Books by People I Know: “I Will Say This Exactly One Time”

I_Will_Say_This_Exactly_One_Time.jpgOn social media, D. Gilson often posts screen-shots of his conversations with a woman named “Bev.” These exchanges, always by Apple Messenger, are perfect little nuggets: Bev interrogates D. about his love life. She makes fun of her neighbors. She describes daily existence with her husband. She pretty much always ends with a zinger.

For a long time, I had no idea who Bev was, but it didn’t matter. Their daily correspondence was better than any three-panel comic strip I’ve ever read. The banter is decently funny, particularly if you know D. But it’s also revealing, off-color, and fun. It’s easy to imagine a coffee table collection of Bev’s random rants.

“Revealing, off-color, and fun” is exactly how I would describe D.’s essay collection, I Will Say This Exactly One Time. I met D. when we were both students at Chatham University. In an MFA program that caters to bookish young women, D. was an instant hit: lovable and petit, wearing thick-framed glasses and a goofy smile. He speaks with a mild folksy twang. D. can use the term “queer” in regular conversation, making the word sound rakish and worldly. He never seemed to go anywhere without a cadre of girlfriends. Anywhere D. went, the scene might break into a heated discussion about gender politics or a glitzy dance party. Meanwhile, there was the persistent rumor that D. had once competed in a rodeo.

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A typical D.-Bev exchange.

These essays reflect D.’s unpredictable élan. They cover the gamut of topics, from the pleasures of walking around to the semiotics of Ke$ha. This is not comic writing; many of these vignettes are deadly serious, as D.’s family has been cursed with a string of tragedies. D. studied poetry at Chatham, and his style is pensive and lyrical. My favorite essay, and probably the most shocking, chronicles his family visit to a NASCAR race. But to me, D.’s writing is like a cross between Dale Peck and Chuck Klosterman—cerebral, pop culture-savvy, and willing to lay bare his most personal pensées. The essays are meandering in the way of late-night conversation. He may say all these things exactly one time, but here’s hoping he says a lot of other stuff, too.

You can find I Will Say This Exactly One Time on Amazon, or you can order it from your local bookstore.

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Books by People I Know: “Love in Translation”

Cover_Love_in_Translation_large.jpgOn paper, Katherine Stanley Obando was my editor at The Tico Times for about a year. We developed the “magazine section,” which basically meant writing longer and more colorful stories for the weekend.

Katherine helped me create my travel column, “Pura Via,” and oversaw about 200 news stories, profiles, and features. If our relationship had meant nothing else, we at least did a ton of work together.

But Katherine and I hit it off right away: She’s a fellow New Englander, and she kept a blog about language and parenting. Like me, she was married to her dream-spouse. We had both worked extensively in education. These were qualities that made us very different from our fellow expat journalists. We weren’t really interested in “getting the story.” We were basically essayists in disguise.

Meanwhile, Katherine had moved to Costa Rica a decade earlier and met the man of her dreams – not a fellow foreigner, but a Tico chef. Whereas I ended up being a longterm tourist (two years), Katherine is embedded. Costa Rica is her home now.

I have only read chunks of Love in Translation, but I can say this with certainty: Katherine is an outstanding writer. She’s funny, she thoughtful, and she really knows Costa Rica. She is less a “travel writer” than an immersive anthropologist. She writes with a unique sensitivity: a loving mother raising her daughter in a bilingual world. Whether or not you have any interest in Costa Rica, I don’t think you’ll find a more endearing portrait of familyhood.

You can find the book on Amazon, or order it from any bookstore.