Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Working Man's Writer

Woodcuts of Women
Author: Dagoberto Gilb
Genre: Fiction, Short Story Collection
Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Ennui's rating: 5 stars

What the book's about: A collection of erotic, sensual, realistic short stories about love, lust and lost.

Thoughts: I met Dagoberto Gilb a few years back at Nueva Onda Poet's Cafe in Edinburg, TX. He was a visiting lecturer for the annual creative writing institute that the University of Texas, Pan American hosts every summer. Taking it the year before when Richard Yañez was the guest, I didn't get to have the full Gilb experience. However my former creative writing professor, Young Adult writer Rene Saldaña, Jr., introduced me as one of Edinburg's up and coming writers, something that left me in a good mood after a night of hectic filming the reading for NOP owner Amado Balderas.

I was there in the audience snapping photos, having set up the camcorder long before Gilb entered. The place was packed. I'm sure had the fire marshal stopped by, a citation surely would've been given out. In the audience were several other writers from UTPA and the local writers as well. Most of them were students in the institute. I am grateful for having such the opportunity to meet one of the greatest Chicano writers that the nation has to offer.

Having only read a few stories from his other collection, The Magic of Blood (an old library copy I purchased off Amazon that Gilb autographed for me), I picked up Woodcuts of Women from school, borrowing from the Sigma Tau Delta cubicle and failing to return it after I graduated. After several horror/sci fi genre literature, Gilb's collection was a gift to the mind.

I'm simply left in awe with his prose, the way he thinks - the construction of his words. Dagoberto Gilb is the working man's writer, being a working man himself. His words become thoughts, become sentences, become paragraphs, eventually leading to the skyscraper of human nature reaching towards the heavens, connecting us with gods of old.

The stories are depressing, mixing with human fantasy and the reality that we live. They're not love stories, but they are stories about love - stories about the urge of wanting, fucking, lust and the outcome of our choices. Stories of men with women, of men settling for what they have no matter what they aspire for and of women who are insecure, animalistic - so much so they are almost like their male counterparts. In short, the collection is a great companion of exactly the way we are and not the romanticized the way we should be.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nick & Norah's Hell of a Night Out

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
Authors: Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Young Adult
Amazon Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Ennui's Rating: 5 stars

What the books about: After seeing his ex-girlfriend at his show, Nick asks a random girl if she would be his 5-minute girlfriend, not knowing this stranger and him are connect through his ex to begin with. And what starts a spur of the moment thing ends up being a heart-wrenching, emotion filled roller coaster of one crazy night between two people who have seemingly stopped believing in the power of love.

When is a night over? Is it the start of sunrise or the end of it? Is it when you finally go to sleep or simply when you realize that you have to? When the club closes or when everyone leaves? Normally, I keep these kinds of questions to myself. But this time I ask Norah. (P. 170)
Thoughts: Thought provoking is possibly the last thing Young Adult literature brings to mind, at least with me. Most of it is just garbage. Enter Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, which reads more like literary fiction that something my 14-year-old niece should be reading. However, even thought word fuck is used like streamers to decorate the book, the content is still very much high school. If this is the future of YA, then I want in on it.

Written in two points of view - would you have it any other way - Rachel Cohn takes on the cynical, rather "frigid" Norah, while her counterpart, David Levithan, voices the Nick chapters. And while I hate to admit it, the movie was my motivation to read the novel, the book is far from disappointing and didn't ruin the movie for me (as so many have in the past). In other words, if you want the hardcore experience that movie, lacked pick up the book.

Anyway, down to my "review" of the book. As previously mentioned, the two authors take turns breathing life into the male & female combo. Nick is introduced first as the straight bass player for a drummerless, queercore punk band, The Fuck Offs, who spots his ex-girlfriend, Tris, in the crowd with another guy. Not wanting to show he hasn't moved on, he asks a random stranger, Norah, if she wouldn't mind being his 5-minute girlfriend.

Switch to: Norah's POV. Rachel Cohn introduces her straight-edge, unorthodox Jewish, private school girl, Norah, who is at first repulsed with the idea of being Nick's 5-minute girlfriend, but nevertheless decides to kiss NoMo anyway.

Both Cohn and Levithan have a knack for writing jokes when most appropriate, how to turn a serious moment into something profound, and, most of all and most importantly, know their shit when it comes to music. This isn't your Perks of Being a Wallflower - this is something far better.