Book Tour: Pope Francis in His Own Words

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Yes, yes, I know: Pope Francis in His Own Words was published two years ago.

So why am I starting a book tour of sorts right now?

Well, as you’re probably aware, Pope Francis will be visiting Cuba and the United States next month, and it seems like a prime time to reintroduce the book to English- and Spanish-speaking audiences (did you know the book has been translated into about 15 languages?). Plus, I received a few lovely invitations to do so, and I couldn’t turn them down.

If you’re in one of the cities below, I hope you’ll spread the word and join me at one (or more!) of these events:

Decatur Book Festival: Decatur, Georgia, USA
I’m grateful to my alma mater, Emory University, for inviting me to participate in this beloved book festival. I’ll be signing books in the Emory tent from 3-4 pm on Saturday, September 5. I’ll have a very limited number of foreign language editions of the book as well.

Brooklyn Book Festival, Bookend Event Series: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Before I head out of the country to cover Pope Francis’s visit in Cuba, I’ll be talking about the book and signing copies as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival. My generous host is the delightful Hullabaloo Books, and I couldn’t think of a better bookstore to have a conversation about Pope Francis. This is an Official Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event. I’ll have a very limited number of foreign language editions of the book as well.

This event will take place at 8 pm on Tuesday, September 15.

Cuba Libro Bookstore: Havana, Cuba
I’m so excited that I’ll have the chance to talk about the book the day before Pope Francis will be giving his mass at Plaza de la RevoluciĆ³n in Havana.

This event will take place at 5 pm on Saturday, September 19.

NEW: Our US publisher, New World Library, is offering a 50% discount off online orders of Pope Francis in His Own Words throughout September. Buy the book through their site using the discount code “pope” (no quotes, not case-sensitive) and you’ll get the book at half-price. Buy the book here.

Would you like to add Pope Francis in His Own Words to your bookshelf or inventory? Need a speaker or expert to interview about the Pope? Get in touch by emailing me: writingjulie[at]gmail[dot]com!

Giveaway: Pope Francis in His Own Words

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
For those of you who have a (free) Goodreads account, you’re welcome to participate in the giveaway I’m hosting on the site. And while you’re clearly under no obligation to do so, a review on Goodreads and Amazon would be much appreciated!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Pope Francis in His Own Words by Julie Schwietert Collazo

Pope Francis in His Own Words

by Julie Schwietert Collazo

Giveaway ends May 06, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Marcus Samuelsson on Food, Race, Women, & Opening a Narrative That Didn’t Exist

Text, Photos, & Video:
Francisco Collazo

Chef Marcus Samuelsson, author of "Yes, Chef," speaking at Tenement Museum on August 9, 2012.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson, author of “Yes, Chef,” speaking at Tenement Museum on August 9, 2012.

His career has been on an upward trajectory since 1995, when he became the youngest chef to win a coveted three stars from The New York Times, but as Marcus Samuelsson explains in his memoir,
Yes, Chef, which was published in late June, the success he enjoys today was never certain and by no means inevitable.

You may be familiar with part of Samuelsson’s story, as he has become known as much for his on-screen personality (he’s competed on “Top Chef Masters”) as his back-of-house cooking skills, but in case you’re not, here are the necessary highlights:

Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia in 1971; within a year, he, his mother, and his sister contracted tuberculosis; his mother died of the disease. In 1973, he and his sister were adopted by a Swedish couple and the siblings moved to Sweden, where they were raised. Samuelsson fell in love with cooking thanks to his grandmother, and by the late 80s and early 90s, he had entered culinary school and apprenticed at some of Europe’s finest restaurants.

In 1994, Samuelsson moved to the US to begin an apprenticeship with the upscale Swedish restaurant, Aquavit; he rose quickly, becoming executive chef, and was awarded those three stars just one year later… the youngest chef to ever receive the honor. After that, the awards kept coming, and Samuelsson opened a number of restaurants in New York City, including the now-closed Merkato 55. Most recently, Samuelsson opened Red Rooster and Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem; he also has two restaurants in Sweden (Norda and Street Food).

Samuelsson is a popular figure in New York, and with the release of his memoir, he’s been making the rounds at bookstores and cultural institutions as part of a book tour. On August 9, he spoke at the Tenement Museum, a site that seemed especially appropriate given his dual immigrant status.

Samuelsson’s talk and the Q&A session that followed were remarkable for their honesty and their intensity. Samuelsson touched on a number of themes that resonated with my own experience. In the video clip below, he speaks on issues of race, the influence of women in American cooking and restaurants, and what it has been like for him to “open a narrative that didn’t exist.”

As the clip opens, Samuelsson is speaking of his adoptive father and how he prepared Samuelsson for the challenges he would face as a black chef–and a black man–in a white man’s world. Samuelsson talks about how he confronted that challenge, and how its very existence compelled him to think about how he would hire staff and run a restaurant in the future. Later in the clip, he talks about the process of writing his memoir and why it was important for him to include failures as much as his celebrated successes.

To learn more about Samuelsson, order his memoir, Yes, Chef. To see upcoming stops on his book tour, visit his website. To see more photos of his talk at the Tenement Museum, you can view my gallery on Flickr.

How to Write a Book Review

I’m in the midst of working on a few book reviews– Daina Chaviano’s The Island of Eternal Love,
David Lida’s First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, the Capital of the 21st Century, Kiss the Hand You Cannot Sever by Adrienne Brady, and Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer by popular travel writer, Rolf Potts– so I’ve got book reviews on my mind.

In an earlier article, I explained how you can request review copies. In this article, I explain how one writes a book review, focusing primarily on identifying the criteria you should take into consideration while reading the book you’ll be reviewing.

As with any genre, the more you read book reviews, the better you’re likely to become at writing reviews.

One of my secret pleasures is reading New York Times Book Review each Sunday. The reviewers–writers themselves, and likely just as sensitive as their subjects– are never ambivalent: they lavish praise or heap criticism on authors in full page meditations… and I must admit that I’ve kept this particular pleasure secret until now because I find the critical reviews especially appealing.


Well, because a good review is, like any good writing, cognizant of what words mean, how they should be treated, and what we, as readers, should expect of them, how we should feel after we take them in and turn them over like a prism in the light. When a book possesses shortcomings, book reviewers call authors on the gaps in their work and demand that they do better. I like reading the reviews because I’d like to think they make me a better writer and editor…and a better book reviewer.

Reading a book in order to write a review requires a bit more attention and purpose than you’d devote as a casual reader. When reading in order to review you want to take the following ideas into account:

What is the subject of the book? And in answering that question, you need to ask another: What has already been written about the same subject? How will this author expand the reader’s understanding of the subject (if it’s been written about extensively before)? Does the author offer new insights or an innovative articulation of an already well-treated subject?

What is the author’s background? What makes the author uniquely qualified to write about the subject? What has the author written before? The answers to these questions vary in their relative importance depending on the genre, but are worth asking when approaching any book.

You don’t necessarily need to share the author’s background with the reader of your review. Sometimes, though, doing so is particularly appropriate. Consider, for example, David Kamp’s introduction to his review of Jules Feiffer’s Explainers, published last weekend in the Times:

“At this point, there’s an entire generation of parents and kids who know Jules Feiffer solely as a children’s book author…. It’s been eight years since he stopped doing his weekly syndicated comic strip for grown ups….”

All this information sets the reader up for a comparison of Feiffer’s new book, an anthology of 10 years worth of his work, to his existing body of work, providing the reader with useful information.

What does the author establish as the thesis (for non-fiction) or the narrative hook (for fiction)? And then, does the author fulfill the promise implied by that thesis or hook?

As the reviewer, you may wish to even lead into the review with your own summation of the narrative hook…without spoiling the plot and its resolution, of course! Take for instance, Andrew Miller’s review of Jose Saramago’s novel, Blindness:

“Traffic at a red light. The lights change, the cars move off, all except one that remains blocking the middle lane. A man inside is shouting the same three words again and again: ‘I am blind.’ Distraught, he is accompanied to his home by a kindly stranger. But this good Samaritan is also a car thief. Having taken the blind man home, he steals his car. A short time later he too is blind.”

While Miller could have opened his review by saying, “Saramago’s novel is about a whole town that goes blind, save one person,” this opening is far more engaging and interesting.

Finally, you’ll need to consider:

How well does the author write? Authors with a particularly unique narrative style might deserve special mention. I like Jennifer Egan’s description of Jim Harrison’s writing in her recent review of Harrison’s novel, The English Major:

“Jim Harrison’s writing is oddly mysterious. His prose style is plain, even flat. His sentences unspool casually, and are often comma-free to the point of sounding almost hapless.”

The reader of Egan’s review is preparing for a withering commentary about Harrison’s novel.

And then, she makes an abrupt turn:

“Yet they fuse on the page with a power and a blunt beauty whose mechanics are difficult to trace even when you look closely.”

Egan goes on to call Harrison’s writing style a “straw-to-gold technique” that characterizes his work. Egan isn’t just sharing her opinion about Harrison’s writing; she’s helping the reader of her review to approach Harrison’s style and access it in a new way.

Miller’s review of Saramago’s novel is similarly adept at preparing the reader for Saramago’s inimitable style–one which is often frustrating to readers new to the Portuguese writer’s work. Miller wrote:

“The prose, with its minimal punctuation, its flickering of tense and subject so that we glide between first and third person, between stream of consciousness and wry objectivity… takes a page or two for the reader to settle into…; the denseness of the long polyphonic paragraphs appears slightly daunting at the first encounter. Soon, however, we are caught up by the sheer momentum of the narrative. The unencumbered language hurries us forward at such a pace it is difficult to do justice to the subtlety and occasional beauty of its architecture, as if we were driving headlong through a great city at night.”

Miller’s review is almost as lyrical as Saramago’s novel, and if I hadn’t read it already, I’d be headed off to the library to check it out.

Does the book review ultimately reflect the reviewer’s own literary preferences and prejudices? Of course. But by paying attention to these basic criteria, you have a point of departure for your reviews, and a set of standards to which your readers can hold you, just as you have done with the author whose work you’re reviewing.

Now get reading!

Photo: swiv (Flickr creative commons)

A Few Books American Expats in Mexico Should Read

A few months back, an American friend who was thinking of moving to Mexico’s Baja California region recounted her experience of home-hunting with a real estate agent.

She’d explained to the agent in advance that she is the kind of person who really immerses herself in local culture, so she wasn’t looking for a luxury condo or a gated community.

Nonetheless, when she arrived in Baja, my friend was given a tour of condos where Mexican maids come in and fold towels in elaborate shapes– swans, flowers, and all manner of objects that appear impossible to my own fumbling fingers. The agent explained, with some degree of pride, that American expats had created these lovely gated communities where they could “be assured of water and electricity.”

The local Mexicans, meanwhile, had to haul buckets to a water truck a few times a week–if it came rolling through town at all–to source water, as the American expats had diverted the water to their own neighborhood.

My friend talked about her meeting with the expats, who complained about the loud music of locals, explained that their community policy prohibited Mexicans from living amongst them because “they have a ton of people in one home,” warned about going to the “Mexican” store for food rather than the “American” store, and who proudly flaunted the fact that they spoke little or no Spanish.

I’ve been thinking about these folks as I immerse myself in Mexico’s classical and contemporary literature, which has a rich, respectable, and long history. If I could recommend a few books American expats in Mexico should read, they’d include:

Instrucciones Para Vivir en Mexico: by Jorge Ibarguengoitia
Translated literally, the title means Instructions for Living in Mexico. Far from being a how-to book, the late Ibarguengoitia, a journalist, brought his astute and acerbic wit to the page in order to offer a close-up examination on Mexican life. Though many of the short essays (most no more than 2 pages) were written in the 1970s, they remain powerfully relevant today. My favorite essays are in the section about bureaucracy and an essay about Mexican car horns. This book is great for the American who really wants to get beneath the surface of Mexican social and political life; it’s historical without being overly didactic, and it’s often quite funny.

The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics (The Latin America Readers): This anthology, published by Duke University Press, is a sweeping yet comprehensive overview of some of the most important historical and literary documents from Mexico’s history. The book is great to pull off a shelf and open to any page; consider it your daily lesson in Mexican history and culture. It’s also in English, so you’ve got no language barrier excuses!

Africa en Mexico: by Marco Polo Hernandez Cuevas
Not all Mexicans know about the Afro-Mexican populations that live in Mexico’s coastal areas, but Marco Polo Hernandez Cuevas, a professor, specializes in the subject and has written several books about Afro-Mexicans. This one, in Spanish, is a great primer on the subject.

There are numerous other books I’d recommend, including cookbooks, art books, and memoirs, but these are a great start for the American who has recently arrived in Mexico. With the exception of The Mexico Reader, these books can be tough to find in the U.S. and online. In Mexico City, check the bookstore in the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the bookstore at the Cineteca Nacional, both of which have an extensive and impressive collection.

Are you an American expat in Mexico? What books would you add to this list?
Photo: Texas to Mexico (creative commons)