Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Avenue of Mysteries - by John Irving

John Irving is still going strong. In his most recent work he tells the story of Juan Diego Guerrero, a writer who grew up as a "pepenador" (scavenger) in the slums of Oaxaca, Mexico. Juan Diego had an advantage over the other children who lived picking things from the dump - he knew how to read (in Spanish and English). He was also the only person who could understand his clairvoyant sister's (Lupe's) unique language. Ultimately he ends up living in Iowa with his new guardians - a gay priest (Edward Bonshaw) and his transgender lover (Flor). 

Since Juan Diego is such a good reader it seems especially appropriate that when he his taken in by the Jesuits at Niños Perdidos (Lost Children) that he and Lupe sleep in what had "formerly been a small library" with most of the books still on the shelves. It is ironic, then, that it is on the Jesuits' shelves that Juan Diego reads about science and history which makes him question the teachings of the church, and what ultimately inspired him to become an author, despite the fact that 
the library of English-language literature at Lost Children was limited and generally not newer than the nineteenth-century models of the form, including the novels Father Alfonso and Father Octavio had designated for destruction in the hellfires of the basurero and those essential novels Brother Pepe or Edward Bonshaw had saved for the library's small collection of fiction
Fires at the dump (basurero) were perpetual, and Juan Diego, a lover of reading, often saved books from the inferno. "It takes an eternity to read some books, even (or especially) some books saved from burning."

Reading aloud with Bonshaw in the Niños Perdidos library is one way that the two develop a kinship. They argued about the age-appropriateness of some books, and Bonshaw's censorship of sex scenes. Flor, however, did not read. This she tells to an AIDS-ravaged Mennonite in cowboy boots and and a pink cowboy hat as the two wait for treatment at the Virology Clinic in Iowa City. She jokes that the two should rob a bank to which the cowboy responds "I know North Liberty pretty well...There's a library that sure would be easy to knock off." Flor explains that she doesn't read, and is, therefore, "not interested in sticking up a library".

Of course, any library user can tell you that there is no need to "stick up" a library. All you need is a (free!) library card and you can have anything you want!

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