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December reads

We asked a group of people to each review a book: books that stirred their souls, sparked their curiosity, and raised questions; books from their professional orbits or books read simply for pleasure; books to gift for the Christmas holidays. We hereby present a list of recommendations that dips a toe into the vast universe of books.

By: Panorama of the Americas Editorial Board

 

People say that the days of print books are numbered. They claim that the future belongs to digital media, online shopping, and the “enjoyment” of reading on “the cloud.” We can only speculate as to whether or not this is true.

What is true is that reading is still a favorite pastime for many people. To mark the Christmas festivities, we would like to share a list of books recommended by poets, businesspeople, philosophers, storytellers, journalists, and economists. Take note and enjoy!

In this wonderful book, Bautista leads us on a journey into what it means “to think” (which is not the same as having an opinion) and examines the rationale behind modernism: a Habermasian community of communication. He uncovers the scaffolding of modernity and shows us how it has weathered the passage of time, while pointing out that the “community of communication” takes place among people who are not actually equals.

The second part of the book poses an alternative to modern thinking. Seen from the viewpoint of another model —he suggests Latin America as the source for an Andean-Amazonian vision— modernity as a whole seems a world of death: an environmental and human disaster. The problem with a modern Westernized vision lies in its insistence on seeing nature as an object rather than a subject, and not the other way around as in indigenous cosmologies. He suggests that we base our thinking on a life rationale that will create a community of life that is very different from our current society of modern, selfish individualism.

This book changed my life and how I look at modernity; now I have a fresh, non-modern way of looking at the future.

Bachelor of Economics from the University of the Andes in Bogotá; graduate degree in Economics from the New School for Social Research in New York.

Cien años de soledad

Ilustrado / Illustrated by por Luisa Rivera  / Tipografía Enrico, de Gonzalo García Barcha, Grupo Editorial Penguin Random House, 2017 / 400  Pages

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez’s masterwork, is already a classic. This marvelous novel deserved a tribute on its 50th anniversary.

In 2017, Spain’s Grupo Editorial Penguin Random House released a commemorative edition —the first illustrated edition (by Chilean artist Luisa Rivera)— printed in Enrico typeface, which was created by the author’s son, Gonzalo García Barcha, in honor of this memorable occasion.

I recommend this work not only because I absolutely love the story, but because the wonderful illustrations add a further dimension to this epic, providing a new map for navigating the stormy and bewildering seas of García Márquez’s prose.

Harriet Nahrwold

Chilean social commentator specializing in writing about food and the accompanying wines.  She writes a popular blog (www.desobremesa.cl) and is the author of Wines of Chile, one of the most extensive compendiums on the topic published in South America.

 

¿Qué significa pensar desde América Latina?

Juan José Bautista / Editorial Akal, 2014, Premio Libertador al Pensamiento Crítico 2015 /288 Pages

People say that the days of print books are numbered. They claim that the future belongs to digital media, online shopping, and the “enjoyment” of reading on “the cloud.” We can only speculate as to whether or not this is true.

What is true is that reading is still a favorite pastime for many people. To mark the Christmas festivities, we would like to share a list of books recommended by poets, businesspeople, philosophers, storytellers, journalists, and economists. Take note and enjoy!

In this wonderful book, Bautista leads us on a journey into what it means “to think” (which is not the same as having an opinion) and examines the rationale behind modernism: a Habermasian community of communication. He uncovers the scaffolding of modernity and shows us how it has weathered the passage of time, while pointing out that the “community of communication” takes place among people who are not actually equals.

The second part of the book poses an alternative to modern thinking. Seen from the viewpoint of another model —he suggests Latin America as the source for an Andean-Amazonian vision— modernity as a whole seems a world of death: an environmental and human disaster. The problem with a modern Westernized vision lies in its insistence on seeing nature as an object rather than a subject, and not the other way around as in indigenous cosmologies. He suggests that we base our thinking on a life rationale that will create a community of life that is very different from our current society of modern, selfish individualism.

This book changed my life and how I look at modernity; now I have a fresh, non-modern way of looking at the future.

Margarita Medina

Bachelor of Economics from the University of the Andes in Bogotá; graduate degree in Economics from the New School for Social Research in New York.

El costo de los derechos

Stephen Holmes y Cass R. Sunstein / Siglo Veintiuno Editores, México, Tercera edición, agosto 2015 / 264  Pages

It is often thought that people from higher socio-economic classes do not need any help from the State, but this belief may be less true than it appears, since even “the private realm we so rightly prize is sustained, indeed created, by public action. Not even the most self-reliant citizen is asked to look after his or her material welfare autonomously, without any support from fellow citizens or public officials.”

This is the argument laid out by Stephen Holmes (professor at New York University) and Cass R. Sunstein (professor at Harvard University and adviser to former U.S. President Barack Obama) in The Cost of Rights, originally published in 1999 and translated into Spanish in 2011 by Siglo Veintiuno Editores under the title El costo de los derechos: Por qué la libertad depende de los impuestos, the latest edition of which came out in 2015.

A straight-forward concept underpins the book: rights come at a cost. This is plainly illustrated by the government spending needed to finance the bureaucratic superstructure (judges, prosecutors, police, fire fighters, and all the rest), which exist to ensure people’s rights (individual or societal), independent of social or economic class.

Francisco Díaz Montilla

Philosophy professor at the University of Panama —with a Bachelors in Philosophy from the same institution— and PhD in Philosophy (with a specialization in the Philosophy of Logic) from the Caroline University of Prague.

Diarios completos

Sylvia Plath / Edición española: Juan Antonio Montiel, Traducción: Elisenda Julibert, Alba Editorial, Barcelona 2016 / 828 pages

am reading the Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, a painstaking compilation of Plath’s Journals by Karen V. Kukil (2007), now available in Spanish from Alba Editorial. I have been waiting for this work for a long time; the desire to read Plath was inspired by a research project begun for my collection, La edad de la rosa (The Age of the Rose) (2018), which includes a poem dedicated to Sylvia.

Any approach to an author’s diaries always confronts us with a dilemma: on the one hand, there is a sense of guilt occasioned by penetrating the author’s innermost world, and on the other hand, we feel the need to steep ourselves in their words, to fully immerse ourselves in their experiences, their quests, and their conflicts, and to wrap ourselves in the lights and shadows of their days.

This is a meticulous, chronologically-ordered work that includes photographs and a pair of drawings (an ink drawing titled “Meadow Flowers” adorns the cover). The work also presents previously-unpublished poems by the author, translated into Spanish for the first time, in addition to a list drawn up by Kukil of people mentioned in the work. I am sure that Plath’s extensive and substantive diaries will provide readers with many hours of reveries and insights into this magnificent 20th century writer.

Ela Urriola

Teacher, poet, painter, and researcher in Esthetics, Bioethics, and Human Rights, with a PhD in Systematic Philosophy from Caroline University in Prague. 

Soldados de Salamina

Javier Cercas / Tusquets Editores, Barcelona (España), 2001 / 216 pages

It is December and the atmosphere is festive under warm, limpid blue skies. I try to think of an appropriate book to enjoy: Javier Cercas’s landmark novel, Soldiers of Salamis. The nimble, journalistic, and literary tone of “Cercas the character” leads me through his research into the unsuccessful execution by firing squad of Falangist writer Rafael Sánchez Mazas. Near the end of the Spanish civil war, Sánchez Mazas miraculously survived the burst of machine gun fire that mowed down dozens of prisoners and escaped to the nearby forest. He was discovered by a Republican militiaman, who looked him in eye and decided to let him live instead of turning him in. This research was spurred not by the desire to tell what Cercas calls the “true story” —that masterful interweaving of novel and reality characteristic of his work— of Sánchez Mazas’s incredible adventure, but rather the wish to examine the thorny problem of motive.

To contemplate the power of such a gesture to briefly mitigate the horror and cruelty of war, to wonder why, and to look into the eyes of the soldier is to allow a modicum of solace into our hearts. It is December, a glittering month with its share of solace.

Carolina Fonseca

Venezuelan living in Panama since 2011. She spends her time writing, editing, and working on literary projects. She has published four books of stories and has compiled anthologies of Panamanian stories.

 

El valor de la nada: cómo cambiar la sociedad de mercado y redefinir la democracia

Raj Patel / Picador, 2010 / 250 pages

Some years ago, I came upon an article by an economist that showed that a $2.99 hamburger actually costs nearly $300, since many of the real costs of production are hidden in “externalities,” i.e. costs not paid by the consumer, but by a third party such as the environment, the government (via subsidies), or the workers.

That economist was the book’s author, Raj Patel. I give this book to as many people as I can and I recommend it to you. The title of the book was inspired by an Oscar Wilde quip: “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” The book manages to simplify the ways the current economy bamboozles us and hides the true value of our purchases and who really pays the cost.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in creating new visions of the economy and development.

Pedro Colmenares

Colombian businessman, mentor, and entrepreneur residing in Panama.

Warlight

Michael Ondaatje / Alfred A. Knopf, 2018 / 304 page

One book I will be giving all the readers on my list this year is Canadian author Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight. This novel, Ondaatje’s eighth work of prose, is an elegant and compulsively readable addition to his already-stunning body of work. He is most famous for the Booker Prize winning The English Patient, but my favorite of his early books is the brilliant semi-autobiographical Running in the Family.

Warlight begins in London at the end World War II with the sentence, “In 1945, our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals,” spoken by 14-year-old Nathaniel, the novel’s protagonist. The first part of the book tells the coming-of-age story of Nathaniel and his sister Rachel as they are educated in the eccentric care of a man they call “The Moth” and his assorted friends and business partners. They learn that their mother, Rose, is not “in Singapore” as she wanted them to believe, but instead involved in a complex secret life in the underworld of the aftermath of the war.

In the second part of the book, readers accompany an older Nathaniel as he tries to piece together those early years through research, memories, and imagination. The result is a haunting and evocative novel.

Sarah VanGundy

English language editor for Panorama of the Americas, librarian, and writer.