Reading with... Matt Mendez

photo: Chris Summitt

Matt Mendez is the author of Barely Missing Everything, and the short story collection Twitching Heart. Like many of his characters, Mendez grew up in El Paso, Tex., and continues to live in the Southwest, now in Tucson, Ariz. He is a military veteran and earned his MFA from the University of Arizona, where he has taught creative writing. The Broke Hearts is his follow-up to Barely Missing Everything (Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, $19.99).

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

The Broke Hearts is about fathers and sons. Friends and growing up. Art. How life can sometimes be like a lotería card. El Valiente. El Mundo. El Corazón.

On your nightstand now:

My nightstand is ridiculous--I don't even have a clock on it anymore.

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley. It's hard to go to sleep after reading this. The energy of this book. My goodness.

Borderless by Jennifer De Leon. I loved her first novel, Don't Ask Me Where I'm From, and can't wait to read her newest, Borderless, about a young woman forced to cross the border.

You Never Get It Back by Cara Blue Adams. Adams is a master short story writer, and this linked collection deals with class, ambition, and--most of all--place. 

Witches by Brenda Lozano. I read a review of Witches remarking on its multiple points of view--a thing I can't get enough of in fiction--and was sold! Also, the cover is just amazing. 

And The Golden Frog Games by Claribel A. Ortega. My daughters and I were huge fans of Witchlings! We are excited to read this sequel together. 

Favorite book when you were a child:

I didn't fall in love with books until I was an adult. The only book I remember reading as a kid (and actually liking) was Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.  

Your top five authors:

Manuel Muñoz (who writes the way I wish I could)
Angie Cruz (who creates character like I wish I could)
Kelly Barnhill (a master of the epic and the delicate)
Louise Erdrich (who is funny and honest and true)
Jason Reynolds (who writes with so much wisdom, care, and tenderness).  

Book you've faked reading:

Almost everything assigned in back-in-the-day high school lit classes (George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's A Brave New World, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, etc.).

Book you're an evangelist for:

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. I have bought and given this book away multiple times. The voice and inventiveness of this novel always blows me away. It is one of the most alive books I've ever read. 

Book you've bought for the cover:

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera. The cover is mostly black, a midnight image of a mountain range spiked with saguaro cactus, and the title of the book is centered inside a full moon. The image is ghostly and matches what turns out to be a haunting book about the Mexican/American border. 

Book you hid from your parents:

Every single math book, just in case they wanted me to read them.

Book that changed your life:

The House on Mango Street. Reading Sandra Cisneros's novel was the first time I ever felt like my world existed inside of a book.

Favorite line from a book:

"You want to tell a story? Grow a heart. Grow two. Now, with the second heart, smash the first one into bits." --Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

I began The Broke Hearts with this epigraph, which I think shows how relevant it is to me and my work. All stories need heart, as do their writers. The bigger the better.

Five books you'll never part with:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. This book was my first love. I read it in college and had never identified with a book before. 

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia. This novel is wild. There is war against sadness. A baby Nostradamus. A girl with a lime addiction. This book is a reminder that a story can be everything. 

Dominicana by Angie Cruz. Ana Cancion is a character I still think about. Cruz's novel has the exact kind of impact I'm looking for in a book, in any kind of story. One where I feel changed at the end. 

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Funny and absurd, brutal and beautiful. The best book about war I've ever read. 

Century of the Wind (third in the Memory of Fire trilogy) by Eduardo Galeano. This Latin American history written in short, lyrical vignettes is astounding on every page, capturing the horrors and splendor of the Americas, from creation myths to the Reagan '80s. I go back to it all the time.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

There There by Tommy Orange. The writing and construction of this book is amazing. It is so confident and subtle; everything comes together in such a powerful way. Reading it for the first time was a joy.

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