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Why I Don't Write Children's Literature by…

Why I Don't Write Children's Literature

by Gary Soto

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I requested Why I Don't Write Children's Literature via LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program because I wanted to read examples of personal essays. In this case, this is done by one Gary Soto, a poet and also an author of children/YA literature.

His essays are good. He has a sense of humor which often turns to self-depreciation which occasionally made this reader think, "stop it. Enough of that kind of talk!"

The title of this book refers to the time Soto was requested to write an American Girl book, more specifically, about Marisol, the manufacturing company's Girl of the Year (for 2005). Controversy occurred because, in the book, Marisol and her family leave a neighborhood in Chicago for a place in the 'burbs. People felt Soto was implying racism, implying that this neighborhood and/or Chicago wasn't good enough. I found this story interesting -- even though my daughter was young enough for dolls at that time, the Marisol controversy was completely off my radar because my daughter was never interested in American Girl dolls and didn't have any (instead she gravitated towards Barbies and Polly Pockets).

Other essays range from reminiscences (such as the one about his horrid first grade teacher) to keen-eyed ponderings of various quirks about humans and life. His last essay, a homage to the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, differs a bit in topic, and is a nice tribute.

One very minor quibble I have about this book is about layout -- I would have liked each essay to start on a new page. There are so many of them, that perhaps doing so would have made the book thicker (and more expensive to produce?) than it was. Also, I couldn't help but wonder in what time frame did he write all these essays? It felt like to me that he wrote them in a relatively short time (within a year, perhaps?)rather than over a lifetime.

Overall, I enjoyed seeing the workings of Soto's mind, and how he saw the world, while he mused aloud on paper. ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Sep 14, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Gary Soto writes as if you, the reader, were sitting having a cup of coffee with him, reminiscing. I thoroughly enjoyed his essays and loved how random they were. They personified how he thinks, his thoughts flitting from one memory or opinion to another. He helps you view the writer/poet as a normal human being, with that never ending desire to be a little more famous or recognized than you are. However at the same time I enjoyed his contented attitude and down to earth outlook on life. If you're a fan of essays or short stories I would definitely recommend this book to you. ( )
  book_in_hand | Aug 19, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Gary Soto, even when he is writing essays instead of poetry, has a wonderful way with words. This collection of essays containing various musings on his life is a joy to read. It had me laughing out loud in parts. Mostly though, it was just a very enjoyable read for someone who loves the written word. I would highly recommend it. ( )
  metermaid1 | Jun 16, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I've this book for a while, and still haven't finished reading it. I asked for this copy because I've read and enjoyed several of his books and I was intrigued by the title. It's not a long book – my paperback copy is just 203 pages long, but I'm having a hard time getting through it. It's a compilation of stories and essays that are very varied in subject, but there is a common thread through out many of them, and that's his own increasing age. I must not be the only one to notice that – in the blurb on the back cover someone wrote "…he shrugs off that failure to recast his remaining years." Soto's essay Play Going starts "That was me at sixty-two, and old guy with satchel-like cheeks from gravity of age and sadness." From the essay Bad Start "Now I worried that I couldn't reach these youth, a little old man up on a makeshift platform". From This be Love "The mirror cleared…which allowed me to appraise my face. Pretty good, I judged, for an old guy." From Naps "Daytime naps are the preparations for the longer sleep." In another essay he calls himself a "stupid old man". There is a very elegiac feel to many of the essays. There's nothing wrong with that, and I have enjoyed much I what I've read so far. However, if he's so preoccupied with "old age" when he's only 62, what will write about for the next 10, 20 or 30 years? (Did I mention I'm the same age as Soto? That's probably the real reason I'm bothered by all the references to his "old age") ( )
  jrbeach | Jun 9, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Gary Soto is a writer whose work I've studied in Chicano literature and poetry courses, and have found his poetry to be so simply moving about ordinary life. He's not a flashy writer with esoteric topics; he's a man who has a way with words.

I looked forward to reading something new from Soto, especially essays, which I tend to dig into and appreciate more than poetry.

This particular collection, as a whole, didn't do much for me. Perhaps because he's an older Mexican-American man, but I just couldn't relate to a large number of the essays—the writing just didn't get me past the topics, most of which I didn't care about, even in an observant way. There are some gems in the collection, however, and I was reminded throughout of why Soto is an incredibly important contemporary American writer.

'A River Runs Through It" was a lovely piece about gardening: "I harbor inside me a wish to create a garden where passersby will slow, reflect on my anonymous handiwork, and believe the world is a great place."

'Rice' succinctly and poignantly takes you back to being ten years old and feeling all kinds of feelings, like shame and being misunderstood, that you don't know how to handle. "Now it was just me at the table, dirty dishes like dirty countries, all over the map. Tears, each the length of a long grain of rice, appeared in the corners of my eyes. It wasn't something to cry over, really. But there I was, the lakes of memory filling my eyes."

One thing Soto always captures with humanity and complexity are California's migrant farm workers, most of whom are from Mexico. He grew up in a major central California agriculture community and represents their collective and individual voices beautifully. "The sun and wind, the rows of beets in narrow rows of eternity, and the small cut on his thumb... This man's name is Jorge."

And Soto rightly ends the collection with an homage to one of the kings of Latin American literature, Gabriel García Márquez. The essay is well informed and passionate, one of many reminders as to why García Márquez is a phenomenal, important writer for the entire world to know and appreciate. "García Márquez stirred within us—the poets and writers of my generation—a desire to lift the ordinary into the fabulous, to decorate it boldly, to speak of its beauty—even if it was just some feral cats peeking from behind the weeds." ( )
  monamie | May 23, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 161168711X, Paperback)

Gary Soto is a poet and, in his previous writing life, author of children’s literature. Moreover, he is an essayist whose works, such as Living Up the Street, A Summer Life, and What Poets Are Like, were celebrated for their openness and vivid image-making. In this collection, the poet again offers prose that is robust, confessional, and peculiar in its observations. He addresses time. He considers aging. If each day of the week represented a decade, then Soto is now cruising late Saturday afternoon. As the clock’s gears relentlessly grind, he’s soon on Sunday—but Sunday morning! He still has time to enjoy the world about him.

Soto is a master essayist. His sharply refined sentences are worth a second read, and often a pencil in hand. Soto’s world is quirky, captured in narrative that will soften readers with laughter and empathy. Like many boomers, he laments his sense of failure. Like them, he shrugs off that failure to recast his remaining years. He befriends daffodils, praises theater and tribute bands, and snuggles up with his wife of nearly forty years. This book is short enough to read in one sitting on the couch and encourages a second reading with deeper pleasure in bed.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:46 -0400)

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