Monthly Archives: August 2009

Biblioteca Virtual, Mexico’s airplane library

(Image source: RS-Camaleon)

This library in Mexico City is on board an airplane. The “Biblioteca Virtual” (Virtual Library), shelves the books in the cargo hold. The airplane seats were left in place and are a comfortable spot to sit and use the computers.


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Filed under books, libraries, travel

Into the Beautiful North

beautifulnorthYou wouldn’t know it from the title or the cover, but “Into the Beautiful North” is weird and hilarious.

The beginning was a little slow for me but after the action picked up, I enjoyed it immensely. We start off  in a small Mexican town in the state of Sinaloa called “Tres Camarones”, (Three shrimps).  The town’s residents are mostly women and children because all the men long ago went north to the United States for work.

Our main characters are a trio of teenage girls, Nayeli, Yolo and Veronica, who mostly goes by the nickname “la vampira”, (the vampire) since she’s goth… (Told you, it’s weird. If you’re expecting the stereotypical Mexican characters in the stereotypical Mexican setting, this book is not for you!)

The three girls have one more friend, a teenage boy named “Tacho”, (my favorite character), who happens to be gay. His run in with the Border Patrol still has me giggling when I think of it.

Well, because of the lack of men in the town, it is under threat of being taken over by narcos, (drug traffickers). Nayeli hatches a plan to go to the United States and bring back Mexican men to defend their town. (With the dual purpose of finding her father who sent a post card from Illinois years ago and never came back.)

Luis Alberto Urrea weaves a fun and unique tale with one-of-a-kind characters, laugh-out-loud humor, and some surprisingly gorgeous analogies while still giving us a glimpse of real border life. I really loved this story and I look forward to reading Urrea’s other works.  I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Mexico, the Spanish language or immigration who is looking for something different and funny in the genre.

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Filed under books, culture, humor, opinion

What is President Obama reading?

President Obama plans to read 5 books on his week long vacation. According to the White House, those books are:

“The Way Home” by George Pelecanos
“Hot, Flat, and Crowded” by Thomas Friedman
“Lush Life” by Richard Price
“Plainsong” by Kent Haruf
“John Adams” by David McCullough



Filed under books, humor, politics

Food in Fiction

The book that really hooked me on reading was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Our second grade teacher sat in a rocking chair as we assembled ourselves on the rug at her feet, and she read it to us. I felt transported to Narnia and part of me wanted to believe in magic wardrobes, even though I was already old enough to have begun doubting in such things.

I didn’t learn of the religious symbolism until I was an adult, and had already read the book repeatedly many times without suspecting such a thing. I’m glad I didn’t know of it. It seems to me it would have spoiled the magic of the story.

Now I’m reading this book to my boys, one chapter each night. I tell them to lay in their beds and close their eyes as I read it. Imagination is so much better than Hollywood made movies, if you ask me.

When I got to the part where Edmund was stuffing his face with Turkish Delight, my boys were intrigued and it brought a smile to my face. This too, was one of my favorite parts. When my teacher read that book to me, I had no idea what Turkish Delight was, and I still haven’t had the opportunity to try it, but I’ll be darned if I didn’t feel my mouth fill with saliva at the mention of it.

To this day, I remain highly susceptible to craving foods mentioned in the books I read. If a character is enjoying a glass of red wine, even though I don’t often drink, I find myself wanting one, too. Sometimes, if I have the food on hand, I’ll interrupt my reading to go get it before continuing. If I don’t have it on hand, I’ll usually make it and eat it within a few days. One of my favorite books, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel had me constantly craving, (and thankfully included recipes for the luscious meals described.)

Right now I’m reading a book called For Grace Received by Valeria Parrella, (translated from Italian by Antony Shugaar.) It contains four stories that take place in Naples. The writing is incredibly unique. Some lines are so alive with imagery, some are such clever metaphors, that I have to stop and re-read them a few times and really savor them. In one of the stories, the characters lunch on macaroni frittatas. I didn’t know what those were but it didn’t stop me from wanting one. Now you know what I’ll be making for dinner sometime this coming week.


Filed under About me, books, food, kids, nostalgia, opinion


Fidencio Rosales, a 90-something year old retired mailman,  finds himself placed in an elderly care facility, (called Amigoland), by his daughter and her husband, after having too many “accidents” and becoming a burden to them.

Fidencio does not give in without a fight, stubbornly doing as he wishes at Amigoland; sneaking cigarettes, refusing his medication, and even trying, unsuccessfully,  to sneak out and run away.

His story is paralleled by his younger brother, Celestino, a widower, who still lives independently, and with whom he hasn’t spoken to in many years.

Encouraged by his much younger girlfriend and cleaning lady,  Socorro, Celestino reestablishes a relationship with his brother. Fidencio immediately sees an opportunity for a little more freedom and proposes they all take a trip to find their deceased grandfather’s old ranch across the border in Mexico.

The author of Amigoland, Oscar Casares, writes convincingly from the perspective of a feisty elderly man and really makes the reader sympathize with how it feels to lose control of your own body, and the annoyance of  having much younger people always telling you what to do.

This book had a lot of subtle humor and a happy ending that I very much enjoyed.

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A special interview with Raul Ramos y Sanchez, author of America Libre

raulramosThis week I had the pleasure of interviewing the author of America Libre, Raul Ramos y Sanchez, via E-mail. Mr. Ramos was also generous enough to take reader questions, and so he answered a couple of those as well.

A long-time resident of the U.S. Midwest, Cuban-born Raul Ramos y Sanchez developed a documentary for public television called Two Americas: The Legacy of our Hemisphere, and he is host of – an online forum for the U.S. immigrant community. America Libre is his first book and will be part of a trilogy.

Without further, adieu, the interview.

While your novel is fictional, do you think that the story you wrote could ever actually happen in the U.S.?

Raul Ramos: I certainly hope not. At the same time, I think there is a real possibility we may see some kind of ethnic unrest if some of the current trends in the U.S. today continue. Illegal immigration has sparked very heated opposition. That backlash, often directed against all Hispanics, has been more than a war of words. The U.S. has seen a 40% increase in hate crimes against Latinos since 2004. The KKK openly brags about the increase in their membership fed by anti-immigration sentiments. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of Hispanics in the U.S. are legal residents or citizens. These verbal and physical attacks help alienate Latinos. Also, the Hispanic youth population is growing very quickly – and young people are a very volatile group. Finally, much of the U.S. Southwest was once part of Mexico and Spain. Would the hate directed against Hispanics ever fuel a separatist movement? It’s certainly happened in other parts of the world. I wrote AMERICA LIBRE as a cautionary tale to help the U.S. avoid a similar fate.

In America Libre, you point out that Latinos are a very diverse people racially. We have characters like Mano, who are brown-skinned and dark-featured, characters like his co-worker who are darker-skinned, and the character Jo Herrera who is light-skinned with blond hair and blue eyes. That being said, do you consider Latinos to be a race or more of a cultural ethnicity?

Raul Ramos: I think the best place to start is trying to define what Latino really means. According to the U.S. Census Bureau the “official” definition of a Hispanic (or Latino) is someone in the U.S. with origins in a Spanish-speaking country. Now, let’s turn that around. Suppose we took every person in the U.S. from an English-speaking country and labeled them “Britannic.” That would include Whites from England, Blacks from Jamaica, and even Australia’s Aborigines. Would all these “Britannics” be part of the same race? It seems pretty absurd when you look at it that way. For the record, the U.S. Census Bureau lists seven racial categories on its forms. Hispanic is not one of them. Yet every day we see headlines that divide the U.S. population into four groups: White, Black, Asian & Hispanic. This is obviously at odds with the official definition. There are a huge number of reasons for this misconception. But the fact is, the people of Latin America are no more one race than the people of the United States. Personally, I take great pride in my heritage and feel a strong kinship with all Latinos. At the same time, I don’t believe it serves our people or the stability of the United States to create the illusion of a racial bloc. It only breeds fear among mainstream Americans and masks the true need of disadvantaged Latinos behind the accomplishment of Caucasian Hispanics who are less discriminated against.

In the book, the word “Hispanic” is often used. Why did you choose to use this word when there are such strong feelings against it in the Latino community?

Raul Ramos: I am aware there are strong feelings against “Hispanic” in some communities. At the same time, there are other enclaves of Spanish-surnamed people who don’t like “Latino.” It really depends where you are in the United States. To me, we really have much bigger issues to worry about. Let’s use our energies to tackle dropout rates, the DREAM ACT and immigration reform.

Do you foresee America Libre being made into a movie, and if so, do you have favorite actors you would love to have cast for any particular character?

Raul Ramos: We’ve already been offered a film option by an indy producer and gotten a nibble from a major studio. But as yet, my agent has not been able to work out the right deal. I’m hoping the day will come. In the meantime, I’ve gotten enough interest in the casting for a movie version of AMERICA LIBRE that I created a place on my author’s website where visitors can vote on their favorite star to play the role. If you’d like to take part, visit and scroll down just a bit in the left hand column.

Thank you Mr. Ramos for generously taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you the best of luck and look forward to reading EL NUEVO ALAMO when it comes out next year.

For more information about the author, please visit

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America Libre Giveaway Winner Chosen

Using, a winner in the America Libre giveaway has been chosen. The winner is…


Congratulations to Jane.

For the rest of you, the fun isn’t over. Mr. Ramos y Sanchez has generously agreed to a blog interview of sorts here on Curious Villager.

I will be compiling a few questions for him to answer. If you have a question for him, please submit it via the comments on this post and then watch for the interview post in the next few days!



Filed under books, giveaway