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Books that permanently altered my brain-workings:

Borderlands/La Frontera


I didn’t know I could have this kind of relationship with my culture and race. A mix of poetry and essays, first hand stories, dreams, hallucinations, bilingual and unrepentantly anarchic, this book left me shuddering, breathless and in hysterical ecstasy.



Alice in Wonderland


One of those instances where the movie (the 1950s Disney version) was so amazing I didn’t hesitate to crack open the dusty tome on my dad’s shelf. Not that dust on a book ever stopped me. I love Wonderland, I love pulling out the stops on the imaginative, I love tossing expectations on their ear and I *LOVE* celebrating unbirthdays!


A Wrinkle in Time


Like a gateway drug, Madeline L’Engle got me on the road to fantasy and scifi when I read WRINKLE in third grade. (‘Course I also read THE HOBBIT that year so…) I went on to read everything else of hers that I could get my hands on and I came to love the entire Time Quintet. But there can be only one shattering, one first time venturing into the truths beyond reality.


The Three Musketeers


I like my buckles well swashed, thank you. By far the best movie adaptation was the one that starred Gene Kelly, accept no substitutes. Seriously, there’s been about a dozen versions, and most of them are crap. (Notably not crap just goofy, the Mexican version that starred Cantinflas!) Even Kelly’s elided a lot of the more *ahem* sexier parts. But this fits my occasional need for high adventure that is totally reckless, irresponsible and amoral (or even immoral – have you guys read this thing?!). As to the book – translation matters a lot if you’re not up for 18th century French. I highly recommend this version by Jacques Le Clerq.



Sometimes I feel like I hold onto The Sandman series so tightly because of all the pop-love for these graphic novels. Even if I hadn’t stumbled over them in the mid-90s I would have had to read them just to understand what everyone was talking about. The truth is, these are some fantastic stories told with a flavor that definitely works for me (a mopey central character? a gothy big sister? gods acting like children? YES please) In a way Sandman is more a realization of Things I Dig in Stories that have their seeds in other works on this list, so it doesn’t always feel like it has the personal weight. But it’s one of my favorites that is also a favorite with tons of other people. It’s nice to have one of those.

The Passion


It can get tough to find the hardcore *good* writing as an adult. I mean I can enjoy a great story (HARRY POTTER series) or appreciate clear-eyed reportage (LOAVES AND FISHES), but a really intense story told in a take-no-prisoners righteous prose… that’s something that has to get pushed into my hands. I really just can’t say enough good things about Winterson’s writing. The story alone is daring, but I started reading long sections of this book out loud just for the pleasure of having the words in my mouth – and this was years before I would be assigned reading aloud on a daily basis! Read this freaking book! I need more people to talk with about it.

The Catcher in the Rye


Like what I assume must be most Americans, I read CATCHER when it was assigned in high school. But it was one of the very few that came with a lot of hype that wasn’t a specialized girls-in-the-period-of-petticoats type of literature. I knew I was supposed to like it before I read it and so I was cautious. Maybe even cynical. But then the fucking thing got me. Somehow, I don’t really know where exactly, but it got through and it got me. What I remember is the last section was very moving. There was something of a whisper or rumor of light at the end things. Hope is too strong a sensation, maybe more like the possibility of accord.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead


The second time I read R&G it was as an assignment my senior year of high school. I had read it the year before when an older student pointed it out and thought I’d like it. I loved the fucking hell out of it. I love it still, but with a little tempering that comes from thinking about something for a good 20 years straight. It’s actually hard at this point to recall what it was like to encounter this sort of weird metafiction-y existentialism for the first time. At this point I just call it my mind. This *points* is how my brain works now. (The Stoppard-directed movie starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth is Darned Good Stuff, taking just the right liberties, cutting out what you can only do in a theatre and bringing in what you can only do in a film. }:>)

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World


I read about the first third of this book in one night. I had just moved and my apartment was in shambles, I read with a battery powered lamp, in a nest of blankets on the carpet. It was Christmas Eve, it was the only present I allowed myself to open and it exploded my brain all over the place. I tried to be friendly and happy the next day with the family etc, but I just wanted to get back to my book. It’s… I can’t even… There’s just nothing like it. I wish more people would read this so we could talk about it! It both is and isn’t about the end of the world, it’s about thinking and it’s about being… augh! Read it!!

El laberinto de la soledad


Okay, so here I’m singling out the essay “Máscaras mexicanas” from the collection titled El laberinto de la soledad, by Mexican poet and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. I haven’t read all of LABYRINTH OF SOLITUDE, but other sections I have read have been pretty dang strong, so it’s going to happen one of these days. Anyway, I read “Máscaras” as an assignment in high school and it really gave me a strong reference for looking at my ethnicity and the part of my culture that I didn’t see in mass media. 2G kids of Mexicans really, really would get a lot out of reading this, I think.



If we could construct madness as a contained thing, to be suffered along the way to greater enlightenment, then this is what it looks and feels like. A passage through darkness, with assaults to everything we think we know coming from all dimensions. This is not a real mental disorder, that doesn’t bring wisdom only psychosis, but it’s the sort of deeply troubling crisis that profound questioning can bring. There are pitfalls every inch of the way and freedom from the darkness is not at all assured. These comments are specifically about “Metamorphosis” as I haven’t actually read the entire run of KABUKI; earlier novels were also intriguing, but none fucked me up quite like #5.

This list of books was originally posted to facebook as part of the meme of “10 books that have stayed with you.”  I’ve copied it all over here because there is actual archiving here (kind of), so I can pull up this entry whenever I like.  Obviously, there are more than 10 entries but not all are books…  The instructions for creating the list said something about not thinking much about it, but the fact is that I’ve been moved a lot by just little bits here and there, articles and essays and reflections.  But these books (mostly) have been powerful from cover to cover.

I kinda want to step over to my bookshelves and pull them down now….