Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Book That Defies the Passage of Time (Women's National Book Association Newsletter)

My note for member news in The Bookwoman, the most recent issue of the Women's National Book Association newsletter:

Captured:  The Forgotten Men of Guam
By Roger Mansell
Naval Institute Press, November 2012

A book is a kind of space capsule arrowing through time. It is a complex thought that may travel from hand to hand, place to place, and speak to its readers, whomever and wherever they may be, long into the future. My dad, Roger Mansell, passed away in late 2010, but it felt like he was saying hello when, last fall, I received my copy of his book, Captured: The Forgotten Men of Guam.

He had been working on his book for over a decade, delving into the archives and interviewing survivors of some of the most horrific suffering imaginable during World War II. An Army veteran, though not of that war, my dad had dedicated his retirement years to maintaining a massive website of data on the Allied POWs of the Japanese in WWII. This data base and his diligent emails helped several families locate the remains of loved ones and connect ex-POWs with fellow survivors. 

When he saw the end of his battle with cancer approaching, my dad asked me to take his manuscript to the post office, to ship it to Linda Goetz Holmesthe first Pacific War historian appointed to advise the government Interagency Working Group declassifying documents on World War II crimes.  As a writer myself with several books published, I had imagined that I would be the one to shepherd his book to publication. But Ms. Holmes, the author of  Unjust Enrichment: American POWs Under the Rising Sun, among other works about the POWs, turned out to be the perfect person for the job, and bless her heart that she took it on. 

Oftentimes, we writers and readers can get caught up in the short-term focus on what’s new; what’s for sale by the cash register in the airport; who won this prize or made the most sales— and it’s all so much smoke and ultimately forgettable sparkle. What a profound thing it is to be able to pick up a book and hear the voice of a person, whether my dad or one of the POWs—anyone for that matter—who is no longer living. A book, after all, and whether in paper or digital format, is a wondrous little package, a vessel for stories; and stories, including such painful ones as my dad’s book recounts, allow us to explore what it means to be human.  

C.M. Mayo

For more about Roger Mansell’s life, work, and book, Captured: The Forgotten Men of Guam, visit

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Podcasts by Seth Godin, Margaret Dulaney, and James Howard Kunstler

Driving out to Marfa from El Paso (and back) I had a luxury of time to listen to marketing guru Seth Godin's free lecture series, Startup School by EarWolf, which was like three pots of coffee and a nasal-passages-clearing bouquet of lavender. Um, really! You too can download the whole fandango free from iTunes.

On a more cosmic note, Margaret Dulaney's Listen Well podcast for this month is especially consoling-- highly recommended.

On a brasher note, in his Kunstler Cast, James Howard Kunstler continues to beat the same danged doom drum, but most amusingly and insightfully. Be sure to catch Kunstler's interview with (yes) the Archdruid.

On a yes-Seth-I-took-your-advice note:
>Buy my ebook, Podcasting for Writers & Other Creative Entrepreneurs
>Listen to my podcast about podcasting
>Sign up for my once-in-a-while info and podcast-packed free newsletter here.

Speaking of podcasts, #11 in the Marfa Mondays series is "Cowboy Is a Verb"-- should be posted in the next 48 hours. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Why Aren't There More Readers? A Note on Curiosity, Creativity, and Courage

I live books. I read books every day. I review books, translate books, edit books, and write books. I have always had a hard time fathoming why other people don't shimmer with the same enthusiasm. Perhaps they never developed the habit of reading-- it does take some effort to learn, after all; perhaps they simply don't have a clue about what treasures await them, silently gathering dust upon an infinite number of shelves (both real and digital, pay and free, as in; or, perhaps they find it too frightening to reach beyond the incuriosity of those around them. (What if they were to arouse some bully? "Hey, Egghead!")


Of course, many citizens have been gypped-- there is really no other word-- by their public education system. But over the centuries, and particularly the past two, some of the least privileged, by luck and pluck, have become avid readers and writers. (I speak as a descendant of Irish immigrants.) And indifference and even hostility towards reading and books can be found all across the social spectrum. Some of the wealthiest people, graduates of private schools, don't have anything beyond a coffee table book and maybe a thriller in their mansions-- though, true, some hire decorators who order books by the yard. (One dead giveaway: when the maid rearranges the books by size and no one objects.)

In today's New York Times David Toscana laments the lack of readers in Mexico and the woeful state of public education. Though I celebrate Mexico's vibrant and long-standing literary tradition, I have to agree with his sad portrait, alas. And it is not just the less fortunate Mexicans who do not read. When I taught the thesis seminar for seniors at a leading private university in Mexico City, I found the general level of reading and writing skills, shall we say... underwhelming. But why light on Mexicans? Plenty of people in other countries, including my own country, the United States, don't read. A few years ago, I used to do PEN Writers in the Schools visits in some Washington DC public high schools. In one instance, in their assignment about my collection of short stories, seniors were allowed to draw pictures with crayons instead of writing an essay (I am not kidding). Many graduates of even the finest U.S. colleges don't read much, either, and oftentimes, in terms of any aesthetic or intellectual nutrition, what they read would be about on par with, say, a Big Mac.

A book is not necessarily expensive. There are public libraries, Internet archives, free Kindles... In Mexico City, I've seen street vendors by the metro stations offering scads of used books, many for the price of a glass of orange juice. So why do so many people, whether well off or poor, ignore the riches around them? This is actually a very interesting question. We all do it some way, and not just with books. I don't pretend to have all the answers. But I believe the future belongs to those with curiosity, creativity, and courage-- and anyone with those three attributes, and the opportunity to do so, is more likely than not to end up in a library, either bricks-and-mortar or on-line, and with heartfelt zest.

Toscana writes, "Books give people ambitions, expectations, a sense of dignity." I know, I know in my bones, this is true.

A few links to surf:

One of the best books about books (and a hilarious read) is Mexican writer Gabriel Zaid's So Many Books.

Ediciones El Naranjo, a fine Mexican children's book publisher that is also dedicated to promoting reading. Truly a great endeavor and a wonderful website. Even if you don't read Spanish I think you'll enjoy the visit.

A few years ago, my amiga DC librarian Jane Kenney Meyers started the Lubuto Library Project to provide uniquely stocked and super low-cost libraries for homeless AIDs orphans in Africa-- and it has been a roaring success.

Check out my collection of 24 Mexican writers on Mexico, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. 
>Listen to the prologue as a podcast

The book that --really-- launched the Mexican Revolution of 1910. 

And a secret book published in 1911 by the same author, Francisco I. Madero, translated into English for the first time by Yours Truly.

Seven Reasons Why Ebooks Will be Big in Mexico (according to Yours Truly)

Speaking of Kindles, if you read Spanish, check out Dr Yolia Tortolero's magnificent El espíritismo seduce a don Francisco I. Madero and the Mexican writer (and my translator) Agustin Cadena's latest novel, also a Kindle, Marjuna Knabino.

A Conversation with Michael K. Schuessler, author of Guadalupe Amor, the biography of one of Mexico's greatest poets (better known as Pita Amor)-- among many other works on Mexican literary figures and Mexican history.

Free podcast series: Seth Godin's Startup School 
(Speaking of curiosity, creativity and courage-- this guy is the guru.)

My dad's book, Captured: The Forgotten Men of Guam

My great great uncle William Wirt Calkin's book, History of the 104th Illinois

Monday, March 04, 2013

Marfa Mondays Blog (New and Improved)

Now live on, migrated from my website where it was rather unceremoniously parked:  Marfa Mondays blog, which is about my Marfa Mondays Podcasting Series which is apropos of a travel memoir-in-progress, World Waiting for a Dream: A Turn in Far West Texas. 

The blog consists of posts about the podcasts, other books, photos, and more about Marfa and environs-- that means the Big Bend.

OK, back to editing podcast #11.... Want an update? Click here to receive my free once-in-a-while newsletter.

Because of the plague of spam I've turned off the comments on my blogs but, as ever, I do warmly welcome your comments via email.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Marfa, Marfa & More Marfa

Oh, this country has such beyond splendid skies! Apropos of my book-in-progress, World Waiting for a Dream: A Turn in Far West Texas, I recently returned from my latest journey through Marfa, Van Horn, Presidio, Terlingua, and the Big Bend National Park, and will be posting scads more "Marfa Mondays" podcasts...

Pending: an interview with Enrique Madrid of Redford; interview with Dallas Baxter, ex-editor of Cenizo Journal; a journey up Pinto Canyon Rd and another up Casa Piedra Rd (a branch of the old Comanche war path); a visit to Cíbolo Creek Ranch, a trek (ayyy 3 hours each way, no shade) to the Apache Canyon and arrowhead quarry; and a bit about strange battle of Zapato Tuerto (Spanish vs Apaches); and yep, "Cowboy Is a Verb."

Oh, and more about the glorious Chisos and Spanish painter Xavier González.

>Listen in to the latest podcast, A Visit to Swan House
>The archive of all the "Marfa Mondays" podcasts  is here. Listen in anytime.

From Pinto Canyon Rd

Lone Cloud, Hotel Paisano, Marfa

Pinto Canyon Rd

Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center, Fort Davis

>Listen to the podcast with Chihuahuan Desert pollinator expert, Cynthia McAlister

Waiting at the Marfa Lights Viewing Station
>Listen to the podcast "We Have Seen the Lights" about the Marfa Lights

Near the Cubes, Marfa

First Lady of the Revolution, Costa Rica's Henrietta Boggs

Check out this fascinating trailer.