hispana Que No Son Una Mierda
Yo me crié leyendo a Gabriel García Márquez y a Julio Cortázar, y como es el caso con cualquiera que tenga un mínimo de sensibilidad artística, me enamoré de su obra. Este no fue un amor saludable, sino una de esas relaciones en las cuales me hacía de la vista larga cada vez que notaba alguna burrada, y me mentía a mí misma intentando convencerme de lo perfectamente contenta que me encontraba. Ya que ésta es una de las primeras conductas nocivas que me llamarían la atención en cualquier relación entre humanos de carne y hueso, opté por la integridad y decidí ser honesta conmigo misma: me cuesta disfrutarme una novela del todo cuando sus personajes femeninos son unidimensionales, vápidos, e indudablemente construidos como mecanismos desechables del autor para avanzar la historia, o para ser consumidos por los personajes masculinos.
Sé que me van a llover las críticas. La realidad es que Cien años de soledad fue mi novela favorita por más de diez años, y su prosa es tan poética y compleja que no consigo sencillamente deshacerme de ella. Percatarme de los colonizadas que son las mujeres de García Márquez (por más fuertes que aparenten ser) y del abuso que aguanta, por ejemplo, la Maga en la obra más famosa de Cortázar, me pareció tan trágico como revelador.
Esto no significa que Julio y Gabo han sido cancelados hasta nuevo aviso (por lo menos para mí). Lo que significa es que mi apreciación de sus obras se parece a mi experiencia escuchando la canción “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” del clásico The Sound of Music: el viaje a la estética del pasado y la historieta de amor entre jóvenes son bienvenidos, pero me da un corto circuito cada vez que el machismo se hace sentir más allá de la vista larga. Nadie tiene la vista tan larga, señores…
Lectora voraz al fin, me he echado encima la búsqueda de personajes femeninos en nuestra literatura latinoamericana e hispana que se asemejen razonablemente a lo que es una mujer en la vida real. No un espejismo, no una fantasía sin raíces, sino una mujer. Éstas no tienen necesariamente que ser fuertes; su relación con el mundo, los demás géneros o la domesticidad es inmaterial, con tal de que sea una representación realista. Estoy en modo Doña Quijote: inspirada por la literatura a aventurarme al mundo de los molinos de vapidez y los personajes desechables. ¡Adelante, Gato Panza!
Aquí les dejo una lista de los que he encontrado hasta ahora, incluyendo algunos libros con personajes que prometen, pero que aún tengo pendientes leer.
1. Marcela, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)
Por si no se han percatado, amo la historia de Don Quijote y adoro más todavía el discurso pre-feminista de la bella campesina Marcela ante el suicidio de su admirador Grisóstomo, quien se quita la vida al no ser correspondido por Marcela. Marcela no solo se mantiene firme en su decisión de dedicarse al campo y permanecer soltera, sino que además Don Quijote la defiende y declara que son precisamente las mujeres como Marcela—solteras y más vulnerables ante los hombres oportunistas y los violadores—quienes les toca defender a los caballeros andantes. Dile ahí, Migue.
2. Paulina Del Valle, Retrato en sepia (Isabel Allende)
No me molestaría en lo absoluto que existiera alguna versión de esta historia escrita desde de la perspectiva de Paulina. Paulina Del Valle es un banquete de personaje: la vemos joven, hija del privilegio chileno del siglo XIX, casada a escondidas con un marido que ella escogió. La vemos más adelante como empresaria feroz y con una alegre vida sexual. La vemos como inmigrante, como esposa celosa, como abuela entregada, como una amante de la comida y los dulces, y como una mujer que desarrolla un complejo con su apariencia física tan demoledor que termina por poner en jaque su matrimonio. Paulina es humana y es monumento en igual medida, tanto así que da la impresión de conocerla de antes.
3. Xiomara Batista, poeta X (Elizabeth Acevedo)
Este libro es de los que tengo pendientes, pero su premisa promete. Xiomara Batista, una joven dominicana criada en Harlem, se encuentra bajo la rigidez cristiana de su madre y en una sociedad que se empeña en hiper-sexualizar sus curvas recién-desarrolladas. Elizabeth Acevedo pone el cliché estadounidense de la latina ardiente contra la pared y bajo un microscopio, y nos presenta a un personaje que, a pesar del yugo religioso de su hogar y el de la sexualidad forzada de su sociedad, encuentra la libertad en la poesía.
4. Malú, La primera regla del punk (Celia C. Pérez)
Esta es una historia para niños y no obstante un triturador de estereotipos. La pequeña Malú, al igual que el grueso del público estadounidense, no consigue casar la mexicanidad tradicionalista de su madre con su amor por el rock. Esta no es, sin embargo, la historia; Celia C. Pérez nos regala un cuento sobre una niña común y corriente mientras se enfrenta a los obstáculos comunes y corrientes de crecer y madurar. Cero tragedias, cero pérdidas traumáticas, cero abuso.
5. Las mujeres de Nosotras que nos queremos tanto (Marcela Serrano)
Los críticos de la literatura han indicado en más de una ocasión que la producción literaria de Marcela Serrano casi en su totalidad “consigue penetrar la psicología femenina.” Un concepto alucinante, considerando lo fácil que sería para estos críticos conseguir tal hazaña si hablaran con sus mujeres. Al mismo tiempo, esta crítica parece indicadora de lo auténticas que son las mujeres de Marcela Serrano. En Nosotras que nos queremos tanto, un grupo de mujeres airean entre sí sus dolores, sus deseos y las cadenas de la sociedad en la que viven. Sus novelas Diez mujeres; El albergue de las mujeres tristes; Hasta siempre, mujercitas; y Dulce enemiga mía comparten tramas similares. Parecería que Marcela Serrano se ha echado encima la tarea de hacerle contrapeso a todos los personajes femeninos vacíos habidos y por haber, y francamente, me está dando vida.
6. La narradora, Palabras sin escolta (Elsa Tió)
La poesía ha sido un albergue para la expresión femenina sin censura, y por esto merece un lugar en esta lista. En esta antología matizada de salitre, vientos alisios y agua de mar (la mención metafórica del salitre y el mar como fuerza regeneradora me obliga a describirla así), Elsa Tió toma nota del mundo que la rodea y no deja de mutar. La raíz de sus reflecciones está en el mundo natural: el misterio de las sombras, la permanencia de la luna, la profundidad de las aguas, permean a través de esta colección, agarrando al lector por los hombros y poniendo sus pies firmes en la tierra. Tió nos cuenta sobre el miedo, la libertad, el amor y la soledad, regalándonos así un cóctel de aguzada humildad y poder ciclónico.
7. Las Locas mujeres de Gabriela Mistral
Tan prolífica como audaz, Gabriela Mistral le da voz y validez al ecosistema de emociones que la mujer latinoamericana esconde por pura supervivencia. Cada poema tiene por título un diagnóstico social—“la ansiosa,” “la abandonada”, “la desasida”—y asimismo disecta cada uno. Mistral no se inventa nada, sino que escucha a las mujeres del mundo y pone a volar sus historias más dolorosas.
La poesía latinoamericana podría ser su propio artículo, en cuanto a la expresión liberada de la mujer. Como la prosa sigue siendo más territorio masculino aún que la poesía (y eso podría ser bastante decir), sigo aquí en mi misión de separar los gigantes de los molinos. Algunas menciones muy honorables son los ensayos de Ana Lydia Vega y la obra poética de Alfonsina Storni (si a alguno le apetece ver como una mujer en pleno siglo XIX le hace frente al doble estándar de la castidad y la pureza, de tal forma que al sol de hoy aplica).