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My Top Ten Favorite Books: Darlene Campos

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

I read this book for the first time when I was about 13 years old. It’s about an immigrant family and all the hardships they experience as they create their new lives in America. It’s sad. This book made me weep for the characters. They’re a family trying to make ends meet yet it seems like the whole world is against them. I honestly wonder why we don’t have a movie version of this book. There was one made a long time, in silent movie form, but it has since been lost through history. It needs a movie soon.

I heard about this book for a few years, but I didn’t read it until I was in college. It was recommended to me by my creative writing professor and I’m so glad she took the time to recommend it. Just like ‘The Jungle,’ it’s a sad book. The family struggles with money and Arnold, the main character, knows there is something better for him. Despite everything, Arnold makes it through. While this book is very sad in certain parts, it’s also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Alexie can make you cry in one chapter and have you laughing until your belly hurts in the next.

Exile by Padraic O’Conaire

This is another book I read in college and it was an assigned reading for my Irish Literature class. I had never heard of this writer nor had I heard of this book. This is one of the best adventures stories I’ve ever encountered. Each page was gripping – I could not put the book down for any reason at all. I wish ‘Exile’ had more publicity because it’s just that good. This book needs a movie, too.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Unlike the books I mentioned above, this is a memoir, so it’s nonfiction. I just read it last year after years of wanting to read it. I found a copy at a used book sale for just 75 cents. This is one of the most compelling life stories I’ve ever read, right after Frank McCourt’s ‘Angela’s Ashes.’ I found myself cheering and crying for Walls and her family, even for her parents who are not your average parents at all. I could feel myself right in the story with Walls, as if I was a guest in her life and she was personally showing me around. It only took me two days to read this book and I’m so happy I did.

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

One of my favorite movies is ‘Big Fish.’ I saw it in the movie theater a few days after it came out and I was blown away by how beautiful the story was. Edward Bloom’s life is riveting both on the big screen and in the book. The book has more fantasy elements than the movie. I am NOT a fantasy literature fan, but this book somehow grabbed me right away. If Daniel Wallace made a fan of someone who hates fantasy books, you know this is good.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

R.J. Palacio’s ‘Wonder’ is a children’s novel, but I believe everyone, including adults, should take the time to read it. Auggie Pullman is your average kid – he loves Star Wars, he goes to school, he wants to make friends, and he loves his pet dog. The only thing that makes Auggie different from his peers is his rare medical facial deformity condition, yet the bullies around school focus on this one thing about him. They don’t see his humor, his kind heart, or his intelligence – just that his face looks different. The feature film comes out later this year and I hope it stays true to the book. It’s a huge lesson everyone needs to learn.

Maus (I & II) by Art Spiegelman

I’m a history buff, especially when it comes to World War II history. My brother recommended I read this book because it wasn’t like other history books – it was a true story told in graphic novel form. The ‘Maus’ series surrounds the lives of Spiegelman’s parents, mostly his father. Spiegelman listened to his father tell his story of being forced into a ghetto by the Nazis and then being taken to Auschwitz where death is always hanging by the door. The drawings are simple black and white graphics, but this is more than sufficient since the story is hard to put down.

If Anne Frank had survived the Holocaust, I wonder what else she would’ve written. I visited the Secret Annex years ago, which is where Frank hid for about two years. Can you imagine hiding in fear in such a small place for such a long time? Frank’s diary isn’t just any diary – it’s a piece of history which has taught the world what happens when hate takes over love. Frank wanted to be a professional writer after the war. Even though she died so young, she left her mark on the world as a writer, just how she planned. This book, like ‘Wonder,’ is one every person needs to read.

Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite writers. He was so talented and a big shot in his time. When I visited San Antonio last December, I found out he’d stayed in the hotel I booked. I immediately found the room’s location and snapped a picture. ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ has some of the most beautiful lines I’ve ever read – they make Hallmark cards look like a pile of crap. Wilde was a prolific writer. He only lived to be 46 years old, yet he made the most of these years with all of his works.

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

This book was part of a summer reading list when I was in middle school. As much as I loved to read when I was younger, I hated assigned readings - I think it’s part of my ‘don’t tell me what to do’ attitude. Anyway, this book was on the list and it was one of the shorter ones, so I picked it. I got so into the book that I read it in a day and a half. The imagery was rich, the story was interesting, and the characters felt so real, it was as if I knew them personally. This is a beautiful book and I’m thankful it was an assigned reading or else I may have never discovered it on my own.
Darlene Campos Pens A Love Letter To Houston




It’s the city my parents settled in almost 27 years ago. It’s the place where I was born, the place I was fortunate to grow up in, the place where I went to college, and the place where I still live today.

How long does it take you to get to work in the morning? It takes me just a few minutes because I’m lucky to live close by - but at my former job, it took me almost two hours. And it was only sixteen miles away. What can I say? Morning traffic.

How big is Houston? My boyfriend lives about an hour away from me. If I drive to his place from mine, I still wouldn’t reach George Bush Intercontinental Airport because I would need to drive even further. IT'S THAT BIG.

And, it’s getting bigger. More people have moved here. The traffic is worse. But it’s still home. For me, Houston will always be home.

It’s home because of its rich diversity. If I want Korean food for breakfast, Lebanese for lunch, and Cuban for dinner, it’s totally possible in Houston. There are 145 languages spoken here. There are Cuban festivals, Palestinian festivals, Japanese festivals, Greek festivals, African festivals – more than you can think of. And we all love Houston just the same.

It’s home because of its love for the literary world. Inprint brings writers like Sandra Cisneros, George Saunders, and Ann Patchett. WITS hires writers to teach creative writing in public schools, prisons, and hospitals. Brazos Bookstore, Blue Willow Bookshop, Becker’s Books, and Kaboom Books are just a handful of indie bookstores Houston has to offer.

It’s home because of its museums. The Houston Museum of Natural Science once had the Magna Carta, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston brought Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night and the Health Museum is now hosting Bodyworlds. The Children’s Museum is a giant building where kids have loads of fun and they learn without even noticing. The Holocaust Museum educates and pierces your heart no matter how many times you go. We have over 150 museums here. We love learning and learning loves us.

It’s home when I’m stuck in traffic.

It’s home when I get the finger, even though I was the one who got cut off.

It’s home when I can’t find a parking spot at Hermann because I was dumb enough to go on a Saturday afternoon.

It’s home when the news says there’s been another shooting, another kidnapping, another robbery, another child missing.

It’s home when the Texas Medical Center and the oil industries announce more layoffs.

It’s home when I drive by the big “We Love Houston” sign off I-10.

No matter what happens.

Houston is my home.

The Results of the Election Prove We Provide A Necessary Voice


So by now, you've heard that our newest President-elect is Donald Trump, a man who ran a campaign based largely on bigotry, xenophobia and fear. For the past four days, the United States has come unhinged at the prospect of his presidency as protests and riots have arisen from every corner of the country.

After the initial punch to the gut at the realization that 59 million chose hate over (at least marginal) progress, it became apparent that our mission here at Vital Narrative Press is now more important than ever. When I first started VN, it was to provide a platform to and for people of color - an ideal that has permeated through our company culture here. After seeing anti-POC protests circulate around social media, supporters of white supremacy have seemingly become emboldened by the President-elect's overt racism. While many are feeling hopeless and helpless, we plan to empower our community and stand up against the tyranny by continuing to promote our experiences to a world that feels as if we have no worth.

We refuse to allow ANYONE to keep us from achieving our purpose and we will not cower in silence. From the beginning, we've been preaching for you all to #ReadMoreBooks and #WriteMoreBooks - not because it's a catchy hashtag, but because we see tangible purpose in creating the stories that we want to see. It's because we know that, if left to the mainstream, our accomplishments and thoughts and dreams and narratives will be subject to erasure by people who see no intrinsic value in people of color. We are still very much invested in sharing our words with you and that will not change.

Our stories have always mattered - and now, they matter more than ever. In the face of adversity, we promise to remain a literary voice for you. As artists, we realize the importance of producing work that is authentic and unapologetic and plan to persist in that ideal. As always, thank you for supporting Vital Narrative.