Yunior de las Casas, that fast-talking, philandering Dominican Jersey boy, is the one addiction that author Junot Díaz just can’t quit. Díaz’s first book, Drown, was technically a short-story collection, but one that largely chronicled de las Casas’ stumbling towards maturity. The follow-up to that, the novel The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, focused largely on the title character — but even then, his story unfurled mostly as narrated by Yunior.
In an attempt to expand the reading community in Miami, two local literature lovers are launching a mobile library on Thursday, July 26, at Wynwood cafe Lester’s.
Described as “A library on the run”, Bookleggers will lend used books for free on the honor system, trade books to change up their selection, and let books “take a long vacation” for a $2 donation. Modeled after similar-in-spirit projects around the country, Bookleggers won’t ameliorate Miami’s dearth of libraries and bookstores all by its scrappy self, but it’s nonetheless an exciting development for those for whom happiness is a warm “Guns, Germs, and Steel”.
The Miami Book Fair is always great, and this year’s fair (Nov. 11 – 18) promises to raise the bar even higher. The list of already confirmed authors includes Bonfire of the Vanities author Tom Wolfe, whose fourth novel, Back To Blood, focuses on immigration in Miami (see trailer below); Joan Didion, who wrote one of the best books ever written about our frightening city (“Havana vanities come to dust in Miami”); Robert Caro, a master biographer whose obsession with Lyndon Baines Johnson has resulted in four tomes and counting (I just read all 1,100+ pages of Master Of The Senate — highly recommended); novelist Sandra Cisneros (The House On Mango Street); and New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik.
If the book fair boasted only these authors it would be hugely exciting, but of course many more will be announced in the coming months. We’ll keep you posted, of course, and you should also bookmark (get it?) the official fair website.
On Sunday afternoon, head over to Books and Books in Coral Gables to meet punk priestess Patti Smith, who will be autographing copies of her new book, Woolgathering (New Directions, 80 pages, hardcover, $18.95). If you were lucky enough to catch Smith at the 2010 Miami Book Fair, where she read from Just Kids a day or so after it won the National Book Award and performed several songs, including a soul-rocking a capella version of “Because The Night” — then you should probably lower your expectations. The upcoming event is billed as a signing, not a reading or a performance. Nonetheless, the opportunity to chat up Smith, at 65 years old possibly the coolest person over the age of three on Planet Earth, is definitely an opportunity worth seizing.
Miami-born, Brooklyn-based writer and artist Arielle Angel recently spoke to best-selling novelist Nicole Krauss, who will do a reading at the Miami Book Fair on Friday, Nov. 18.
Nicole Krauss’s third novel, Great House, is populated by private and solitary people: a pair of siblings who increasingly become shut-ins, a son who sends pieces of his manuscript home from the army in over-zealously sealed boxes marked “private,” and two female writers, one in America and one in Britain, who forgo motherhood and withhold from their partners to focus on their work.
So when I asked Krauss if she belonged to a writing group or ever shares her work-in-progress, her response wasn’t surprising.
“I’m a pretty solitary person and a pretty private person, especially when it comes to my writing. The idea of belonging to a group of anything makes my skin prickle,” she said. “Some joy and excitement about this thing that only I am working on gets deflated if I show it too early.”
While the Great House cast of characters includes the pair of female writers, Krauss said fiction gives her an opportunity to transcend her own biography.
“I’m often not interested in writing exactly in my line of experience,” she said. “I’m interested in the other path, the one that I can imagine, but that isn’t my own.”
With Hip-Hop America, his popular 1999 book, Nelson George deftly packed cultural criticism and a wide-ranging history of 25 years of hip-hop into a slim volume. The book served as a love letter to the music, but also a broad-viewed look at the culture surrounding it. Now, more than a decade later, George has taken up many of these themes again, but, this time, with fiction.
The Plot Against Hip-Hop, due out this month from New York-based independent publisher Akashic Books (“dedicated to the reverse-gentrification of the literary world”), boasts an eyebrow-raising title and a murder within the first few of its 174 pages. By the end of the second chapter, Dwayne Robinson, an old-school hip-hop critic who’s a thinly veiled effigy for George himself, lies stabbed to death in a Soho office building. Staggering to the office door of his old friend, the younger, successful entertainment world body guard, D Hunter, Robinson stammers a famous Notorious B.I.G. line as his last words.
The murder initiates a fast-paced, kaleidoscoping world of intrigue as Hunter searches for Robinson’s killer, opening up in the process a Pandora’s box of shady dealings in the hip-hop industry. Conspiracy theorists, aging record executives, gang members, and other shadowy figures abound, all with an apparent interest in an archival document that set out the first tenets of marketing to the hip-hop generation.
Yes, there is some of the Illuminati talk long popular in Internet hip-hop circles. But George’s novel is very much a snapshot of the industry right now. There are scenes set at Russell Simmons-hosted charity events, Kanye West name-checks, and even a relatively protracted passage detailing the beef between Flo Rida, DJ Khaled, and the Rick Ross camp.
Newly elected Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is proposing closing 13 of the county’s 49 libraries in an effort to close a $400 million budget gap, the Herald reports. I understand the imperative to get Miami’s fiscal house in order, but shuttering 26 percent of libraries is the wrong way to do it, especially with counter-structures like casinos threatening to proliferate locally. This issue is begging for a soap-box stander, but I’m going to tackle it sans histrionics. The screenshots below show the library locations of several big cities. They are all zoomed to the same degree (10x). Draw your own conclusion as to whether Miami can afford to close more than a quarter of its public libraries if it still wants to call itself a world-class (or even a country-class) city.
Population: 2.9 million
One library for every 36,708 people
New York City
Population: 8.2 million
One library for every 89,130 people
Population: 3.8 million
One library for every 52,777 people
Population: 2.5 million
Libraries: soon to be 36 (I erased 13 currently open libraries at random — these are NOT necessarily the branches slated for closure)
One library for every 69,444 people
To this amateur statistician’s eye, Miami’s library system doesn’t look very good by comparison to other big cities’. As for NYC’s lower library-per-x-amount-of-people stat, I think the screenshot shows that those 92 libraries are squeezed into a pretty tight space, making them easier to access than Miami’s far flung branches.
So, proud peer perusers of Miami’s precious public libraries, what say you about Gimenez’s proposal?
Here’s what was supposed to happen: Actor and alleged poet James Franco was to read from his recently published book of short stories, Palo Alto, in the main hall of the New World Symphony while an enrapt packed house wondered to itself why God makes some so pretty and others just eh. Instead, a confluence of vicissitude — persistent rain and President Obama vetoing the airspace above the Magic City as Air Force One left Miami International — made it so Franco’s plane sat on a runway in Orlando two hours after the O, Miami event was scheduled to start.
Disaster, right? Not exactly. As you can see from the above photo, the Green Goblin did eventually make it, and though he was conspicuously in no mood to flash a smile at hundreds of starry-eyed strangers and sign whatever they put under his pen, he did exactly that for more than an hour.
But that wasn’t what saved the evening.
Thursday night, at the New World Symphony in South Beach, Hip Hop godfather Kool Moe Dee took the stage to discuss the nexus of rap and poetry as O, Miami kicked off its final weekend. Yale Anthology of Rap editor Adam Bradley, English emcee Monie Love, and poets Adrian Castro and Adrian Matejka also dropped knowledge on the topic, but KMD proved himself Master of the Mic when he answered his own question — “How do we use vocabulary?” — with a 40-second freestyle. Enjoy the audio clip (after the jump), and a video of Kool Moe Dee answering another self-posed question: “What would the emcee be without the music?”
As with many a book, the good stuff is inside this post. Click on the photo below to see the treasures of a very special library.