Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Boys from Little Mexico--A Review

Books like Steve Wilson's The Boys from Little Mexico (Beacon Press, June 2010) are exactly why I want to go into publishing. I've had a lifelong obsession with beautiful writing and compelling narratives, and more recently, I've developed a passion for works of art and literature that promote true understanding among people and groups who might not otherwise come into contact with each other. The Boys from Little Mexico is one of those rare gems of literary non-fiction that both exhibits excellent writing and opens the reader's eyes to the lives of fellow human beings.

Chronicling the season of an all-Hispanic high school soccer team, The Boys from Little Mexico is about so much more than sports. Perhaps most importantly, it is about the meaning of sports for the players and coaches we meet while reading it. Some of these boys knew that a soccer scholarship was their only shot at a four-year college education; others acknowledged that soccer gave them a reason not to drop out of high school. But on a more abstract level, soccer had the potential to give them a vision of success, a feeling of self-confidence, and a commitment to hard work. But, consequently, losses on the field sometimes seemed to portend weightier, life-altering losses.

Anyone who wishes to understand the nuanced and so very human elements behind immigration and education policies should read this book. Meet Octavio, who as a young teenager made the decision to make the dangerous trek across the Mexican/American border with no papers and go to school and play soccer in the U.S. Meet Carlos, who had to be taken from his birth mother when he was 5 years old and watch out for his younger siblings in three different foster homes before graduating from high school. Meet Coach Mike Flannigan, an Irish-American who continually seeks to understand his players better and help them succeed both on and off the field.

But even though this book deals with important, heavy issues, it doesn't feel like one of those books we all know we "should" read but don't really want to. On the contrary, the writing is quite engaging. On multiple occasions, I wasn't able to put the book down after I got off the subway so I kept reading it while walking to work! Even though I'm not really a sports fan, I was drawn into the fast-paced soccer games and even found myself holding my breath to find out if the ball would successfully make it between the goal posts. Steve Wilson manages to write these scenes in a way that soccer fans and neophytes alike will be able to visualize and experience the games much as they would if they were actually in the stands (and in the case of neophytes like me, we understand what's going on much better than we would if we were just watching a game). Similarly, Wilson's descriptions of political policies bear immediate relevancy to the lives of those in the story and, as such, manifest the complexities and importance of these issues while advancing the book's enthralling narrative. I highly recommend The Boys from Little Mexico to anyone who cares about education, immigration, sports, or just a really good story.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Why I moved to Boston, with a tasty dose of feminism, from ch. 12 of Jane Eyre

Anybody may blame me who likes, when I add further, that, now and then, when I took a walk by myself in the grounds; when I went down to the gates and looked through them along the road; or when, while Adele played with her nurse, and Mrs. Fairfax made jellies in the storeroom, I climbed the three staircases, raised the trap-door of the attic, and having reached the leads, looked out afar over sequestered field and hill, and along dim sky-line--that then I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen--that then I desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach. I valued what was good in Mrs. Fairfax, and what was good in Adele; but I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in I wished to behold.

Who blames me? Many, no doubt; and I shall be called discontented. I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes. Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third storey, backwards and forwards, safe in the silence and solitude of the spot, and allow my mind's eye to dwell on whatever bright visions rose before it--and, certainly, they were many and glowing; to let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement, which, while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with life; and, best of all, to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended--a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence.

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

Thanks, classiclit, for providing the text.

Monday, May 3, 2010


This was my end-of-semester reflection for my Book Editing class. The last paragraph is particularly amusing because it's just about the most pretentious thing anyone has ever written, yet I'm trying to use it to explain that editors aren't pretentious.

When I first signed up for the Book Editing class, I honestly didn’t know whether I wanted to be an editor or not, mostly because I promised myself when I came to Emerson that I would be open to the many and varied opportunities that exist in publishing. "Sure you may think you want to be an editor,” I told myself. “But everyone who goes into publishing thinks they want to be an editor because they don’t know what else is out there."

This attitude of openness was a good one to have at the beginning of my Emerson career. But at the end of my first year—after purposely seeking out publishing experiences outside of the editorial world—I am pretty confident in saying that I want to work in editorial. Yes, production, publicity, and marketing are all fun fields. And yes, I’m capable of understanding the financial and legal aspects of publishing. But nothing compares to the thrill of working with ideas, people, and words as an editor.

As an undergraduate, I majored in English literature and psychology. I remember saying that I thought I would love to work in counseling if I could only have intelligent, highly verbal clients. Of course, there is no field of psychology that would allow a therapist to have only these types of clients. But the author/editor relationship contains some of the elements I liked about psychology: discussing complex, intellectual, personal issues from multiple perspectives; building good rapport; and adapting one’s techniques depending on who is sitting on the other side of the desk. I really enjoy the challenge of understanding and working with all sorts of people, and the author/editor relationship provides many such opportunities.

I love working with ideas—and their mode of transportation, words—just as much as I love working with people. There is something invigorating about seeing the potential in a manuscript and knowing that you could be the fresh set of eyes that helps it reach that potential. The non-fiction ethnographic manuscript I worked with in this class has so much potential both as a literary work and as a book that might make some of its readers think differently about the world. Getting the chance to work with books like that would not only be fun; it would be meaningful.

Because I am much more focused on big ideas and themes, I would like to be an acquisitions and/or developmental editor. I would love to build my own lists, and I’d love to help polish every book on that list. When a young editor from Beacon Press came to our class and talked about starting her own list of graphic novels, I got really excited to think that she had been sitting in my position just a few years ago.

Speaking of Beacon Press, that is one of the ideal types of houses I would like to work for. I am much more attracted to small, independent houses because I think I’d get more opportunities to try different things. They usually need staff members to have broader job descriptions, and they aren’t so set in their ways that they can’t recognize fresh, innovative ideas. I also love that Beacon Press is mission-driven; I strongly desire to work for a house that publishes important, elegant books, especially non-fiction.

In addition to small presses like Beacon, I could also see myself working for a university press, particularly one that does quite a few books that cross over into trade. I like books that explore complex ideas, but I especially like books that can express these ideas in such a way that an educated, non-expert can understand and be moved by them. This allows the books to have more influence, and it also usually means that they avoided the “dry as dust” pitfall that so many academic books succumb to.

One final, semi-facetious note about working as an editor: I like that you get to be smart without being pretentious. There aren’t too many editors whose walls are ostentatiously covered with diplomas or who expect instant respect the minute they spout off their job titles. Nevertheless, most editors are well-read with a broad range of interests, have a fast learning curve, invent creative and innovative ways to solve problems, and balance technical precision with aesthetic sensibility. If that’s not intelligence, I don’t know what is.