As part of ChacaLit, the literary component of the Cultural Foundation of Chacala, we decided to include a book for the community's reading clubs. Normally, the idea is to choose a book to be discussed in a community through several reading clubs and exchange experiences. In Chacala, there were no reading clubs before ChacaLit, but it was easy to form both a Spanish-speaking and an English-speaking club.For the first season of ChacaLit, we chose the book: If we lived in a normal place of the author Juan Pablo Villalobos, available in English translation under the title Quesadillas . What follows is a brief review of our first Chacala Community Reading Club Book.
Chacala is a rural place and, like the city in the novel, is not a normal place. We are approximately one hundred kilometers from the nearest bookstore and our local libraries are quite limited. To define the "community" of the Chacala Reading Club, I mean any person who spends a considerable amount of time in Chacala - this includes people of any nationality who live permanently or spend seasons here to those who have family here or who regularly come to spend holidays and also without residing in Chacala. The ChacaLit committee purchased 5 printed copies of the book in Spanish at the Gandhi Bookstore in Guadalajara; others downloaded it to an electronic reader. Coincidentally, it was in a Gandhi marker that we found an additional stimulus to boost reading with this quote:
It was a stroke of genius (or perhaps luck) to have chosen If we lived in a normal place . I could never have predicted what rich material there was for discussion in this brief Mexican semi-absurdist novel. What made it so fruitful was that it provoked a diverse variety of reactions in our readers by bringing up so many relevant issues of modern Mexico, not only through its content (living in poverty, lack of social justice, kidnappings, political calamity). , etc.), but also through his style of irreverent writing, caricature and almost completely lacking in closure or continuity.
In total, about thirty members of our community read the book, either in Spanish or English. I think the participation was very good considering that our official population is less than 400 residents. For starters, I was surprised by the reluctance of the foreign population: "I already have enough to read" or "Reading clubs are just an excuse to get together and drink wine" were among the half-hearted reactions I received to the idea. On the other hand, the non-Mexicans who did read the book were very motivated to discuss it and eleven people (plus me) attended the English-speaking group.
When I approached the Spanish speakers with Villalobos' book in my outstretched hand, I said, "Would you like to read this and meet with a group to discuss it later?" The reaction I received was broadly of unbridled enthusiasm and gratitude. It is true that I chose my objectives well and, of course, some people simply could not take time to read it, but it was very encouraging to see how this simple idea could do so much to support avid readers, encourage reluctant readers and unite the readers All that before discussing the book!
What did the people think of the book? Well, let's start with the negative. Some Mexicans believed that the author was totally out of touch with Mexican society (although born and raised in Jalisco, where happens the plot of the book, now lives in Barcelona) and only brought out stereotyped aspects of Mexico (kind pink Mexican and the Virgin of Guadalupe) in order to sell books and create an image for a foreign audience. It is possible that your editor, who must have chosen to translate the title If we lived in a normal place as simply Quesadillasin the English version, I thought that something related to accepted Mexican folklore would be sold better. For example, there was almost unanimity over the fact that the protagonist's family would not have eaten as many quesadillas as the author describes because it is not a typical staple food for a poor Mexican family. It would have been more appropriate to talk about bean tacos. This question was taken very seriously.
As for non-Mexicans, their criticisms included that the book was "confusing," "frustrating," or "depressing." A highlight of the controversy in the book for both demographic groups was ( spoiler alert ) the kidnapping of the twin brothers of the protagonist. Some detested the lack of closure of never really knowing what happened to them; some thought that leaving that thread loose was bad writing on the part of the author; some agreed that similar injustices happen in real life; and others found it impossible to believe that the family had moved on after their failed attempt to recover the twins.
On the positive side, there were those who enjoyed it precisely because they felt it represented exactly how the truth may be stranger than fiction in everyday life in Mexico, where there really may be "more cows than people and more cures than cows" in a populated, or where tragedy can happen and life goes on, where one can be a professional and be considered middle class, but still not have enough food to feed their children. Some fans of the clubs called it "an ambitious parody", "a mini odyssey written for writers" and others said "there was a laugh on every page"
If we lived in a normal place it is not for the weak of heart, but it seems to me that the creation of discussions about books can do a lot of good to the heart of a people. I look forward to choosing the next book from the community club and all the surprises it will bring. We now have a seasonal English-language reading club and a Spanish-speaking group that has already read four more books together in the few months since ChacaLit. I thank all those who participated and I mention that we will lend the 5 printed copies to the reading clubs in other towns in the region.