Tuesday, April 03, 2007


A year's worth of favorite books

Fundamental reading
A year's worth of favorite books
on Thursday 12/07/2006,

For years — 29 of them, in fact — the Isthmus year-end book wrap-up was written by avid reader and Broom Street Theater director Joel Gersmann. His list was a departure from most year-end book picks in that he did not restrict himself to new books published within the last year. In his memory, we continue the tradition he started: If you read it during the previous year, it’s fair game. We asked a number of Madison-area writers and readers to share a few of the books that made their year.

Men and boys
by Oscar Mireles

Poems by Father and Son
By Trinidad Sanchez Jr. (Renaissance Publications)

I exchanged poetry chapbooks with Trinidad “Trino” Sanchez Jr. over 20 years ago. I put his book away in my files at the time, and decided to read it this year after his recent death. Trino Sanchez was a get-in-your-face poet, always looking for a way to share poetry with prisoners or at community centers and making a mark. In his book, he wrote a poem about Death:

we futurized
of our death
how we would want it
celebrated without being present.
Good memories —
And no one cries.

He died without health insurance, with over $500,000 in medical bills. If there ever was a good reason to initiate universal health care, Trino would be a major one.

The Catcher in the Rye
By J.D. Salinger (Back Bay)

My son Sergio was reading this for his AP American English class, and I was sure I had read it when I was in high school, but I was mistaken. I was struck by the way Salinger used language to create the main character, Holden Caulfield, especially repeated phrases like “phonies” and “if you want to know the truth” and “that kills me.” It is hard to believe that this book was published in 1951, and the action takes place in the 1940s. Yet I can see how this book continues to appeal to teenagers.

The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life
By Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens (Jossey-Bass)

This book makes the argument that there are biological and environmental reasons why we should try to make schools “boy-friendly” and surround young men with a male support system of family and friends, to help them navigate educational and social challenges as they move toward adulthood. The book shares many strategies for reaching the underachieving male student. As I work at Omega School with young males, it’s clear to me that with some guidance, support and direction they can achieve educational success.

Thirteen Moons: A Novel
By Charles Frazier (Random House)

Thirteen Moons shares the story of orphan Will Cooper. He works as an indentured servant, becomes a successful merchant and befriends the Cherokee Nation at the time of the Trail of Tears. The character is based loosely on the real-life exploits of a William Holland Thomas. I was surprised to find out that during that time, some members of Cherokee Nation owned land off the reservation and were slave owners. I was also shocked to read that many of the slaves were forced to leave North Carolina during the Trail of Tears as well. Frazier makes the Smoky Mountains come alive, and history intertwines with small stories and recipes that evoke the area’s rich history, culture and food.

Oscar Mireles is a poet, director of the Omega School and the editor of I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin, vols. I and II.

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