I find books like this one a bit maddening, first because they are expensive (all books for librarians are expensive), and second, because they are out of date almost as soon as they are in print. As an introduction to Latino literature for someone who is unfamiliar with it, it can be a good resource. It focuses mainly on titles published since 1995. It covers a wide range of literature reflected in its nine chapters: general fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction, latina romance and love stories, mysteries and suspense, fantastic fiction (including science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism), young adult fiction, life stories, and narrative nonfiction.
Chica lit is fairly well represented, and I found the chapter on young adult literature especially illuminating. Especially useful is the fact that most of the author’s nationalities are listed next to their names. But this is also where the book became problematic, because I simply couldn’t figure out why some writers were included. Rick Riordan is included because he is from Texas and has written a series of novels about a Latino private detective. Does this qualify as Latino literature, simply because it contains a Latino character? Similarly, Bill Boyd earns an entry here because he has written a fictionalized account of Simón Bolívar. What qualifies that as a work of Latino literature? If I wrote a fictionalized account of Napoleon’s life, would that be considered a work of French literature? I hardly think so.
Interestingly, Boyd’s work is cross-referenced with García Márquez’s The General in His Labyrinth, which is definitely within this genre. I am all for inclusivity, but you have to have some standards, nonetheless. It’s not enough to write a book with a Latino character, or to live in a predominantly Latino part of the United States. What makes a book a work of Latino literature is that it reflects and provides insight into the many variations of Latino experience around the world.
As a Latino with an Anglo name, I know that you can’t rely on a name to figure out someone’s ethnic identity, especially if you’ve never met them or seen a picture of them, and even that isn’t always reliable. Bill Boyd and Rick Riordan may be Latino, for all I know. (Although if they are, they’re keeping mighty quiet about it.) Nevertheless, you won’t find their background out here, because there is no biographical information about any of the authors listed. That’s a real shame, considering how new this field of literary studies is. Sure, that information is available elsewhere, but it should be available here, perhaps in an appendix.
The nationality tags are problematic in other ways, as well. Some authors just don’t have any. Others are just confusing. I’m not sure what “U.S. American” means. “Mexican” and “Mexican American” are easy enough to figure out, although they should be Méxican and Méxican American. (Look, if I can do an accent mark on a computer assembled in the US with parts made mostly in Asia, and have it show up on this blog all around the world, there’s no reason a publisher can’t do it in print. If you don’t use the accent mark, it’s simply spelled wrong. End of discussion.) I’m not quite sure what “New Mexican” means, other than that particular author lives in New Mexico—but I’ve already discussed that.
Some authors are listed as “Nuyorican” (meaning they are part of the Puerto Rican diaspora that settled in New York City), some are listed as “Puerto Rican” and others as “Puerto Rican American.” These last two are especially troublesome. Does “Puerto Rican” mean they still live in Puerto Rico, while “Puerto Rican American” means that they now live in the US? I don’t think I need to point out that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, and that any Puerto Rican, regardless of where they live is already an American. (I guess I do.) Unfortunately, while some of these terms (such as Nuyorican and Tejano) are explained in the front matter, others are not. I’m all for reader-response theory in the classroom, but this is one gap I’d rather not have to deal with, since the issue of what to call people of Latin/Iberian/Hispano descent is open to debate, which is noted by the editor in her introduction (XX).
If you think you can look in the index to find where these terms are defined, think again. There are two indices, actually, which is fairly standard. The first is an “Author/Translator/Title” index, which is useful enough, except that it is weakened by listing both main entries and cross-references without distinguishing between the two. So if you turn to page 249, you may find an entry for Gary Soto’s Accidental Love, or you may merely find a cross reference which notes that “[i]nterracial relationships are also addressed in Accidental Love by Gary Soto.” This quickly becomes maddening.
The other index is a subject index. Although there is a good, solid introduction to each chapter, those introductions are not included in the subject index. The only words included here are those that each entry is tagged with. So if you want to find some background information about testimonio, you’re on your own, because the only thing you’ll find in the subject index are those entries that have been tagged “testimonio.” Instead, you have to look through the introduction to each chapter to find it. Again, this quickly becomes maddening.
Perhaps saddest of all, however, is that a book about Latino literature, edited by a Latina, still has Spanish spelling errors (“tia” instead of “tía” on page 241). So even though there are calls to get more people of color in the publishing industry,it is clear that we still have a long way to go, even with little, picky details like copy-editing and proofreading. Believe me, details add up.
If you have deep pockets, go ahead and get this book. Otherwise, borrow it from the library or inter-library loan, read and absorb the chapter introductions, and then read publishers websites and blogs, like the links I have listed here, to stay current with the industry.
Martínez, Sara E., ed. Latino Literature: A Guide to Reading Interests. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited-ABC-CLIO, 2009.