Herrera is California poet laureate and a professor in the department of creative writing at UC Riverside. "The Marriage Artist" by Andrew WinerGets you closer to a rare painter-novelist such as Winer and to his masterful work of lyricism, Jewish histories and the complications of marriage, suffering and mystery. What I enjoy is the poetic flow and art of language and the intricacies, and unfoldings of things we do not want to talk about in today's world politic and day-to-day experience: anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and its ongoing influences in contemporary life at its most intimate layers. And, yes, transcendence, is this possible? "Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki" by David ChadwickAlthough Chadwick's superb biography speaks of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, a pioneering teacher of Zen Buddhism in the Bay Area, during the 1960s and up to the time of his passing in the early 1970s, we are really learning how to walk gently — with our full lives — through crises, confrontation and incredible possibilities for change. Our time, perhaps? There is much to learn about his entry as a young boy into a Buddhist monestary in Japan to his voyage and founding of the Zen Center in the Bay Area and the establishment of the Tassajara Monastery in a new land and culture. How did he adapt to the Imperial expansionism of Japan? How could one humble man transform an entire way of life in the West Coast? What makes this book a bigger book than it seems to be at first sight? "Emplumada" by Lorna Dee CervantesA classic in Latina letters. And Lorna, you need to know, is one of the most brilliant poets in the U.S. today. What can her poems do for us? They can escort us into the Latina and Latino condition and life experiences in ways that are not quick-step sociology- or demographic-speak; we need to touch the fire of race, gender and marginalization with 10-story-high creativity and insight. She speaks, in magnificent lyric and story, of a woman-family, warriors in their own right and the impossible role as scribe, an "emplumada." We need the impossible scribes. "Soul Calling: A Photographic Journey through the Hmong Diaspora" by Joel PickfordOne of the most illuminating, piercing and, yes, soulful, spiritual, let me say human portraits that I have seen of a people — the Hmong — that are part and parcel of our nation, yet I believe not in the center of our attention. Having spent many years in Fresno, I have come to know and partner up with Hmong poets, librarians and community organizers. This book inspires me. Pickford, daring, elastic and patient, with an ethnographer's outside/insider camera-eye and pen, takes us deep into Laos villages and back to California, through exile, death, survival and new life — these are not mere words in the book, they are real-real. "Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street" by Karen HoWall Street—behind closed doors. Ho, a former investment analyst, employs the ol' power tool of anthropology, that is, ethnography. Ho learns and unpacks the trade culture of the players, the "stories," "talk," "practices" and the "relationships" in private and public settings and finds something most alarming. Among other discoveries, to be a Wall Street agent, power resides in being "smart." And "smart" has a lot to do with making "deals" that "impress" the honchos and that leave the rest writhing in the dust. Little is left to what we usually attribute to the vagaries of the economy. It seems that what you and I, and José and María Palooka call "the way things are" is more the way things are constructed by the "smart" ones on WS. I am taking notes and keeping my pesos in a basket. "Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits" by Laila Lalami"Illegals." Undocumented immigrants. Wearing the hijab. Religion — culture and class. It is all here. Boating for the future from Morocco across the waters to Europe. Four characters — Faten, Halima, Aziz and Murad — with four dreams, separations, losses, transformations. I find these portraits of desire to be highly valuable. We need to discard stereotypes and stop and know the intimate lives of people and most of all, what "hope" is really made of. "Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt" by Chris Hedges and illustrated by Joe SaccoThis is a stark, touching and almost tactile report-story on the "sacrifice zones" where lands and peoples have been pushed aside for bigger elite and corporate interests. Yet, somehow, the people do continue and do respond. With Pulitzer Prize-winner Hedges and the black-inked portraits and freeze-frames of Sacco, we partake in the incredible moments of private and public conversations. You and all of us are there—it is this moving. Even in the blown-off top of an Appalachian mountain or huddled in a symphony-like circle of voices at the start of the Occupy Movement at Zuccoti Park. You walk away a little changed, maybe—with a lot of insight.
Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times