Thank you for the comments about the blog and the well wishes. I appreciate it.
As for your question, I’d suggest trying some poetry. I know you asked for literature, but if you’re trying to feel comfortable with reading the language, I’d recommend wading in via poetry instead of diving in the deep water with Gabo or Jorge Luis Borges. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with José Martí, especially if you’re looking for something with a Cuban flavor.
I don’t read a lot of fiction, unfortunately. As you mentioned, my time is usually occupied by non-fiction, but I really should read more fiction because it does help me grow as a writer. I actually probably read more fiction books last year than I have in any other year over the last decade, though. I tend to stick with specific writers and classics. I also read a lot of poetry. I do have some favorites that I can recommend:
•Anything by Sam Shepard — I’ve written many times that Sam Shepard is an American treasure. He is our greatest living playwright, a brilliant actor, and the author of vivid, haunting, beautiful short stories and poems that can be found in fantastic collections like Day Out of Days, Great Dream of Heaven, Cruising Paradise, Hawk Moon, and other books. I get every single book that Sam Shepard releases and I have never been disappointed.
•The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell — I was sent this book by the author of Winter’s Bone by his publisher and just happened to start reading it even though I rarely, if ever, review fiction. I didn’t stop reading it until I was finished a couple of others later and was blown away as I explained in my review of The Outlaw Album for AND Magazine.
•Anything by John Steinbeck — Like Sam Shepard, Steinbeck (a buddy of LBJ, by the way!) was an American treasure. I never tire of reading his words. He was one of the greatest of all-time.
That’s a start. Some other writers whose fiction I love are Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Umberto Eco, Tennessee Williams, José Martí, Jorge Luis Borges, Gore Vidal’s historical fiction, and Ambrose Bierce among others. And while I’m not going out on a limb or making some radically original suggestion, I have to say Shakespeare. I have my Complete Works of William Shakespeare nearby at all times because I can open the book up to any of the 1400+ pages, randomly find a line, and be amazed every single at the beauty and creativity of every single word that Shakespeare strung together — writing that is over 400 years old still constantly amazes me. Not familiarizing yourself with Shakespeare because everyone focuses on his work is like not breathing because everybody else is doing it.
"Men are products, expressions, reflections; they live to the extent that they coincide with their epoch, or to the extent that they differ markedly from it." — José Martí, Cuban Revolutionary/Poet/Patriot, 1887
Men die — even Revolutionaries like Ché Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chávez (well, maybe not Fidel, he’s still fighting). The true measure of their impact, however, is not simply what they did, but what remains once they are gone. In my latest article for AND Magazine, “¿Viva La Revolucíon?”, I look at a connection between Ché and Chávez, and wonder whether their Revolutions died with the Revolutionaries. I also question those Americans who celebrated Chávez’s death much like they celebrated Osama bin Laden’s despite the fact that bin Laden planned terror attacks which killed thousands of Americans while Chávez was basically just an obnoxious presence. Is it as much of a capital crime to antagonize America with annoying rhetoric as it is to target innocent Americans for murder through terror? While I don’t make apologies for Hugo Chávez, in the wake of his death, I try to see his impact through the eyes of his neighbors in Latin America whose interactions with the late Venezuelan leader were largely affectionate. Go check out my article in AND Magazine, “¿Viva La Revolucíon?”, and please click the Facebook “like” or “recommend” button underneath the article’s title!
I have long been drawn to Cuba, as I believe I have shared before. I don’t quite understand why. I’m not Cuban. The part of me that is Hispanic is Mexican — old, indigenous Mexican rather than Spanish — so there is no ethnic or familial connection to Cuba. Yet, I’ve always been drawn to that little island that is about the same distance from Florida as Sacramento is from San Francisco. There’s just a mystique to it — not only because of Fidel and Ché and Camilo Cienfuegos and Celia Sánchez — but dating back to the words of José Martí. There is something resilient about the Cuban people that fascinates me.
Last year, I shared the story of my friend Sarah, who I met during the first Obama campaign and who has been studying medicine for the past few years in Havana courtesy of the Cuban government. I wanted to experience Cuba even before I met Sarah and I’m working hard to try to visit Havana sometime this year. What I really want to experience is Cuba while Fidel Castro is still alive. While Fidel is no longer in power, I just feel like being on the island while he is still living will be a completely different experience than when he is gone, even if his brother Raul remains in power and the country continues to be Communist. If I went to Cuba today, I think I’d still feel like I was in Fidel Castro’s Cuba and that’s the unique experience I want to have, even for just a week.
I’m beginning to think my odds of making it there before Fidel dies aren’t so great, however. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández visited Havana last week and paid a courtesy call on the former Cuban leader, who will turn 87 in August, and it certainly looks like I need to step up my efforts to visit Sarah in Cuba if I want to experience Cuba while Fidel Castro is still alive:
So, Comandante, for purely selfish reasons, can you just hold on for a little while longer while I try to get everything in order for my visit? I’m really trying to do it this year — maybe even late Spring. Cool? Comandante? Fidel? No, I’m over here where your brother and Cristina are looking. I’ll bring you some of that adidas gear you seem to dig so much.