It’s late, and I had a wee bit too much durian tonight — so I’ll try to make this quick.
I got WOWED.
I broke my fiction fast with “The House on Mango Street” because it was one of those gleaming golden nuggets that survived my book purge today. I brought it from Chicago. Somehow stole it from an old roomie. Thanks, Tina!
When I was 8 or ten my fave books were tied between those “Choose Your own Adventure” novels and the Harlequin Romances that my neighbor Kathy would let me borrow. I thought I was cool reading about kissing and men with “Roman Noses.”
Between the ages of 8 and 12 I read one book — “A Wrinkle in Time” — which is still one that I buy for everyone I know, with the hopes that they will enjoy even an ounce of what that book did for me.
As a teen, reading became uncool for me. So did getting good grades and wearing jeans. I didn’t read an entire book all the way through until I was 17 and in Mrs Galvin’s AP English class. And, that book was “The House on Mango Street.”
The first time, I gobbled it up by the time my bus from the Harold Washington Library reached my stop at 63rd and Nashville. I was officially a reader again. And, finally the stuff I’d been writing made sense. So, I wrote a very passionate letter to Sandra Cisneros. Yeah, she totally didn’t reply.
Today, I didn’t begin reading until at least 8pm. It was tough to decide which book would float my boat today. After not being wowed for 3 days in a row, I was afraid to commit.
The library swears I owe 48 bucks for some ludicrous fees for not bringing back movies???? I promise I will take care of that. I didn’t make it to the bookstore because Dougie was too hungry ( go figure).
So, back to my shelf — I had to choose from “James and the Giant Peach,” “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” and “Mango Street.” I let my gut decide.
Every word rolls like butter from the page, and I read the first three chapters (vignettes) out loud to Dougie — who dug it til he fell asleep.
When you write in short short stories like she does — every word counts. And, when you read this book, you will want to hold onto every word. As a writer, I am re-inspired. This book is juicy and chunky with imagery and emotion.
It’s not easy to write so short. I mean, see here I thought I was going to keep THIS short. You gotta know what to cut and what will pull at folks’ heart strings. But, this book — this book feels like you are sitting there listening to a little girl dream and dream, and all you want to do is jump rope with her.
I’m from Chicago — where “Mango Street” is set. Reading it brought me back to the “block” with our jump-rope marathons, “ghosts in the graveyard”, curfew.. the Catholics and the Publics. My story. Not Esperanza’s (the main character). It was like I was seeing hers and mine intertwine.
She grew up poor and mentions that a lot. Me — we never thought we were poor. In fact, most of my friends thought we were rich. But, it was our attitudes that made us rich. Our house was where all the kids could come after school for a snack.
But, I know there were weeks and weeks where we ate chicken and chicken and chicken that my grandma sent from the bulk store to help us out. And rice patties. My mother made things so simple. So delicious. And never once did we feel like we were hurting.
I remember a guy on our block. I think his name was Rico.. if you lived on my block…. please help here. Rico would climb on his roof and howl at the moon every night. Sometimes he’d blow off fireworks. Then, one day the kids on the block said he died from falling off the roof into a tree or a pool. Is this true? Anyone? I don’t know.
But, the best stories come from times like that. From the blocks and neighborhoods inside bigger places where kids make their own worlds, and little girls can dream about making it big as a writer and coming back to get all those beautiful souls who could not leave as easily as her. Like Esperanza. And me.