Books with the book expert

I may have mentioned that the workout buddy’s parents own a rare and used book establishment called Clayton Fine Books.  I have a deep fascination with the books that Clayton Fine Books owners Cam and Donna, have collected.  As many books that they have for sale, I think they have just as many great stories about meeting authors and artists over the years.

I thought I’d combine the interests of books, talking about good books, and stories into the book project.  I mean, I can’t read everything.  Clearly.  You’ve seen how 2012 reading has gone for me.  I do like hearing about cool books even if I might never have the chance to read it myself.
I asked Donna to tell me about an author that I recently heard speak at the National Book Festival, someone that you might be familiar with, Sandra Cisneros.  Donna and I had a great conversation about Cisneros months earlier.  I was struck by Donna’s authority in her knowledge of the author and, because of years of reading about this particular author, Donna’s point of view about her work. Imagine yourself having a conversation like this one…

Here’s what Donna had to say about Sandra Cisneros.

Sandra Cisneros has long had a reputation for being a rebel. When she moved from Chicago to San Antonio in the 1980s, she bought a small house near downtown in an ethnically mixed neighborhood that was once primarily Hispanic.  Typical of so many “historic” areas newly gentrified, a historic landmarks commission was formed. One of the main jobs of such commissions is to enforce restrictions on the color a resident’s house may be painted.  Sandra raised the commission members’ ire when, without their approval, she painted her house a bright purple.  Of course, they ruled that the color she chose was not an appropriately ‘historic color’ and they told her she had to paint it a color they approved–an historic blue, brown, white, etc.–a far cry from purple.  She refused, both parties landed up in court (as well as the national news) and the writer won her case.  This case helped set a legal precedent for other historic commissions across the country who are now more cautious in how they handle house color ‘requirements.’

My husband Cameron and I met the author in Dallas in the mid-1990s when she was conducting a reading. We each had a big stack of books for her to sign and were expecting that she might not like that (many authors restrict the number of books they will sign). Far beyond our expectations, she gladly signed all and engaged us in a friendly conversation. We were both impressed by her down-to-earth nature.Sandra Cisneros is known for being a great supporter of writers at all ages. She formed her own foundation, Macando, which has helped support socially-engaged writers for more than fifteen years. (You can learn more about her life and work on her website.)

Donna with Sandra Cisneros’ book Caramelo. Notice the books in the background? That is the tip of a book iceberg.

What I especially like about Sandra Cisneros’ writing is the way she pulls the reader into her world from first words to last, whether it be a poem, short story, or novel.  Her characters practically leap off the page.  She portrays many strong females, all quite likable and energetic. They can be both clever and charming in the way they solve the problems in their lives.  They range in age from the young Esperenza of “House on Mango Street” to the cantankerous ‘Little Grandmother’ of “Caramelo.”  No matter what age or temperament they are always iconoclasts, like the author herself.  And Cisneros’ language sparkles with vivid phrases.  No one is better at using simple similes and metaphors to get just the right shade of meaning (Wordsworth).

 While I like every thing I’ve read by her, I would have to say my favorite remains “House on Mango Street,” her most popular book.  Esperanza, the novel’s young heroine, ranks along side Holden and Huck in intelligence and charm.  The short chapters capture moments in Esperenza’s early adolescence that change her in some way.  And the reader can’t help but root for her and be pleased with where she finally arrives.  Cisneros has said that Esperenza comes straight from her own childhood experiences growing up in a Chicago barrio.  Through the eyes of a imaginative child, we learn of the daily little joys and disappointments that finally add up to a complex adolescent worldview.

I asked Donna to talk to me about a Cisneros book that they have for sale that is rare, makes makes the book rare, and what she likes about this particular book. A technical question with a personal twist.

We have a signed first edition of her bilingual children’s book, “Hairs/Peritos”, beautifully illustrated by Terry Ybanez.  I’ll never forget the flamboyant way Sandra signed this book for us at a Dallas reading–in a graceful sprawl framing the illustration on the title page.  At first, I thought she was going to just scribble on the page; after all, it is a children’s book.  I’ve been able to find only one other signed copy of this book for sale.  The story originally appeared in “House on Mango Street.”  Its one of the best passages from the book as the young narrator describes the hairs on the heads of her mother, father and siblings and tells us what they reveal about personality.  Once again, Cisneros makes the most of every single word in portraying, with just a few of them, dynamic characters.

Here’s a list of the Sandra Cisneros books Donna and Cam have available if you’re interested in reading her work. Also, reach Donna and Cam at their website, or twitter: @ClaytonBooks .
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About reginadma

Hybrid Socialist dedicated to helping the community.
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One Response to Books with the book expert

  1. Donna Northouse says:

    Hi Regina! Thanks so much for the publicity. You are the best!!!!!

    Hope your post-storm days are going smoothly and you’ll soon be in your new position where I’m sure you’re already much appreciated for being the wonderful person you are.

    Much love, Donna

    On Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 9:55 AM, Hybrid Nati

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