It may not happen a lot, but once in a while you’ll come across a book that’s so good you’ll ask yourself: “Why don’t more people know about this?”
Well, now’s your chance to share that book with the rest of us, because today we’re gonna to talk about the books you think are underrated.
As always, I’ll go first. Here are my picks for the 5 Underrated Books You Think Deserve More Attention:
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua
Why I think it’s underrated: Anzaldua may not be the first to express in writing the complex transnational identity that Mexican-Americans must grapple with, but she was the first to express it in the right language and in the right style. Her language moves from Spanish to English to Spanglish just like the Mexican-American people whose complex identity she is writing about. Her style moves from prose, to poetry, to essay writing. All of this movement represents the complex ways in which Latinos try to maintain the connection to their country of ancestral origin, Mexico, while still navigating their relationship with their country of birth, the U.S.. It’s a bold move to cross so many borders of language, culture, gender, sexuality, time, and space without asking for permission and without following all the traditional “rules.” In doing so, Anzaldua’s unique voice is able to stand at the intersection of everything that is real and true–and you can’t help but be moved by it. Unfortunately, by making such brave choices in her writing, Anzaldua becomes an outlaw from the “traditional Western cannon” and often goes unread in college campuses. Which I think is a shame.
Why I think it will continue to be overrated: Even though the number of “conversational” Spanish speakers are on the rise, I doubt there are many Spanish speakers who are willing to read entire books in Spanish, much less try to navigate a book written in both Spanish and English, and sometimes in Spanglish. If it was translated into English, this book would probably get a wider audience, but that would defeat Anzaldua’s purpose and her message, and would lay waste to the core principles of the book. Unfortunately, it’s this kind of catch-22 that might land Anzaldua’s book in the back corner of most bookshelves for some time.
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by August Wilson
Why I think it’s underrated: August Wilson may be the most prolific African-American playwright of our time. Okay, maybe not the most prolific (Suzan-Lori Parks has cranked out quite a bit of plays in her lifetime), but certainly his plays are the most “overreaching.” Maybe he seems so prolific because he decided to make up for all the decades in which there were no African-American playwrights available to tell the story of African-Americans. He’s written a play for every decade since slavery, and so it may seem that he has written more plays than he really has. Just for that attempt, however, he should get some mainstream recognition. But he doesn’t. At the very least, Wilson should get some attention for Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, which, in my opinion, is one of the best plays I’ve read. Is it the long monologues? Is it the transcendental ending that’s hard to capture on a real theater stage? Or is it the fact that Wilson is reaching too far back into African-American history that it’s too painful to watch, and we’d rather forget about America’s ugly past? Whatever it is, Wilson should still be honored for tackling a history that is largely marginalized and yet is fundamental to the identity of this country.
Why I think it will continue to be underrated: Even though he’s a modern playwright, Wilson is still perceived as “old school” by today’s standards. Plays with long, poetic monologues that express the character’s inner journey are maybe not what modern audiences are willing to sit through nowadays. Audiences seem to prefer the more quick-paced, raw, realistic, and quirky style of a Suzan-Lori Parks, for instance, than a throw back to the more stylistic and paced unfolding of older plays.
Short Stories by Anton Chekov
Why I think it’s underrated: Chekov’s representation of the human condition is so pitch-perfect–you nearly miss it. It’s almost as if he isn’t doing anything. His stories have no beginning and have no real ending. Sometimes there’s no real clear moral to the story, and yet each story has a profound effect on you and you take away something very meaningful from each character. Chekov does something no writer today could ever get away with: he shows life as it really is and doesn’t sugar coat one bit of it. It’s almost shocking how real his stories are. No character is certain of their fate, or certain if they are doing the right thing, and it doesn’t seem like the author is certain of anything either. Chekov’s short stories are filled with people crying and laughing, dying and living, at the exact time you least expect it. You find yourself bothered by something that should reassure you, and reassured by something that should bother you. Such is the paradox of life, and Chekov masters its portrayal. If you’re a fan of realism, you’ll overlook his stoires because you’ll feel they’re too real to give Chekov credit for anything. If you’re not a fan of realism, you’ll just hate them and move on. And in this way, Chekov, one of the greatest writers of all time, gets dismissed.
Why I think it will continue to be overrated: Critics may love him and sing his praises, but the public will continue to overlook Chekov. In a world where every new show is either a CSI or a Law & Order with a clear beginning and end, dramatic plot twists, outlandish spectacles, mysteries to be solved with expert detectives who leave no questions unanswered, a story by Chekov just doesn’t stand a chance.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Why I think it’s underrated: It is more likely that you’ve heard of Hurston than Wilson, Anzaldua, and Chekov. She can appear in college campuses and even in some High Schools. I actually read her book in High School. It was risky move, because it could have been too early for me to have been presented with what is at the heart of Hurston’s story. All I can say is that there is no truer portrayal of love and romantic loss than that which is illustrated in this book. Hurston taught me what love was. Period. Anyone who has ever loved more than once will know that, in this book, truer words have never been spoken.
Why I think it’s underrated: The dialogue is written in dialect and the book suffers the fate of other works written in dialect, like Raisin in the Sun, where the fact that the author does not use “high English” disqualifies it from being “true” literature. True, this book still manages to remain in some of the critics Top 100 lists and may be seen in college courses, and even in school High School classes, but I still think the book deserves a much higher place in our esteem than that. In my opinion, this book should be mandatory reading for all, and its main character, Janie Crawford, should be as much as a household name as Holden Caulfield or Jay Gatsby.
La Carpa De Los Rasquachis by El Teatro Campesino
Why I think it’s underrated: In the 1960’s, a group of Mexican-American farmworkers, led by playwright Luis Valdez, created a theater company called El Teatro Campesino. The company’s sole mission was to gather more members for Cesar Chavez’s United Farmworker’s Union. The union was leading a strike against farm bosses that mistreated Mexican-American fieldworkers. The purpose of this particular play, written and performed by El Teatro Campesino, was to rally more support for Cesar Chavez’s historic civil rights struggle. I was fortunate enough to see a live performance of a revival of this play while I was still in college. The play did not have the original cast, but still, I was completely blown away by the performances and the show itself. Talk about a play that should be studied by every living writer in the world. Even if you do not intend to write an agitation propaganda theater piece, the core elements of a story are nowhere more powerfully utilized then when a group of performers are trying to convince you to take REAL LIFE action on an issue. A piece that moves an audience to act, and changes the course of history in the process, isn’t just any old play, it’s play that everyone should read and study.
Why I think it will continue to be underrated: It was never published. So the best bet is to check out El Teatro Campesino’s website and see if they’re going to have a revival of the play any time soon. Then, if you’re lucky to be in Northern California at the time, you’ll just have to swing by their playhouse. I promise it’ll be worth your time and money.
It’s your turn. What books do you think are underrated and deserve more attention than they are currently getting? Please share your picks with us in the comments below!
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