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Manuel M. Martín-Rodríguez. Life in Search of Readers: Reading (in) Chicano/a Literature. U of New Mexico P, 2003. vii + 232 pp.

In Life in Search of Readers, Manuel M. Martín-Rodríguez makes a substantial contribution to the discourse on Chicano/a literary history by foregrounding the roles of readers and reading in the formation of literature. While a few other efforts have taken readers and reading into consideration, Chicano/a studies has often focused on the author as sole creator of the text. Martín-Rodríguez suggests this constricted focus elides the complex relationship between literature and its audiences, recognizing that "a work of literature has no existence beyond the materiality of its physical components without a reader or a group of readers who would respond to, interact with, and make their own the precise formal arrangement of materials that a text or a book offers them" (2). Calling for a paradigm shift, Martín-Rodríguez draws together his wide-ranging knowledge of Chicano/a literature with a reception theory influenced by Iser, Jauss, Fish, and Eco in order to illustrate the impact of readers and reading on Chicano/a literature. Martín-Rodríguez goes beyond simply reconstructing an imagined reader. Instead, he recognizes the complex, multiple positions readers occupy in the creation of literature, continually probing how readers and reading shape writing, marketing, and interpretation. Moreover, he is able to slip the binds of narrowly defined chronology by moving between a text's multiple sites of existence: production, reception, recovery, interpretation. Thus, Life in Search of Readers does not follow the linear trajectory of traditional literary histories; rather, it consists of five interlocking, nonchronological chapters that develop a sound foundation for Martín-Rodríguez's vision of a new literary history. [End Page 669]

Resisting the trend of Chicano/a literary history, the author does not begin his investigation in the nineteenth century; rather, he first explores how "the literary establishment associated with the Chicano/a Movement represents the culmination of a set of aspirations to define an audience as both Chicano/a (in terms of identity) and national (in scope)" (9). Martín-Rodríguez contrasts this national Chicano/a readership with the conditions faced by earlier authors such as María Amparo Ruiz de Burton and Cleofas Jaramillo, whose tenuous access to means of production shaped their imagined audiences and eventually resulted in the silencing of their work. In contrast, the emergence of Chicano/a presses like Quinto Sol allowed the authors of the 1960s and 1970s to imagine a national, Chicano/a readership. Ultimately, for Martín-Rodríguez the formation of a national readership allowed Chicano/a literature to explore two trajectories. First, the Chicano/a presses gave license to the more experimental aesthetics of Tomás Rivera and Rolando Hinojosa. At the same time, access to means of production permitted Rudolfo Anaya to reach a national non-Chicano/a readership. Of particular note, Martín-Rodríguez points to how the editors of Quinto Sol, Octavio I. Romano-V, and Herminio Ríos articulated a nationally imagined cultural work for their texts—for them, reading of Chicano/a literature could counter hegemonic constructions.

From the formation of a national Chicano/a readership, Martín-Rodríguez turns to acts of reading and writing in Chicano/a literature. Examining the metaliterary discourse in José Antonio Villareal's Pocho (1959) and Miguel Méndez's Peregrinos de Aztlán (1974) allows him to probe the texts for theories of literary creation, reception, and recovery. His intriguing analysis of Pocho counters previous readings that take for granted the future of Richard Rubio, the protagonist, as a writer. While previous critics have displayed an anxiety regarding the novel's ambivalence and their desire to place Pocho at the beginning of a politically conscious Chicano/a literary tradition, Martín-Rodríguez suggests that the ambivalence stems from Richard's characterization as an "insatiable reader" (42). The novel, like Richard's future, is complex and uncertain, written only in the reader's imagination. Thus, because of the multifaceted interplay of readers in textual creation, Mart...


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