Stealing Buddha's Dinner

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A Year in Reading: Lorraine López

Lorraine López is an Assistant Professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She won the 2003 Independent Publishers Book Award for Multicultural Fiction, awarded by the Jenkins Group, for Soy la Avon Lady and Other Stories. The same work also won the 2003 Latino Book Award for Short Stories, awarded by the Latino Literary Hall of Fame. In 2001, López was awarded the Inaugural Miguel Marmol Prize for Fiction, selected by Sandra Cisneros and awarded by Curbstone Press, for a first book-length work of fiction of a Latino/a writer. Her novel The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters was published in October of 2008.Though a fiction writer, this year I found myself reading more memoir than fiction, and when I came across Bich Minh Nguyen's Stealing Buddha's Dinner, I felt as if I'd stumbled across a cache of emeralds. This moving and stunningly well-written chronicle of growing up working class and an immigrant in the midwest connected with me in a profound way. When I finished it, I immediately had my husband read it, so we could keep Nguyen's work alive through discussing it. Another brilliant memoir that I encountered and urged others to read, just in order to have people to discuss it with, is Joy Castro's The Truth Book, which I reread this year. Castro's memoir describes growing up as the adopted child of a dysfunctional family of Jehovah's Witnesses, but again, it is the sharp and lucid prose style, the sparkling writing that won me over. Both are books I will read and read again, enjoying them anew in future years.More from A Year in Reading 2008

A Year in Reading: Amanda Petrusich

Amanda Petrusich is the author of It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music. She writes about pop music for Spin, the New York Times, Paste, Pitchfork, the Onion, and elsewhere.I've always found it remarkably difficult to read or write about a place without also reading or writing about its food: I used to think whole landscapes were ably reflected in guitar riffs and drum fills and pedal steel mews, but I'm growing more and more convinced that maybe fried chicken and crawfish and hamburgers and remoulade sauce and Buffalo wings are actually the true indicators of a region's deep, gooey heart. In 2008, I read Calvin Trillin's The Tummy Trilogy for the first time - it's arguably three short books about food, but it's also about American regionalism and, most of all, marriage ("Marriage, as I have often remarked, is not merely sharing one's fettuccine, but sharing the burden of finding the fettuccine restaurant in the first place," Trillin writes). I admire Trillin's charm and gusto as much as I admire his prose; who wouldn't adore a narrator who believes that "anyone who sacrifices stuffing power by using chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant must be demented"?I also loved Alone in the Kitchen With An Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, Jenni Ferrari-Adler's collection of personal essays about sitting on your couch in a pair of sweatpants, eating peanut butter out of the jar, and Bich Minh Nguyen's Stealing Buddha's Dinner, a stunning memoir about how American assimilation also means eating Rice-A-Roni and casseroles and Kool-Aid and sacks of Doritos.More from A Year in Reading 2008
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