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Richard Rodriguez works as an editor at the Pacific News Service in San Francisco and is a contributing editor for Harper's magazine and the Sunday "Opinion" section of the Los Angeles Times.
Foto taget av: By Slowking4 - Own work, GFDL 1.2,

Verk av Richard Rodriguez

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Allmänna fakta



Autobiography is probably the touchiest genre of book a writer can attempt to write in. This is most likely due to the fact that most of us are self-conscious enough to already be defensive when we start reading such a book. For some reason probably no better than the inflation of our own egos, we always go in with a latent sense of competition; usually along the lines of whether or not the author "truly deserves" to write about him- or herself, while we humble readers are here living a "real" life of interest without a single word being spoken in its celebration. In other words, judgement comes with the territory, and thus should be accounted for by the author.
Richard Rodriguez, I find, after reading his autobiography Hunger of Memory, has trouble accounting for this selfishness in his readers. His book, which is subtitled "The Education of Richard Rodriguez", basically consists of his musings on race, education, and the various permutations of those two in different contexts. To put it simply, I think Rodriguez's book is a great work in and of itself, but is extremely prone to pretty disastrous misunderstanding on the reader's part.
It presents the reader with truly fascinating insights and ideas, told by the thinker in the context of his life and how he came to realize those ideas. In that respect, it represents, perhaps, a pure example of autobiography, written by a man for the sake of expressing his own thoughts and emotions on his own life. And in that end, it is really done quite beautifully. Rodriguez's prose is very unique: very succinct and almost clipped in its syntax at points, but also very complex. He says a lot in not a lot of words, and what those words say is very abstract - very thought provoking, especially considering that most of his readers will not have experienced anything like what he describes.
And that's where Rodriguez begins to run into trouble. Like I said, this book is very much a story of a man's life, written by himself, and never meant to apply to any other person's life. I don't think Rodriguez intends for anyone to consider his story an allegory or representative for any larger group which he may represent; but, alas, that is pretty much unavoidable with the nature of his story being what it is. He writes his story from the perspective of what he is: a Mexican man, born in America to immigrant parents, who overcame certain obstacles in order to become successful. A premise like that, or one along those lines, has been used before for autobiographies and memoirs; and in almost every instance, the purpose of the writer has been to use his or her story as a representative for those like them, those who may be faced with the same obstacles. Basically, they are usually meant to raise awareness to a perspective not usually seen.
So when Mr. Rodriguez begins his book by describing his early childhood and education, and the struggle with integrating a new language into his life, this old formula immediately applies itself in the head of the reader. And this proves rather destructive, mostly because of one simple fact: his story does not fit the formula. In fact, as the reader goes along, the contradictions (which are, of course, only contradictions when viewed within the parameters of the first-person-socially-disadvantaged-inspirational-memoir lexicon) begin to pile up. And that eats on the mind of the reader; because, as we've established, we all go into autobiographies, looking for validation of the autobiographee's worthiness. Or, more often than not, flaws by which we can claim his invalidity.
Rodriguez's are simple to point out. First of all, he makes it clear that he was not raised in a particularly socially disadvantaged situation: indeed, throughout, he repeatedly remarks that his education and instructors were all extremely beneficial, and all wanted him to succeed. For most reader's, this is not filling the bill for necessary hardship; especially in a book where the subject is primarily education seen through the eyes of a Mexican-American. And then there's the fact that his main revolving argument is that minorities need to stop being singled out as minorities- a righteous minority memoirist? That just doesn't add up! And there are many other little things that honestly (and I hate to admit this) make us less sympathetic with him and his struggles. They just aren't awful enough for us.
But in this fact, we see the brilliance of what Rodriguez is doing. His very point, is that education- no, every aspect of society, should not be viewed as something to be altered or customized according to race or ethnicity. The fact that a boy may not have white skin, and may not speak English fluently, does not mean that his problems should be pointed out incessantly, until they are blown far out of proportion and appear ten times larger than they are. His problems are unique to him, and maybe even to his culture; but that does not mean the problems of others are any less profound, they are just different. And as far as recognizing these problems goes, he argues that singling out the racially-specific issues is as much of the problem, as ignoring them is.
So when we claim that he is not angry enough, or even better, not angry in the "right way", we are disrespecting his intelligence, and his desire to portray a story of struggle that is not self-righteous or self-pitying in nature, but is in essence a fact and a personal experience, that may or may not apply to anyone in particular. His book is called Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, not Hunger for Justice: The Socially Oppressed Education of Ricardo Rodriguez. He wishes to inform us and share with us the strong emotions and experiences which formed him, alone. And show how those experiences shaped his view on the world and modern education, both in the social and academic sense.
Now there are other things which make this book good or bad. Personally, while I find his prose interesting, I also find it extremely repetetive, and at times, tedious. He also strikes me as fairly pedantic (an effect of years surrounded by a culture of "higher education", my guess); and at times, melodramatic. He severely overuses the word "ghetto", which always makes a person sound kind of ridiculous, and even more so with him, seeing as he went to a Catholic school run by nuns (which he, unfailingly, describes at one point as the "ghetto" Catholic school). And frankly, sometimes his narratives are just not as interesting as they could be. But readablility besides, I would encourage people to read this book, if only to be exposed to a truly fascinating take on the interaction between our modern education system in this country, and its students of the non-white "minority". And the greatest advice I can give towards enjoying it, would be to simply not expect the standard formula. I guess, just keep an open mind.
… (mer)
entmoot11 | 15 andra recensioner | Jan 6, 2024 |
Excellent story of how a man, born Spanish-speaking, excels at education and partly loses his old culture.
kslade | 15 andra recensioner | Dec 8, 2022 |
"A poetic, often contrarian meditation on race in modern America.

Borrowing from writer/philosopher William Gass, who deconstructed the meanings of a less socially charged color in On Being Blue, PBS commentator and essayist Rodriguez (Days of Obligation, 1992, etc.) ponders the meaning of Mexicanness, Hispanitude, mestizaje, and all the other forms of being brown in the US. “I write about race in America,” he begins, “in hopes of undermining the notion of race in America.” With many asides on the origins of the notion that Hispanics are an ethnic minority—a recent idea, he suggests, adopted from the African-American struggle for civil rights—Rodriguez offers a few balloon-bursting observations on the tensions that have marked recent politics; the black-white argument, he writes, “is like listening to a bad marriage through a thin partition, a civil war replete with violence, recrimination, mimicry, slamming doors.” That’s not to say that those tensions are not real, and Rodriguez allows that plenty of doors have been slammed in his face as a brown, gay person. Plenty of others have been thrown open, though, affording him a privileged (and deserved) position as cultural commentator that he gratefully acknowledges. Without descending into sloganeering or us-versus-them rhetoric, Rodriguez argues for an inclusive “white freedom” accorded to all citizens; his democratic spirit and the absence of special pleading are both refreshing. In their erudition and irony, these writings recall the essays of the late Mexican poet Octavio Paz, who could easily have written the closing lines: “Truly, one way to appreciate the beauty of the world is to choose one color and to notice its recurrence in rooms, within landscapes. And upon bookshelves.”

Elegant, controversial, and altogether memorable.", A Kirkus Starred Review
… (mer)
CDJLibrary | 1 annan recension | Jan 28, 2022 |
Oy, one I've wanted to read for such a long time, but not one that deserves to be read in the subway. These essays are beautifully written and masterfully structured, but they are not straight-forward. They require time, thought, and close reading--and, if only, discussion. It's probably a bit telling that it took me about twice as long to finish this slim, large-printed volume than it did for me to read my next two books, each of which was half again as long and with smaller type.

Gave me quite a bit of food for thought. One morsel that stuck out, professionally, was Rodriguez's dislike of being called a "Hispanic" writer--not only because of the odd origins and apparently exceptional unreality of "Hispanic" as a group, but because it then segregates books written by Latinx writers from other writers. As someone on the BISAC subject codes committee, I found this interesting. I wonder if the "Hispanic & Latino" subject heading has been applied to books not because they are about Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx people but because they are by authors who others say fit those categories. (It is notoriously hard to get people to remember that subject categories are for what the book is about, not what the author is or what you want it to be. Sigh.) As Rodriguez points out, India's most famous author (Salman Rushdie) is a British citizen who has lived in the US and Canada for much of his life.

Anyway, just about every third page of my book is dog eared, so no quote roundup this time--there's no way I could narrow that down.

[Not sure of exact read dates. I'm too far behind...]
… (mer)
books-n-pickles | 1 annan recension | Oct 29, 2021 |



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