Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Best September Was Latin Literature Month

With hours to spare, I can announce that Latin Literature Month was a complete success--meaning that I read the four books I meant to read this month of September, and that also earlier (like, at the beginning of the month) I decided that September would be my Latin Literature Month. (If what Latin Literature Month means requires some explaining to you, let me explain that in Latin Literature Month I would read books [some of which could be called literature] at least slightly Latin(o) in their authorship or subject matter or history or whatever).

Behold, the books that I read:

Death and the Idea of Mexico by Claudio Lomnitz

Part of my reading playlist for 2008 (which I've been chipping away at pretty well), I got this book for Christmas 2006, read a bit of it around then, the let it sit on my shelf until September 1 of this year. It's a rather academic (as it should be) scholarly study of the history of Mexico and the relationship of said history and nation with Death. It's hard to describe this book beyond that. Probably the most interesting parts for me were the descriptions of the horrible treatment ("horrible treatment" here meaning "mass murdering of") of the Lamanites when the conquistadors arrived and anything regarding what's going on in modern Mexico, Mexico City particularly, because, as you know and as I tell you as often as I can, I still sure like Mexico City a whole lot and can't resist things that have to do with it.

Mexican High by Liza Monroy

And speaking of not being able to resist things that have to do with Mexico City, I give you "Mexican High." Man. Where to start. I saw this book at a bookstore but bought it real cheap off the internet because I couldn't resist (there I go again) its premise...an inspired by real-life experiences fictional tale of a girl transferring to one of Mexico City's most exclusive and expensive private schools for privileged kids and all the terrible things those kids get up to--basically Gossip Girl set in Mexico City, I suppose. I did not expect this book to be any good but was pretty surprised by how lousy it actually was. Like, terrible. This is what they're calling books these days? And it was a hardback with quotes from respectable-ish people and a serious looking photo of the author...like this was supposed to be a literary debut, not something barely readable, even for a beach. But I don't blame Monroy, I feel her editor is totally to blame. I'll try to keep my criticisms short as it wouldn't be fair to honor this book with significantly more postspace than Don Quixote, but first, let us consider the voice of the narrator: Kudos, I suppose, to Monroy if she was trying to write in the voice of a self-important, terribly unlikeable, and immensely stupid teenager. However...if the weakness of the narrator's ability to tell this tale was not, uhm, Monroy's intent then, oh dear. Well, oh dear no matter what, really. Next, and this is what kept me from not being able to be mad at the book constantly (meaning that I was mad at this book constantly) was that, for some reason, and I was not told this by the book for many pages, the tale is set in 1993. Ok. The book is in 1993. That must be the year that Monroy lived in Mexico City, so she's drawing from her experience and keeping it real. Ok. Well, if the book is in 1993, the editor maybe should have made sure that the book was NOT FULL OF THINGS THAT DID NOT EXIST IN 1993 or THAT PEOPLE DID KNOW ABOUT THINGS THAT HAD BEEN AROUND FOR YEARS BEFORE 1993. I remember watching the Wonder Years with my Uncle Frank when I was a kid and he was like "They didn't have malls in the 60's" and I was (in my brain) just like "Chill out and just enjoy the show, Uncle Frank." Well, I'm a grown up now and a stickler for what did or didn't exist in 1993. Play along with some specific examples, chime in if you have chimes:

1) Fall of 1993, the main character, a bit morose and alternative as it is, is "introduced" by a friend to a "new band" called Nirvana. Dude, fall of 1991 we were debating whether or not Nirvana had sold out in my freshman Intro to Art class.

2) Kids are driving around in Escalades and Mercedes SUVs. Come on.

3) The girls are showing off their Prada bags and the narrator (cuz she's a little edgy and different) thinks she'd rather have something by Marc Jacobs. Fashion people, tell me if there's any probability of this being so. The first time I remember Prada being praised by teenagers was in 10 Things I Hate About You, which came out in the Summer of 1999.

Also, aside from being fastidious in the indicating of which disco the kids were at every night, there seemed to be no sense of Mexico City in this whole book. I'm prettily easily charmed and made nostalgic by any reference to that city, this book may as well have been set in Buenos Aires.

However, on the plus side, the main character considered her first taste of tacos al pastor a total revelation, and that I can relate to and commend.

I definitely got what I deserved.

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

Also pulled from the 2008 Playlist, I bought this in 2006 or 2007 because both Dad and Andrew were reading it (here's a little tale of quality control: I just wrote that sentence, and then went over to my book to check the date of its printing, so that I could be sure that it was even possible that I bought it in 2006 [published in 2005, so I'm good], it's that easy, Monroy.) and loving it. I read about 70 pages of it, was quite entertained, but this translation is huge, so it was easy to put down for later. But the spirit of Latin Literature Month inspired me, along with my obligation to the 2008 Playlist, so I spent the last week heavily involved with this book.

The thing about Don Quixote is that it's real funny, and I'm always shocked when I encounter something that's several hundreds of years old AND funny, like I consider humor a recent invention. I only started underlining the parts I found especially brilliant 2/3rds of the way through and regret that I wasn't involved in highlighting the whole time. This book is as quoteworthy as any fine Will Farrell movie or especially sharp season of Saturday Night Live. The only possible complaint I could make is that there isn't really a plot to this book...as long as Cervantes can think of adventures for Quixote to have, it keeps going. It ends so suddenly you have to imagine Cervantes just figured he'd written enough. Still, what a classic, this book deserves a Peter Jacksonian trilogy to honor it right in the movie theaters, I'd hate to think of any incident, from feral cats lowered through the knight's window to the famous windmills, left out of an adaptation. I remember a 5 page (or so) comic-adaptation of it in one of my old Boys Life magazines, I wonder if it was any good.

The Mexico City Reader, edited by Rubén Gallo

Now THIS, this is some real Mexico City stuff. A collection of articles and essays about the DF from the DF, each paragraph of this book contains more proper Mexico City essence than a 1000 Mexican Highs. Touching on statues, the metro, maids, parks, tortas, artists, stuffed polar bears, street vendors, corruption, red tape, shopping malls, grand hotels never completed, the flight of wealth from the center of town, the history of major thoroughfares, crazed wealthy housewives, Chinese coffee shops, garbage collection, and so much more, this book both tickled my memory-bone and inspired a page in my notebook full figures or features of Mexico City that I wasn't familiar with and needed to google and flickr. And yes, the authors were writing about the most awesome and essay-worthy city and interesting city in the world, but still I was quite impressed by the quality of each essay...with the exception of maybe two (out of dozens), every piece was interesting and enlightening. And it wasn't all just me being entertained by the often backwards nature of the city, articles such as an first-person account of a woman trapped beneath the rubble of her apartment after the devastating quake of 1985 with her three year old son (alive) to her left and her husband (killed and on his way to rotting) to her left for 60 hours before being dug out by a nephew (and later getting her arm amputated) packed an emotional punch. The book honors the city from details tiny to monumental and begins to encapsulate an old home of mine that I'm still trying to make sense of after only living there for about 14 months eleven years ago. Anyway, if there's a city you like as much as I like Mexico City, I hope there's a collection comparable to this one for you to read.

But I give you a mystery: Why is this translation about 300 pages longer than any other one I've seen? What was everyone else missing?

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