Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Top 10+ Books Read in 2016


This was a year of marathons of reading. A few books I read for pleasure, but most as research for my book in-progress on Far West Texas. May you find the works listed here as remarkable and illuminating as I did. 2016 has been a blessed year in the reading department.

By Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey J. Kripal
A flying ax of apocalypse.
> Read my review of this book for Literal magazine.

2. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West 

By Rebecca Solnit
I grew up walking distance from the Stanford University campus, heart of what is now known as Silicon Valley, so for me this was especially compelling history. But for anyone interested in technology and cultural change the beautifully written and deeply researched River of Shadows is a must read. 

3. The Comanche Empire

By Pekka Hämäläinen
A brilliantly argued and supremely important contribution to the history of North America. This book made me rethink everything I thought I knew about US-Mexico history.
> Read my review of this book here.
> This title also appears on my post, "Reading Mexico".

4. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West
By Patricia Nelson Limerick
Magnificently masterful. What a treasure of a book.

5. The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity

By Jill Lepore
Few Americans know anything about this long-ago conflict between the colonists of New English and indigenous peoples that was nonetheless foundational to modern American culture. I found this work fascinating and, for its verve and elegance, a great pleasure to read.



6. Tie: 

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces 
That Will Shape Our Future
By Kevin Kelly 

and


What Technology Wants

By Kevin Kelly
Humanity has arrived at lynchpin of a moment with technology; Kevin Kelly's books explain the whys and wherefores and what to expect. Vitally perceptive and original as these two books are, I am not so optimistic as to assume, as Kelly apparently does, that we will always and everywhere be able to plug into a well-functioning electric grid. We shall see. It is a strange moment in the US and in the world. That said, Kelly's books are tremendous contributions towards grokking this wild, ravenous thing he dubs "the technium." My mind is still doing pretzels.

7. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

By S.C. Gwynne
A real life epic tragedy, and a crucial story for everyone with any interest in North America. An engrossing read, too, by the way.

8. Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place

By Shelley Armitage
This wistful, knowledgable, and lyric memoir may be one of the best books ever to come out of the Texas Panhandle. 
> Read my Q & A with Shelley Armitage for this blog.



9. Tie:

Salt Warriors: Insurgency on the Rio Grande
By Paul Cool
This meticulously researched and expertly told history of the El Paso Salt War of 1877 is essential reading for anyone interested in US-Mexico and Texas history, and indeed, anyone interested in US history per se.
> Read my Q & A with the author for this blog.

De León: A Tejano Family History
By Carolina Castillo Crimm
We often hear about the Tejanos (Mexican Texans or, as you please, Texan Mexicans) in Mexican and Texas history, but who were they? Crimm's De León provides an at once scholarly and intimate glimpse of one of the first and most influential Tejano families though several generations. 
> Read my Q & A with Carolina Castillo Crimm for this blog.


10. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: The Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest
By David Roberts
> This title also appears on my post, "Reading Mexico."

> Archive of all book reviews

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.













Monday, December 05, 2016

Willard Spiegelman's SENIOR MOMENTS, Guilt Management, and the Magic Wand of an Email

[[ SENIOR MOMENTS ]]
Straight to the meat, two slices worth:

(1) 
Willard Spiegelman's improbably titled Senior Moments is a delicious read. Viva!

(2) 
Ye olde email, and of course I mean non-spammy email, can serve a book splendidly. Double viva!



GUILT MANAGEMENT

There is a reason a literary magazine marketing expert, whose name now escapes me, dubbed her workshop for litmags "Guilt Management 101." 


Because I founded and used to edit a literary magazine and chapbook press, I used to worry about and overthink and feel guilty about all the woulda coulda shouldas of marketing. And although I no longer edit anyone other than myself, because I write books, I still worry about and overthink and feel guilty about all the woulda coulda shouldas of marketing. (W
hy didn't I write an article for the Washingtonian? Why I didn't I send an op-ed to the New York Times? Why didn't I enter my book in that contest?! etc.) To one degree or another the same could probably be said by every living writer I know. 

(Re: Focus on book PR, see, for example, novelist Leslie Pietrzyk's resource-rich blog post about her recent Associated Writing Programs conference panel "Should I Know Who You Are? Book PR for the Modern Age." So near-universal is this concern among writers that I have yet to see the schedule of a writers conference that does not include at least one panel and/or break-out session on book PR / marketing.)


SOCIAL MEDIA, MEH.


Back in 2009, when my novel came out, I appreciated working with Unbridled Books' crackerjack marketing staff. I had already published several books, so I knew the drill,
the ever-expanding list of an author's "to dos" for a book launch; thus it was with a sense of duty mixed with relish for adventure that I took up the then-shiny new tools of Facebook and Twitter, aka "social media."

I like to think that my publisher appreciated my little flurries of status updates and tweets-- I'm reading here; I'm signing there; So-and-So reviewed it on her blog. But what a bore! What an unholy bore of a chore! Surely I would be better at starting up a dog grooming business. Or maybe selling vegetable powders. I am not kidding. (Dear Dr. Cowan, I totally heart your vegetable powders.) I mean no disrespect to marketers or anyone else. Marketing can be a noble profession, and if you don't believe me, just follow Seth Godin's blog for a few days. What I mean to say is, I am not cut out for marketing, and that's OK. Neither am I meant to be a nurse or an architect or a candidate for Sheriff in Brewster County, Texas! 
Last I checked, I am, as are we all, living one lifetime at a time. 

And writing books, never mind any attempt to market them, consumes a whopper of a chunk of time.

So I have been reconsidering the utility, for me, of social media. I still post on Twitter on occasion, but because I found it such a distraction, I deactivated my Facebook account-- that was over a year ago, and I breathe a shoulder-melting sigh of relief about it every day. 


(Note to Mr. Quibble: Don't count this blog as social media because I do not publish comments. Nonetheless, dear reader, and that includes you, Mr. Q., your comments are always welcome via email.)

All that said, most of the writers I know-- and to be sure, publishers' marketing staffs and freelance publicists-- remain enthusiastic about social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, and LinkedIn, among many others. Although I've taken said steps back from the social media arena, I remain intensely curious about how and why and optimizing the ways we communicate with one another in this digital age. 
And, dagnabbit, it is important-- an integral part of the arc of writerly action, as I think of it-- to help give one's book the chance to find its readers-- to do, ayyyyiyi, some marketing. 

As I often say to my workshop students who seem terror-struck at the idea of "self-promotion," book promotion is not self-promotion, it's book promotion. Guys, would you open a donut shop, but stash the sign in the back of the mop closet?

Well then, if not via social media, and given that there are not yet 25 hours in a day, how best to communicate to readers that one has a book out?



RECONSIDERING YE OLDE EMAIL


A pox on spam. I'm not talking about spam. 

What prompts this post is that the other day I received an email from Willard Spiegelman, which I thought both elegant and effective because, although I don't know him well (years ago, as editor of Southwest Review, he published a couple of my works, and I vaguely recall a brief conversation at a Texas Book Festival-- in other words, I was happy to hear his news, but felt no personal obligation to buy his book), and I already have books piling up to dangerously teetery heights, as in open-the-window-and-they-will-thunder-down-and-crush-to-death-any-and-all-squirrels-cats-dogs-stray pumpkins-miniature-donkeys... and I am definitively not a reader who would incline my attention towards a title such as (oyyyy) Senior Moments, Spiegelman's email prompted me to actually buy his book. 


Or, I should say, download the Kindle. I'm already onto chapter four and relishing it.

My! That was some mighty effective book marketing on his part! 


See for yourself. With Willard Spiegelman's kind permission I hereby reprint his magic-wand of an email:

Dear Friends, 
I'm sending this to you because I think you might be interested in, and amused by, my new book, just out -- one month ago -- from Farrar Straus Giroux in NYC. Because we authors are now more or less required to act as supplementary, if not primary, publicity engines for our work, and since I do not have a Facebook or Twitter account, or a blog, or a homepage, I thought an email might be just as good. 
Some of you enjoyed Seven Pleasures. Well, just in time for the holiday season, perfect for everyone on your gift list, comes its sequel. Not Seven Sins, or Seven Pains, but Senior Moments: Looking Back, Looking Ahead. Like its predecessor, the book consists of eight discrete essays that can be read individually but that, taken as a whole, constitute something of a memoir.
I did not intend to write a memoir. Nor did I intend to grow old. But apparently I have done both. The book, I hope, will be good reading for many people, not just those with wrinkled hands and dimming vision. Five weeks ago I had an op-ed piece (my first) in the NYT. The subject: why Manhattan is the best retirement community for a senior citizen. As a result of my fifteen minutes of fame, my Amazon ranking shot, for the better part of week, to #1. In the category of "Gerontology." We take our praise wherever we can.
Below I have copied some blurbs and critical praise that are on the Amazon website. 
Please feel encouraged to buy in bulk, to write glowing reviews, to spread the word, and to keep in touch with
Yours Truly,
Grateful Willard


Editorial Reviews
"Willard Spiegelman’s Senior Moments is a work of deep seriousness and profundity delivered with lightness, moral poise, and a warm, witty, conversational humility. It is dulce et utile both―a balm to the reader thinking (or trying to think) about aging and mortality; and a practical guide to some of the surprising, hardy-perennial pleasures that can unexpectedly survive and deepen, even as one’s hours, days, months, years, dwindle. Spiegelman is cherishable in the same friendly, yet paradoxical, way Montaigne is―robustly sad, joyfully unillusioned, and yet alive to life in a manner that both consoles and delights." ―Terry Castle, author of The Professor: A Sentimental Education
"With Senior Moments, Willard Spiegelman gives us one of the most poignant and amusing accounts of what it's really like to go through that rite of passage that is the twelfth grade. From choosing a college, to finals, to the prom, he . . . wait. What? It's not that? Oh. Um, can I get back to you?" ―Chip Kidd
"Aging is our universal condition: the only question is whether we approach our seniority kicking and screaming or proceed with some degree of style and, let us hope, capacity for happiness. Spiegelman's wise, witty, spirited essays show how we might work our way over to the style-and-happiness route, and are as good a guide for living well―at any age―as any other that I know.” ―Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
"They say we are living in a golden age of the personal essay, and it's true . . . Walk with Willard through New York, Tokyo, Dallas, his personal library, museums―walk with Willard through life.” ―Mark Oppenheimer, author of Knocking on Heaven's Door
“Spiegelman makes a reliable ambassador for the changes that advancing years bring, animated by gratitude and warmly ready for further inquiry: he might be giving, and making more achievable, Pope’s famous advice: “Keep good humor still, whate’er we lose.” ―Stephen Burt, author of The Art of the Sonnet
“Willard Spiegelman is a wise old soul.” ―Raymond Sokolov, author of Why We Eat What We Eat
“A book so vivid and personable that one has the impression of sitting across a dinner table from its author. He talks to us in a tone at once convivial and elegiac as he addresses some of life's biggest questions: What makes us happy? How can we make the best use of our brief lifetimes? To tackle these, Spiegelman brings to bear his vast erudition, humane intelligence, wit, and personal candor. The result is a beautiful and wise book about making daily life a meaningful pleasure.” ―Rhonda Garelick, author of Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History
Senior Moments takes us on a learned, witty meander from “Talk” to “Quiet,” passing through Dallas, Japan, New York City, books, and art along the way. He treads so lightly, it takes a while to notice that this is a guidebook to aging and preparation–with grace and sweetness–for the final silence.” ―Rosanna Warren, author of Ghost in a Red Hat: Poems

"Willard Spiegelman writes essays like Ferran Adria approached “molecular” gastronomy, with conscious, understated artistry." ―Bill Thompson, The Charleston Post and Courier
“He's an agreeable, wise and witty companion -- edifying, fun and fearless as he proffers lessons in happiness and aging learned during his long, distinguished career.”- The Dallas Morning News
“Mr. Spiegelman adopts the discursive, finely crafted voice of a literature professor, revealing a penchant for aphorism and allusion.” -Wall Street Journal
“[Willard Spiegelman is] a master of form . . . connecting the personal to the universal.” "[Senior Moments is] a sophisticated and fun read . . . a comfort, and a joy, to learn that someone with a sharp wit and even sharper mind has considered the questions, blazed a trail, and created a thoughtful record of the journey.” -Ocala Star Banner
“[L]ucid and propulsive, opening portals to heightened enjoyment of the time we have.” - Kirkus Reviews
“Spiegelman writes with a casual, engaging style and frequently punctuates his paragraphs with references to literature that crystallize his ideas. Readers will find this volume rich with relatable insights.” - Publishers Weekly
“Readers of a similar age will savor his delight in language and life as he ponders the past and peers into the future.” - Booklist
“[Spiegelman] takes himself lightly and brings fresh energy to an appreciation of many subjects. . . with conversational whimsy and genuine gratitude for the people, places, ideas, and memories they inspire. . . The author draws on an equal blend of critical rigor and love for his themes." - Library Journal
About the Author
Willard Spiegelman is the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. From 1984 until 2016, he was also the editor in chief of Southwest Review. He has written many books and essays about English and American poetry. For more than a quarter century he has been a regular contributor to the Leisure & Arts pages of The Wall Street Journal.


# # #


VOILA, THE SUPER SIMPLE & SUPER EFFECTIVE 6-POINT FORMULA

So here, with Willard Spiegelman's email, we have a six point formula for a one-time announcement: 
1. Friendly greeting to people who have at some point given you their email;
2. Brief and charming introduction to the book;
3. Request for action (please buy it!); 
4. Thanks and regards;
5. Batch of blurbs (including a silly one, note that one from Chip Kidd);
6. Nano-bio. 

Good wishes to you, dear Willard. And good wishes to you also, dear reader-- I know that many of you are writers with books in search of readers. May your books easily, quickly, and felicitously find those who would appreciate them. 

And above all, dear reader, may any unwarranted guilt you have been suffering from your book marketing woulda coulda shouldas go like a cartoon unicorn over the rainbow: Poof. 

More about ye olde email anon.









Monday, November 28, 2016

Consider the Typewriter (Am I kidding? No, I am not kidding)

Perhaps, dear reader, you have heard of Freedom, the app that blocks the Internet so you can focus on your writing (or whatever offline task). It is not cheap; prices have gone up more than a smidge (ayyyy!) since I purchased it some years ago for a mere USD 10. Nope, I don't use it. End of review.

Of course, a more economical alternative for those who work at home would be to simply switch off the wi-fi signal. 

But never mind, there you are, glued to your computer, same screen, same keyboard, same desk, same chair, and whether you're using the Freedom app or you've turned off the wi-fi signal, either can be reversed (that is, the Freedom app turned off, or the wi-fi switched back on) in a matter of the slight inconvenience of a moment. Staying off-line when you're working on a computer is akin to trying to diet with an open box of chocolates within reach! As they say, Don't think about the pink elephant. Or, elephant-shaped chocolates with a cherry in the middle! Or, for a more au courant Internetesque analogy, Don't think about cats! And certainly not cats wearing hats!


YE OLDE NONELECTRIC TYPEWRITER 

Yet another strategy for diminishing the pull of the Internet, at least for some writers some of the time, would be to get up from the computer, aka the distraction machine, and hie thee over to ye olde typewriter.

My typewriter went to Goodwill years ago. But now, with a book to complete, I am seriously considering going back to using a typewriter. I am old enough to remember typing up my papers for school and college, that satisfying clackety-clack and the little ding at the end of the right margin... The calm. The focus.

Speaking of analogerie, I am also, as those of you who follow this blog well know, massively, as in an-entire-parade-ground-filled-with-dancing-pink-elephants-and-cats-in-hats-all- under-a-rain-of-chocolates, massively, relieved to have deactivated my Facebook account. That was back in August of 2015. Yes indeed, having eliminated that particular bungee-pull to the Internet, I have gotten a lot more writing done, and I am answering my email in a more consistently timely manner. 

So, typewriters. I spent an afternoon of the Thanksgiving weekend doing some Internet research. Herewith:

Five Reasons to Still Use a Typewriter 
By Gerry Holt, BBC News Magazine

The Hidden World of the Typewriter
By James Joiner, The Atlantic

The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist's Companion for the 21st Century
By Richard Polt
A superb reference written by a professor of philosophy.
His blog is The Typewriter Revolution





WHERE TO FIND A GOOD OLD (AND MAYBE REALLY OLD) NONELECTRIC TYPEWRITER

Why nonelectric? It might be nice to type in the tipi! But also, it seems that some of the best workhorse typewriters are nonelectrics made back in the mid-20th century. The only nonelectric typewriters currently being manufactured are from China and although cheap, they're crap, so if a nonelectric typewriter is what you want, think vintage. 

For a rundown on vintage brands and models, both nonelectric and electric, Polt's The Typewriter Revolution is an excellent resource. On his website Polt also maintains a list of typewriter repair shops.

You could start combing through the cheapie listings on EBay and Goodwill, and if you have the time and can stand the skanky vibes, peruse the stalls in your local flea market. You might even grab a typewriter for free-- perhaps the one gathering cobwebs in your parents' garage... 

But it seems to me that, if you want to start typing ASAP on a good vintage machine, the best strategy would be to shell out the clams to a dealer who specializes in refurbishing or "reconditioning" quality typewriters, and who offers his or her customers a guarantee. I should think you would also want to confirm that it will be possible to source ribbons. 
UPDATE:
Behold! 
My 1961 Hermes 3000 Pica
from Typewriter Techs

A few US dealers who look like promising possibilities:


Olivers By Bee
Oliver Typewriters Manufactured from 1890-1930s
An Etsy shop for antique typewriters.

Los Altos Business Machines Online Shop
Based in Los Altos CA.

Mahogany Rhino
Another Etsy shop.

Typewriter Techs
Based in Riverside IL.


TYPEWRITER-RELATED SHOPS

Typewriter Decal Shop
Another Etsy shop.

Typewriter Pads for Sale 
(via Polt's The Typewriter Revolution blog)


AND FOR TYPEWRITER ENTHUSIASTS

The Typewriter
ETCetera online
Home of the Early Typewriter Collectors' Association

The Typewriter: A Graphic History of the Beloved Machine
By Janine Vangool
> Check out the trailer for the book-- an outstanding book trailer, by the way.

The Virtual Typewriter Museum




Monday, November 21, 2016

Reading Mexico: Recommendations for a Book Club of Extra-Curious & Adventurous English-Language Readers

[[ Just a few selections from the chocolate box
of English language books on Mexico ]]
In recent days, I am delighted to report, more than one American has asked me for a list of recommended reading on Mexico for their book clubs. Before I present my correspondents, and you, dear reader, with my list, herewith a big fat flashing neon-lime caveat:
This list is unlikely to coincide with most English language writers' and readers' ideas of what might be most appropriate. Nope, no Graham Greene. No D.H. Lawrence, no Malcolm Lowry, nor John Steinbeck. Most of the usual suspects have gone missing from my list. I packed the bunch of them off, as it were, to Puerto Vallarta for margaritas (a drink invented by a Texan, by the way) and a purgatory of reading juicy crime-novels. About crime novels, I am not your go-to gal.
[[ MEXICO:  
A TRAVELER'S LITERARY COMPANION
24 Mexican writers on Mexico,
many in English translation for the first time. ]]
For those of you new to this blog, let me introduce myself. I am a US citizen who has been living in Mexico City on and off for over three decades, and not in an expat community, but as a part of a Mexican family. Over these many years I have written several books about Mexico, most recently, the novel based on the true story of Mexico's Second Empire, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, and Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. I have also translated a long list of Mexican writers and poets, and am the editor of an anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, which is not a guidebook but a selection of 24 Mexican writers on Mexico, many in translation for the first time. All of which is say that although I have not read each and every last thing ever published on Mexico (a feat for a bot!) I am very familiar with both the Spanish and the English language literature on Mexico, fiction and nonfiction. 


TWO CHALLENGES: SAD! VERY SAD!

But to make a list of recommendations for an English-language book club there are challenges. First, a number of Mexican works have been translated into English, but this amounts to only a tiny percentage of what has been published in Mexico over the centuries. To quote DJT completely out of context, "Sad!"


Second, also sadly, many of the best-known and easily available originally-in-English works on Mexico strike me as superb examples of a south-of-the-border species of what Edward W. Said termed "orientalism." Translation: toe-curling. Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez, to take but one example, while a deserved classic for its lyric beauty (count me a fan), will tell you little about Mexico, never mind the Baja California peninsula that stretches for nearly a thousand miles along the Sea of Cortez; much of what Steinbeck says about it is either flat wrong or rendered through a filter of commonplace prejudice and presumption.


Much of the best of contemporary English language literature on Mexico covers the border, mainly focusing on illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violence. There are several excellent works under that voluminous tent, but I'd like to get to those last. I submit that for a deeper sense of Mexico, one has to dig past the sorts of stories one can easily encounter in the mainstream news, television, and cinema, to go both deeper into the country and deeper into its past.


For a deeper sense of Mexico, one has to dig past the sorts of stories one can easily encounter in the mainstream news, television, and cinema, to go both deeper into the country and deeper into its past. 
Nope, that sad little shelf in the back room of your local big box bookstore is not the place to look. Unfortunately, and head-scratchinglyfor the United States shares a nearly 2,000 mile border with Mexico, and all the cultural, economic, ecological, historical, and political intertwinings that would suggest the selection of such works in English, enticing a "box of chocolates" as it may be, is limited. Moreover, whether because of their scarcity, high prices, length, and/or academic prose-style replete with reams of footnotes, few English language works on Mexico lend themselves to a felicitous selection for a book club.

A NOTE ON (MORE THAN) A FEW TITLES NOT ON MY LIST FOR BOOK CLUBS


[[ Numerous Mexican fabulosities, including
Rich & Famous,  are not on my list ]]
Historian John Tutino's Making a New World, for example, is a scholarly doorstopper of a tome, so I wouldn't recommend it for a book club; however, I do believe it is one of the most important books yet published about Mexico. Read my review of Tutino's Making a New World here and listen in anytime to my extra crunchy podcast interview with Tutino here.

Seriously, if you want to start getting an idea of Mexico beyond the clichés, stop reading this right now and listen to what Tutino has to say.

RESUME HERE

Also, I would recommend the magnificent The Mexican Treasury: The Writings of Dr. Francisco Hernández, edited by Simon Varey, but (sigh), Stanford University Press has priced it at USD 72 a copy. You might ask your university or local public library to order a copy, if they do not already have one. 

Another wonder not on my list for book clubs but do have a look at the digital edition free online is Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagún's Historia general de las cosas de Nueva Españaor General History of the Things of New Spain. The original 16th century manuscript, which contains 2,468 colorful illustrations and text in both Spanish and Nahuatl (the language spoken by the Aztecs phonetically transcribed using Latin), is also known as the Florentine Codex because it is in the Medicea Laurencziana Library in Florence, Italy. 

Then there is Daniela Rossell's hilariously outré take on Mexico City's, as the title says, Rich and Famous, but at over USD 100 for a used paperback copy, that title did not make it to my list, either. (But if you and your book club have wheelbarrows of cash to spare for no better purpose than to rain down upon amazon.com for some dozen copies of Rich and Famous, well, pourquoi pas? Read it while eating your cake, too!)


My list, therefore, focuses on works in a variety of genres, from biography to history to poetry, that are not only illuminating but could be enjoyable reading for avid and thoughtful readers, and lend themselves to a spirited book club discussion. And, crucially for most book clubs, these are titles currently available at more-or-less-reasonable prices from major online booksellers and/or, as in the few instances when a work has lapsed into the public domain, as free downloads from www.archive.org. 


Toss a tomato if you like, but I also recommend my own works, else I would not have troubled to write them.

> For those looking for more complete and scholarly lists of recommended reading on Mexico, as well as several more fine anthologies, click here.




PREHISPANIC, CONQUEST, COLONY
(IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY AUTHOR)

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate
A scrumptuously sweeping history of Mexico's most delicious bean by a noted food historian and anthropologist. This one should be an especially popular pick for any book club.

Díaz, Bernal. The True History of the Conquest of New Spain

One of the greatest books every written about one of the greatest adventures of all time. And that is no exaggeration.
> Also available on archive.org

León-Portilla, Miguel, and Earl Shorris. In the Language of Kings: An Anthology of Mesoamerican Literature, Pre-Columbian to the Present
León-Portilla is one of Mexico's leading historians and intellectuals and this collection, the first to offer a comprehensive overview of this literature, is magnificent. 

Paz, Octavio. Sor Juana or, The Traps of Faith

Translated by the exceptional Margaret Sayers Peden. Catalog copy: "Mexico's leading poet, essayist, and cultural critic writes of a Mexican poet of another time and another world, the world of seventeenth-century New Spain. His subject is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the most striking figure in all of Spanish-American colonial literature and one of the great poets of her age."

Roberts, David. The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spanish Out of the Southwest
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 took place in what was then the Kingdom of New Mexico and is now within the United States; nevertheless, this is an crucial episode for understanding the history of the North American continent, including, of course, Mexico. 

NINETEENTH CENTURY 
(IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY AUTHOR)


Calderón de la Barca, Madame (Frances Erskine Inglis). Life in Mexico
This delightfully vivid memoir of 1842 by the Scottish-born wife of Spain's first ambassador to Mexico should go at the top of the list for any Mexicophile. 
> Also available on archive.org
Read my review for Tin House

Fowler, Will. Santa Anna of Mexico
A new and revisionist history of that tremendous and mercurial personality who dominated the first half of 19th century Mexico, the "Napoleon of the West."

Hämäläinen, Pekka. The Comanche Empire

A mite heavy-going for a book club, but essential for understanding the historical relationship between the U.S. and Mexico and the US-Mexican War. 
Read my review of this book.
> For a less rigorous but more entertaining and elegantly-written work on the Comanches, see S.C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon.

Hogan, Michael. Abraham Lincoln and Mexico: A History of Courage, Intrigue, and Unlikely Friendships

In this shining contribution to the literature on Abraham Lincoln and that of the US-Mexican War, Michael Hogan illuminates the stance of a young politician against that terrible war, telling a story that is both urgently necessary and well more than a century overdue.

Magoffin, Susan Shelby. Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico
Now considered a classic of mid-19th century Americana, as a work of literature, this book has its limits and faults, for it was written as a private diary by a Missouri trader's bride who was only 19 years old. I warmly recommend it for US book clubs because it is easy to find an inexpensive copy, and if it has faults, it also has many charms; and moreover, it provides an unforgettable glimpse of historical context for US-Mexico trade. Y'all, US-Mexico trade did not start with NAFTA. 
See my blog post of notes about this book.

Mayo, C.M. The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire
A novel based on extensive archival research into the strange but true story of the half-American grandson of Agustin de Iturbide, Agustin de Iturbide y Green, in the court of Maximilian von Habsburg. A Library Journal Best Book of 2009.
Visit this book's website for excerpts, reviews, photos and more
> Related: From Mexico to Miramar or, Across the Lake of Oblivion
A nonfiction novela about a fairytale: a visit to the Emperor of Mexico's Italian castle. An award-winning long-form essay now available in Kindle.

McAllen, M.M. Maximilian and Carlota: Europe's Last Empire in Mexico

A deeply researched book about a period of Mexican history that, while vital for understanding modern Mexico and its relations with the United States and Europe, is of perhaps unparalleled cultural, political, and military complexity for such a short period.
Listen in anytime to my extra-extra crunchy conversation with M.M.McAllen about her splendid book, the first new major narrative history of this period in English in nearly forty years.

> Click here for many more recommended titles on the Second Mexican Empire / French Intervention of the 1860s.




LATE 19th CENTURY, REVOLUTION, EARLY 20th CENTURY
(IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY AUTHOR)

More recommended books on the Mexican Revolution

Azuela, Mariano. The Underdogs: A Novel of the Revolution
This is the first and classic Mexican novel of the Revolution, translated by Sergio Waisman and with a foreword by Carlos Fuentes. The original title in Spanish is Los de abajo. Not everyone's slug of mescal, but a century on, it remains a cult fave, especially around the border.


Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies
The charming novel that was made into a major motion picture. 

Mayo, C.M. Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual

Knocks the huaraches off most people's understanding of the 1910 Revolution, and its leader, Francisco I. Madero, who was elected President of Mexico in 1911 and served until his assassination in the coup d'etat of 1913. Someone described Metaphysical Odyssey as The Underdogs turned upside down, inside out, and with a cherry orchard on top. Anyway, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution is nonfiction and it includes the first and complete translation of Madero's Spiritist Manual of 1911. 
> Visit this book's website for excerpts, reviews, interviews, podcasts, and more.

Reed, Alma. Peregrina: Love and Death in Mexico

Edited by Michael K. Schuessler with a foreword by Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska, who knew Alma Reed back in the 1960s. Reed was a journalist from San Francisco who came to Yucatan on assignment and ended up engaged to marry the governor, Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Just before the wedding Carrillo Puerto was assassinated.
> Listen in to my podcast interview with Michael K. Schuessler. 

Tenorio-Trillo, Mauricio, I Speak of the City: Mexico City at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
A leading scholar of Mexico takes on Mexico City from 1880 to 1940 in this beautifully written work. If you have ever visited or ever plan to visit Mexico City, this rich-as-truffle read is a must.

Traven, B. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Although it seems he may have been born in Germany, one must count the mysterious B. Traven, who escaped a death sentence in Germany in the 1920s, as a Mexican writer. Little is known about his early life. According to his Mexican stepdaughter, the "B." stands not for Bruno as some biographers have asserted, but for "Plan B." Mexico City's Museo de Arte Moderno recently closed its B. Traven show which featured clips from the movie "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, as well as clips from several other major movies inspired by Traven's novels, and displays of his papers, photographs, guns, and typewriters. 

Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Hummingbird's Daughter
The novel based on the true story of his great aunt, the folk saint and mediumnistic healer Teresita Urrea, la Santa de Cabora (Cabora is in Chihuahua). 



MID TO LATE TWENTIETH CENTURY
(IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY AUTHOR)

Biggers, Jeff. In the Sierra Madre
Adventure writing at its finest.

Fuentes, Carlos. The Death of Artemio Cruz
New translation by Alfred MacAdam. The famous novel by the famous author. Muy macho. Dark. Bitter. Ayyy a real jaw-cruncher.  

Herrera, Heyden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo
The best introduction to Mexico's most famous and uniquely flamboyant artist of the 20th century.

Hickman, Katie. A Trip to the Light Fantastic: Travels with a Mexican Circus

A spellbinding memoir by a noted British writer. 

Isaac, Claudio. Midday with Buñuel: Memories and Sketches, 1973 - 1983
Mexican filmmaker Claudio Isaac's very personal and poetic recollection of his friendship with his mentor, the Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel, a major influence on Mexican (and world) cinema, who died in Mexico City in 1983. I do not have the original Spanish for a comparison, but the English is so vivid and smoothly elegant, I am sure that Brian T. Scoular's must be a superb translation. 

Mastretta, Angeles. Women with Big Eyes
Short stories about "aunts" translated by Amy Schildhouse Greenberg. A best-seller in Mexico and widely read in Spanish in the United States as well. (A story from this book is in my anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion.)

Mayo, C.M. Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico

LA Times: "A luminous exploration of Baja California, from its southern tip at Los Cabos to its 'lost city' of Tijuana.... a work of nonfiction that elides into modern myth." 
Visit this book's website for excerpts, photos, podcasts, and more
More recommended reading on Baja California, including titles by Bruce Berger, Harry Crosby, and Graham Mackintosh.

Mayo, C.M., ed. Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion

A portrait of Mexico in the work of 24 contemporary Mexican writers, many translated for the first time. Among them: Agustín Cadena, Rosario Castellanos, Fernando Del Paso, Ricardo Elizondo Elizondo, Laura Esquivel, Carlos Fuentes, Mónica Lavín, Angeles Mastretta, Carlos Monsiváis, Juan Villoro.
> Visit this book's website for excerpts podcasts and more.
> NPR interview about this book.

Monsiváis, Carlos. Mexican Postcards
Edited, Introduced and Translated by John Kraniauskas. A collection of essays by Mexico City's most beloved social commentator. (His essay "Identity Hour or, What Photos Would You Take of the Endless City?" 
is included in my anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion.)


Novo, Salvador. Pillar of Salt: An Autobiography, with 19 Erotic Sonnets

Introduced by Carlos Monsiváis; Translated by Marguerite Feitlowitz. The memoir of a major and controversial figure in 20th century Mexican letters. Never a dull moment with Sr. Novo.

Poniatowska, Elena. The Skin of the Sky.
Poniatowska is one of Mexico's most respected journalists and literary writers. Her better-known works include Massacre in Mexico, and Here's to You, Jesusa. For a book club seeking a fresh and unexpected look at Mexico, however, I would recommend first reading The Skin of the Sky.

Rulfo, Juan. Pedro Paramo
The surrealist novel of the 1950s now translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. 

Schuessler, Michael K. Elena Poniatowska: An Intimate Biography
Listen in to my interview with Michael K. Schuessler.


Tree, Isabella. Sliced Iguana: Travels in Mexico
One of my favorites for armchair traveling. Crisp, observant, original.
> Isabella Tree offers this guest-blog post on her five favorite books on Mexico. 


MEXICO POST-2000 & THE BORDER
(IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY AUTHOR)

Burton, Tony. Western Mexico: A Traveler's Treasury
A unique guidebook by an English geographer that is chock full of surprises, plus illustrations and many maps. Yes, I am recommending a guidebook for a book club; it is that special. 

Call, Wendy. No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy
A passionate look at Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a little known and yet culturally, economically, historically, and politically vital part of Mexico. Winner of the Grub Street National Book Prize for Nonfiction. 

Corchado, Alfredo. Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey through a Country's Descent into Darkness

Like the title says. 

Ferguson, Kathryn. The Haunting of the Mexican Border

Ferociously personal reporting on both sides of the border.

Lida, David. First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, the Capital of the 21st Century

A long-time resident of Mexico City and a prolific writer in both English and Spanish, Lida is one of the most knowledgable Americans writing about Mexico. 
>Visit Lida's blog

Quinones, Sam. Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic

Dreamland should be read—and more than once— by anyone who would make or attempt to influence policy on the drug trade, whether legal or illegal. Moreover, Dreamland should be read by every citizen who would visit a doctor. 
> Read my review of this book in Literal Magazine.

> See also his beyond-outstanding collections of essays on Mexico: True Tales from Another Mexico and Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream.


Toledo, Natalia. The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems
Translated from Zapotec, a major indigenous language in Mexico, by Clare Sullivan.

Urrea, Luis Alberto. Into the Beautiful North
You can't go wrong with Luis Alberto Urrea, pick any one or more of his titles.
Visit his website. 

> For those looking for more complete and scholarly lists of recommended reading on Mexico, as well as several more fine anthologies, click here.


> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.




PLUS! PLUS! PLUS! PLUS! PLUS!
FIVE BOOKS ON MEXICO THAT I HAVE NOT YET READ,
BUT IF I WERE IN A BOOK CLUB I WOULD VOTE TO READ THEM

Boullosa, Carmen. Texas: The Great Theft 
Translated by Samantha Schnee. Why I would vote to read this book: Boullosa is one of Mexico's best-known literary writers; Schnee is a respected literary translator, and the flip-side of the story of Texas is one Americans rarely if ever hear.

Gamboa, Federico. Santa
Translated and edited by John Charles Chasteen. Why I would vote to read this book: It was a racy best-seller of its day in Mexico and its author, Federico Gamboa, was a noted literary figure and politician.

Prieto, Carlos. Adventures of a Cello
It is a Stradivarius and Prieto is one of the best cellists in the world. From the catalog: "To make the story of his cello complete, Mr. Prieto also provides a brief history of violin making and a succinct review of cello music from Stradivari to the present. He highlights the work of composers from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, for whose music he has long been an advocate and principal performer."

Valenzuela-Zapata, Ana G. and Gary Paul Nabhan. Tequila: A Natural and Cultural History
From the catalog: "Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata, the leading agronomist in Mexico's tequila industry, and Gary Paul Nabhan, one of America's most respected ethnobotanists, plumb the myth of tequila as they introduce the natural history, economics, and cultural significance of the plants cultivated for its production."

Wulf, Andrea. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World
German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt wrote about his research and explorations in Mexico; it would be difficult to overestimate his influence on how Mexican scientists saw their own country, and how Europeans saw Mexico in the 19th century. Friends have raved about Wulf's book, so it would get my vote for a read. 

+ + + + + + + 

> For those looking for more complete and scholarly lists of recommended reading on Mexico, as well as several more fine anthologies, click here.


> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.