Tag Archives: Arizona

I’ll Follow the Sun

Gone: A Novel by Cathi Hanauer (Atria Books, $24.99, 347 pages)

Take what you need…  Take what you want.   Figure it out, find it, do it.   That’s what he was doing.   That’s what he did.

Cathi Hanauer is one heck of a writer; she’s a woman who can write about serious things and funny things in equal proportions.   This may be because this is the way life is…  Sometimes it plays out the way we think it will, sometimes it shocks and astounds us, and sometimes things simply seem to happen at random.

In Gone, we meet Eve Adams, a mother of two and a wife, whose husband Eric has suddenly left their comfortable home in Massachusetts.   Eric, a once successful sculptor, said he would drive the ultra short-skirted babysitter home, and then simply failed to return.   Eve, the author of a decently selling reality-based diet book, finds out from the credit card statements that Eric has headed west to Arizona (his mother lives in Tucson) – and he’s apparently used the credit card to spend nights in hotels with the babysitter.

We run from our lives, from the mediocrity and the abandoned plans and dreams and the people we’re sick of, including ourselves.   But wherever we go, there we are.   And so we go back, to the people we love.   But you can’t really go back, of course.

The story is told in alternating chapters, first in Eve’s words and then in Eric’s.   As might be expected, each has a different perspective on the pressures that drove them apart.   Eve has had to become the family breadwinner since Eric seems to have lost his artistic inspirations.   Eric feels like a failure and comes to view Eve as overly harsh and judgmental – especially when compared to the babysitter Dria, who tells Eric that he’s both an artistic genius and a nice man.

…he didn’t lose himself around Eve.   If anything, he found himself through her, and lost himself when she wasn’t there to reflect it back to him: to praise his work, to admire what he did.   To love him.

Separated for many weeks, both Eve and Eric have some major decisions to make.   Eve needs to decide if she’ll ever forgive Eric once he returns, if he returns.   And Eric needs to determine if he can be the type of practical family man who can place earning a paycheck in front of his need to be creative (as he’s forced to admit that he hasn’t been a creative artist in years).

In Gone, Hanauer serves up not only an admirable family novel, but adds a couple of bonus items to the menu.   First, she does a fine job of describing the essence of Tucson, Arizona – a city she resided in while teaching writing at the University of Arizona.   (Bear down.)   Secondly, she offers a book-within-the-book, as Eve’s practical tips to dieting and nutrition will serve the average reader quite well.   The tips are both common sense-based and near-brilliant, and, if followed, may add years to one’s life.

One nice aspect about the conclusion of Gone is that the reader discovers that Eve and Eric both have new facets of themselves to reveal.   Neither is a stereotype, and each is a human being loaded with underlying strengths and weaknesses.   That’s the way life is.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Cathi Hanauer succeeds beautifully in creating a story that will make you care and keep turning the pages…”   Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion.   “It’s a compelling, big-hearted book.”   Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Gone: A Novel by Cathi Hanauer.

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Tequila Sunrise

Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America by Gustavo Arellano (Scribner, $25.00, 320 pages)

“Americans: unite under Mexican food, just like your ancestors, just like your descendants!   It doesn’t matter your dish choice: it’ll sometimes be derided, sometimes mysterious, oftentimes scorching, and not always good, but always, always eaten.   A lot.”

I can guarantee you one thing about this Mexican food survey book by the finely-named Gustavo Arellano.   Read it and you will feel…  hungry!   Of course, it’s probably politically and factually correct to say that this account is about Mexican-American food, although Arellano does often clarify which foods had their creation in Mexico – before being adopted north of the border – versus those foods that are known as Mexican but are purely American/Mexican-American creations.

A trip through the table of contents shows the order in which the food topics are discussed.   They are: the burrito, tacos, enchiladas, Mexican cookbooks written by Anglos, the late Southwestern cuisine, the virtually doomed and much-attacked world of Tex-Mex food, Mexicans cooking food for other Mexicans (really?), the arrival of Mexican food in our supermarkets, the tortilla, salsa and tequila.   There’s also a bonus chapter on the five greatest Mexican meals served in the U.S.; at least it’s one man’s humble listing of the meals that are “just bueno.

“Mexican food had arrived to wow customers, to save them from a bland life, as it did for their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.   Again.   Like last time – and the time before that.”

The author has great fun in praising the heroes of the Mexican-American food movement (or revolution, if you prefer), such as Larry Cano who developed the El Torito chain of restaurants.   He even praises Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill (the second-largest Mexican food chain in the U.S.), and Glenn Bell, the founder of the ubiquitous Taco Bell food stops.   If you’ve ever wondered where Bell got the recipes for his tacos, the answer is found in Taco USA – and it happens to be a hole-in-the-wall taco shop in San Bernardino, California.

On the flip side, Gustavo names names when it comes to finding villains.   Two of them are Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy who have repeatedly called out for “authentic” Mexican food while allegedly – by Gustavo’s account and others – being somewhat less than authentic themselves.   And then there’s Tex-Mex:

“Tex-Mex.   Tex-Mex.   A hyphen separates two cultures that faced off in blood but are forever linked around the world.   Each exists on its own, each is fine separate from the other, but together the phrase now conjures up something almost universal:  culinary disgust.”

On this, we shall leave the details up to the reader – and an opinion on this much-appreciated or highly-despised cuisine.

What Arellano does quite well is to present us with the scope of the popularity of Mexican food in this country.   For example, you may have heard that more salsa is sold than ketchup, but were you aware that the sale of tortillas is now an $8 billion a year industry?   It’s mind-boggling, and thanks to Taco USA the facts are now literally on the dining table.

“Is the (Sonora) hot dog truly Mexican?   Who cares?   In Tucson, the birthplace of Linda Ronstadt, Americans became Mexicans long ago; it’s now the rest of the country that’s finally catching up.”

Yes, Gustavo’s listing of the five best Mexican meals in the U.S. includes the bean-wrapped Sonora hot dog that’s served only at El Guerro Canelo in Tucson, Arizona.   And while it’s not a bad list (which includes stops in Oklahoma, Arizona, Southern California, Texas, and Colorado), I think he missed one place that I’ll gladly take him to the next time he’s in the Capitol City of California – which is Emma’s Taco House in West Sacramento.   It’s been in business at the same location since 1953, and there’s a reason why this is true.   It is one of the most muy bueno taco houses in all of Taco USA!   And as the fans of Emma’s like to say, if you don’t like “real” Mexican food, there’s a Taco Bell right down the street!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Taco USA is available as a Nook Book or Kindle Edition download.   Gustavo Arellano is also the author of Ask a Mexican! and Orange County: A Personal History.

Note:   Gustavo would and does argue in Taco USA that ALL Mexican/Mexican-American food is “real” and “authentic”; probably as real as “Chicken Nuggets” from McDonald’s. (Which part of the chicken does the nugget come from?)

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Everybody’s Got Something to Hide*

*except for me and my monkey

Kasey to the Rescue: The Remarkable Story of a Monkey and a Miracle by Ellen Rogers (Hyperion; $23.99; 288 pages)

“Walk through one door at a time, I told myself, then look for a key to the next.   That was my strategy, and I was sticking to it.”

If you’re looking for a heartwarming present for someone this Christmas, this book may be it.   I had a copy of Kasey to the Rescue in my stash of books at the office, picked it up to scan during the lunch hour, and found it hard to close.  

Ellen Rogers’ 22-year-old son Ned was a student at the University of Arizona when he had a horrible auto accident that left him close to death.   The opening scene describing how Ellen got from Concord, Massachusetts to Tucson overnight is worth the price of admission as something amazing happened to speed her journey.   Her son survived the crash but as a quadriplegic with a brain injury.

“Pride.   Courage.   Hope.   They were all there in those three little words.”

Ned had always been extremely athletic and daring – despite a lack of natural skills – so his life came to a grim halt after the tragic event.   Inaction and depression crept in until the gift of an amazingly smart and social female Capuchin monkey gave him back his spirit, his mobility and his hope of persevering.   Kasey the monkey had been ever so patiently trained by foster parents and by the Monkey College maintained by Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled.   (As with a human college, it takes two to four years to matriculate at Monkey College.)

Rogers’ telling of this tough, but inspirational, tale is as humorous as it is gripping and touching.   If this were an advertisement for a Disney film, you would read, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.”   This story is not a Disney film…  It’s real life.   You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.

Well recommended.

“This gem of a book will capture the hearts of readers everywhere.”   Doris Kearns Goodwin

“A book to change your life.”   David Doss, Making Rounds with Oscar

“The story told in this book is one of hope, perserverance, laughter, and most importantly, family.”   Megan Talbert, Executive Director, Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled, Inc.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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And Your Bird Can Sing: Alex and Me

Alex and Me (lg.)Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg is an inspiring read about:  “How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence – and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process.”   The story is about evenly split between Alex’s pioneering work in the study of avian intelligence – it was Alex who turned the phrase “bird brain” into a positive – and the relationship between the author and her pet.   However, as Pepperberg makes quite clear, Alex – who died in early July of 2007 – was often The Boss of both the scientist and her laboratory assistants!

I found the writing style to be a bit rough and awkward in the first part of the tale.   The writing also suffers from mixed tenses.   For example, Pepperberg uses the current tense in describing events that occurred in the past, “Obviously, my students and I have no problem understanding the sounds Alex makes.”

But the author found her voice at the halfway point of the narrative, describing her arrival in Tucson:

“…Tucson brought tears to my eyes – literally, as I fairly quickly developed allergies…   but metaphorically, too, because of its beauty, majestic in its mountains, deserts, and giant saguaro cacti, and in its details, the animals, the smaller plants and the birds.   Oh, the birds!

For the first time in my life I felt deeply connected to nature, the rich diversity of the Sonora Desert fauna and flora…   And in a part of the country where the Native American presence is palpable, I was very much aware of that people’s sense of oneness with nature.”

Perhaps this experience inspired Pepperberg to see Alex as a representative of Nature with a capital “n”.   There are several cute and charming stories in this book that illustrate Alex’s keen intelligence, none of which I wish to give away here; they are better saved for the enjoyment of future readers.

This reader enjoyed the human-bird interaction sections more than the animal intelligence portions which sometimes bordered on the overly technical with words like “anticipatory co-articulation” (referring to linguistic analysis).   And some will find that Pepperberg, who loved Alex, comes off a bit dry and reserved in tone when compared to authors of similar animal love stories like Stacey O’Brien (Wesley the Owl) or William Jordan (A Cat Named Darwin).   Despite this, Pepperberg’s deep love and awe for Alex shows itself in the end.

Alex’s final words to Pepperberg – as she left the animal lab one evening – were, “You be good.   I love you.   You’ll be in tomorrow?”

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Note:  The hardbound version of this book was purchased by the reviewer.   A trade paperback version (pictured) will be released on September 1, 2009.

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