Sandra Cisneros' 6 favorite restorative books

The novelist and poet recommends works by Gwendolyn Brooks, Lewis Carroll, and more

Sandra Cisneros
(Image credit: Alan Goldfarb)

Nothing, Nobody by Elena Poniatowska (Temple Univ., $33). Poniatowska's books have created a new form of journalism between testimony and poetry. This one, documenting the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, allows the nobodies of the universe to take center stage. They speak in a brave, heartbreakingly beautiful chorus of voices guaranteed to humble you.

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (out of print). After she was awarded a Pulitzer for poetry, Brooks wrote this story cycle about a black girl growing up in working-class Chicago. Largely forgotten, Maud Martha has always been my favorite work by Brooks.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Bantam, $4). This was the first book I was ever able to afford as a kid. I bought an ugly paperback edition for 50 cents in the bargain basement of Sears and accidentally spilled a bottle of perfume on it that made the pages as wavy as if they had been soaked by tears. It's still a favorite. Every time I read this book, I smell the scent of cheap perfume, even though that first paperback edition is long gone.

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A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City by Anonymous (Picador $17). A survivor of the violence inflicted on women after World War II, the writer of this memoir detailed the 1945 Allied conquest of Berlin in an account so disturbing, she was forced to withdraw it from publication, and requested that it be reprinted only after her death. It had its American publication just 10 years ago.

Teresita by William Curry Holden (Stemmer House, $15). Holden's book rescues a heroine of the Americas from oblivion. Teresita Urrea was a healer who lived just before the Mexican revolution. Her extraordinary life — complete with mystical powers, an indigenous community claiming her as their saint, and a Mexican president exiling her from the country — would make a great telenovela.

Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature by Dorothy Allison (out of print). It's too difficult to pick just one book of Dorothy Allison's, but I'll force myself to select Skin as my favorite among her many wondrous works honoring women, the poor, the queer.

—This is novelist and poet Sandra Cisneros' list of six books that she credits with having "restored, resuscitated, or transformed me." The author of The House on Mango Street has just published A House of My Own, a collection of essays.

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