Quotables: Junot Diaz

I read a lot. Those who know me (and those who follow me on this blog) know that. This means I often come across quotes that I find intriguing or puzzling, quotes that I want to talk about. So, I will! Every so often, as the mood strikes me, I’ll feature a quote here and say what I think about it. I’d love to hear your responses. It’s what I love most of all about teaching and blogging—discussion!

Enjoy this first “Quotable” feature with a quote by Junot Diaz!

Photo courtesy of npr.com

Photo courtesy of npr.com

“Books are surviving in this intense, fragmented, hyper-accelerated present, and my sense and hope is that things will slow down again and people will want more time for a contemplative life. There is no way people can keep up this pace. No one is happy. Two or three hours to read should not be an unattainable thing, although I hope we get to that stage without needing a corporate sponsored app to hold our hand. The utopian in me has my fingers crossed that we haven’t quite figured out the digital future just yet. After all, the one thing we know about people: they always surprise.” – Junot Diaz

This particular interview from which the quote is taken first appeared in The Guardian. I saw this right before I taught my first college course in 2012 and thought it would be a great way to open the class. The first time I ever asked students to take out a piece of paper and write was to talk about this quote. So, as you can tell, these words have weight to me.

More than the memory, though, is the ideas this quote presents. Granted, I don’t agree with all of them, but that’s kind of the point isn’t it? The words that often speak to us the most make us wrestle in some way.

I cheer when Junot says that, as a whole, people should make more time for a contemplative life. I love the idea of sitting by a lake and then getting up and walking into my cabin to sit next to a wood-stove fire and writing. But I know that’s not for everyone. While this quote speaks to me, I’m aware that Diaz is leaving out a certain portion of the population that likes frenzy, that thrives on social media. Whether or not that’s healthy is a whole other blog post. But I don’t think people can “keep up this pace.” Our bodies aren’t machines. They need rest. America is a country of excess, yet we desperately lack down time. (America, the ironic)

“No one is happy” is a really broad statement, and I don’t agree with the broad stroke with which it paints humanity. Though I do hope there’s some discontent with the disconnecting tendencies of social media.

I have to say, I love that last line. People do indeed surprise, for better or worse. (Ah, the beauty of free will!). Many times, it seems as if people don’t react unless something catastrophic happens. I hope that’s not the case with making time for face-to-face interaction. I don’t think so. I sincerely hope not. Technology has huge advantages. I get to talk to people all over the world, people I would not have otherwise had access to. The struggle, I think, this quote is getting at is balance. At least that’s what I take from it. This balance probably won’t be two to three hours per day to read (at least not in my case), but I do hope it’s at least an hour a day (maybe not consecutively) to disconnect from media and reconnect with each other. </hokeyending>

Now it’s your turn! What do you think about this quote and/or my reading of it? What sticks out to you? Do you agree, disagree, or find yourself somewhere in the middle?

Tables Turned: A Review of Junot Diaz’s “This is How You Lose Her”

(A word from our sponsor: Not sure how to avoid plagiarism? I use Grammarly because copy and pasting is for kids that eat Elmer’s glue.)

Image courtesy of Goodreads.com

Image courtesy of Goodreads.com

This book made me miss my train stop.  ‘Nuff said.  Oh, you actually want to hear what the book was about and what about it kept my attention rapt? Well, then I will continue.

I was introduced to Junot Diaz by a friend a little over two years ago. Since then, I’ve read one novel and two short story collections of his, including “This is How You Lose Her.” I’ve loved his sassy, authentic, Dominican characters.  This particular collection focuses on Yunior, a twenty-something born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York. He can’t seem to help but cheat, and I was worried that this entire collection would just be tales of his escapades. But, of course, Junot Diaz is too good of a writer to simply create one-dimensional characters.

I was delighted to find that Yunior has a rich backstory since, on the surface, he seemed like the stereotypical macho Hispanic man. This book served to remind me that everyone acts the way they do for a reason or several reasons.

This collection chronicles Yunior from the teenage years and above. There are women he’s loved and lost, some of which he actually cared about. Diaz also develops the relationship between Yunior and his brother, a macho man idol in Yunior’s eyes. The brother becomes ill with cancer, devastating our main character. It is these bumps in the road that mold and harden Yunior.

These bumps can be seen, and are fully explored, in the last short story, “A Cheater’s Guide to Love.” In this tale, Yunior’s fiance finds out he has been cheating on her during all the years they’ve been together. They split, and the journey begins. Diaz divides the story into 6 parts, each representing one year of Yunior’s life post-breakup. Karma catches up with him, which had the vengeful Latina in me cheering. And yet, by year 2 or 3, I found myself feeling sorry for him. By then, I felt like he got what he deserved and should be able to move on. But he couldn’t. Any attempts to genuinely start a better life for himself were thwarted not only by mental anguish, but by physical pain and friend problems as well.

Is there such a thing as too much pain or punishment? Diaz subtly poses this question and many more in his book. He makes the reader question “right” and “wrong” because he paints the human experience in the richness of gray and complexity.  Another aspect of his writing that I appreciate is the fact that he includes Dominican history and snippets of the Spanish language. While some may argue that this makes his work inaccessible to some, I’d argue that it lends another layer of authenticity to his stories.  Personally, while I am half Dominican, I am not familiar with that part of my heritage, and I’m thankful to Diaz for filling me in. His use of Spanish and Spanglish makes his writing feel like home to me. It is the kind of writing that makes me break the surface of reality two train stops late…and I’m ok with that.

I’d recommend this book to those who would like Latin-inspired fiction that is by turns conversational and profane. Also, if you want another good Diaz read that gives backstory on Yunior’s father, I recommend “Drown.”

Lastly, below is a speech/Q&A given by Junot Diaz. In it, he talks about “This is How You Lose Her” and Yunior’s character. I was surprised to find that there are still more layers to the character that have yet to be written about.