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Lisa Alvarez's Summer Reading List
Cowboy gunplay, High Sierra poetry, the Inland Empire and more!
By day, Lisa Alvarez is the chairwoman of the English department at Irvine Valley College. The rest of the time, she writes—whether about the scandalous goings-on at the South Orange County Community College District at Dissent the Blog, Orange County life at the Mark on the Wall, or her own novels and short stories. One of Alvarez's tales is included in Latinos in Lotusland, a landmark collection of Southern California Latino literature released last month; she was the only Orange County resident to notch the honor. We asked the good professor to share with us her summer reading list—and she did, while reminding us to tell ustedes to listen every Sunday at noon to her radio program, Bibliocracy Radio, at KPFK-FM 90.7. Now, on to the professor's list, in her own words:
Since Oakley Hall passed away, I've consoled myself by reaching again for his books. Hall published more than 20 novels in a half-century writing life, most set in the West. Hall co-founded UC Irvine's master's-of-fine-arts fiction program (I was his student) and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley (where I work). Warlock revisits the shootout at the O.K. Corral—but much more. A 1958 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Warlock famously inspired Thomas Pynchon. Fans of Cormac McCarthy and HBO's Deadwood should see where it all began.
I fell hard for Alfredo Vea's Gods Go Begging 10 years ago; today, it resonates Iraq-wise. Meet Jesse Pasodoble, a Vietnam vet criminal-defense attorney in 1990s San Francisco. He discovers yesterday's war being fought today while solving a double murder. Vea, himself a combat vet and attorney, both fulfills and transcends multiple genres—war novel, Chicano novel, mystery—laced with magic realism, sharp humor and, somehow, hope. I taught it in my Chicano lit class and will add it to composition classes next fall.
Robert Hass' Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005. I bought a dozen last year as gifts for friends. And that was before Hass won both the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. What I like best about this poet is all here: sense of place, humanity and history—so often starting in California, in the High Sierra, then traveling to landscapes past and present, near and far.
Inlandia: A Literary Journey Through California's Inland Empire, an anthology edited by Gayle Wattawa, features writers who also appear with me in Latinos in Lotusland (Kathleen Alcala, Michael Jaime-Becerra and Alex Espinoza) but ranges widely in its thoughtful reach, with the usual suspects (Mary Austin, Raymond Chandler, Joan Didion, M.F.K. Fisher, Carey McWilliams, John Steinbeck), some surprises (hmmm . . . Joan Baez? Norman Mailer? Calvin Trillin?) and real finds such as Katherine Saubel's translation of the Cahuilla Indian creation story, which opens this must-have collection.
In Jim Krusoe's latest novel, Girl Factory, the innocent and almost archetypally misguided Jonathan works at Mr. Twisty's, a yogurt shop in the mall. He confronts the responsibilities of liberation upon discovering in the basement five naked ladies kept in suspended animation in, yes, acidophilus. In Esquire recently, Krusoe suggests this novel explores the desire to bring dead people back to life. I'm ready. Like Hall, Krusoe is a former teacher of mine, and he's a crafter of instructively wise, funny, elegant prose. I look forward to this long-awaited novel of quotidian allegory.