Friday, September 08, 2017

Booknote: Puerto Rico Past and Present: an Encyclopedia

(Crossposted from The Itinerant Librarian)

Serafin Mendez Mendez, with Ronald Fernandez, Puerto Rico Past and Present: an Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4408-2831-7.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: reference, Latino Studies, Puerto Rico, country studies
Format: hardback
Source: Borrowed from Hutchins Library, Berea College 

This was a recent acquisition for my library. My library does not have much on Puerto Rico. Before this volume, our copy of War Against All Puerto Ricans (link to my review) was about the only current thing we had, and I ordered that book. Now, we are a small liberal arts college in Kentucky, so I get Puerto Rico as topic is not a high priority. However, when the "latest" books are ones that still spell the island's name as "Porto Rico" that is a problem in my humble opinion. So this reference book provides a start to to alleviating the issue. With Puerto Rico in the news recently in light of the island's economic and humanitarian crisis (here is a small account explaining it a bit), some timely and  basic sources are needed. This reference book at least provides some of the basics.

This is the second edition of this reference work. I have not seen the first edition, so I cannot do a comparison. According to the current author, the first edition won an ALA Denali Award; the previous edition was published in 1998, so an update was long overdue, and I am glad it got done.

The one-volume encyclopedia is arranged as follows:

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chronology of important events. It goes from 1493 to 2015
  • 189 entries arranged alphabetically
  • Two appendices
    • Representative leaders of the first stage of the feminist movement in Puerto Rico
    • Representative writers by generation
  • A selected bibliography

On the entries, the author writes,

"It provides longer and extended entries with a deep sense of context as well as reliable historic background. There are new, revised, and extended essays on language, education, religion, geography, the environment, social media, and many other subjects" (xviii). 

Entries range from historical subjects and topics to politics and pop culture. The book's focus is on more contemporary topics, but it still provides plenty of material for folks interested in history.

For students, this is a solid resource to learn more about Puerto Rico. The book features entries on major topics that may be of timely interest such as the recently implemented IVU (a sales and use tax, think an "added value tax"), the LGBT movement on the island, and political representation of the island in the United States. Such entries will give a newcomer a broad overview. Readers wanting to dig deeper will find additional entries on more specific topics.

Each entry includes the essay, cross-references, and a short list of references for those wanting to learn more on a topic. The book also features some good black and white photography on certain topics.

In addition, I'd say for Puerto Rican readers, this book can be a bit of a nostalgia trip, especially for those like me who have been living in the U.S. mainland for many years. Browsing through the entries brought back many memories.

This is a good selection for libraries. For students seeking information on Puerto Rico, say for a paper, this is a good start. It can be a very good start for libraries with little or no materials on  Puerto Rico. If you want to say  you have at least something, you can't go wrong with this basic, solid, well-written, and reliable reference book. I'd recommend it for both public and academic libraries.

Though I think the author tries to be too cheery at times (the island is currently experiencing some seriously hard times), it is a balanced work overall. There are not many books I'd add to my personal collection; I'd add this one.

(Reference Book, no rating given)