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Literary stocking fillers with a Mexican flavor

December 4, 2012

While the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) runs through this weekend and provides many English-language purchasing options, more and more folks are downloading digital versions of books.

Over the past year or so, dozens of non-fictional books have been published exploring the diversity of Mexican society, culture, history and politics. From travel writing and food journalism to guides for expats settling south of the border, there is a wealth of new literature that would make an ideal stocking-filler this Christmas. All the books listed here are available in print or as e-books (from Amazon and other sites).  Some may be available (or ordered) from local bookstores, including the well-known Sandi Bookstore in Guadalajara (Av. Tepeyac 718, tel: 33-3121-0863).

 Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Isolated by the epic canyons of Mexico’s Barranca del Cobre, the Tarahumara Indians have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury. In a riveting narrative, award-winning journalist and often-injured runner Christopher McDougall sets out to discover their secrets. His journey takes readers from science labs at Harvard to the valleys and mountains of North America. The book climaxes in a race across the Copper Canyon between “ultra-runners” from the United States and the Tarahumara Indians.

 A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico

When U.S. President James K. Polk compelled a divided Congress to support his war with Mexico, it was the first time that the young American nation would engage another republic in battle. The U.S.-Mexican War featured false starts, atrocities, and daring back-channel negotiations as it divided the United States, paved the way for the Civil War a generation later, and launched the career of Abraham Lincoln. In this definitive history of the 1846 conflict, Amy S. Greenberg’s skilled storytelling and rigorous scholarship bring this American war for empire to life with memorable characters, plotlines, and legacies.

Mañana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans

In this shrewd and fascinating book, renowned Mexican scholar and former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda sheds much light on the puzzling paradoxes of his country. Castañeda examines the future possibilities for Mexico as it becomes more diverse in its regional identities, socially more homogenous, its character and culture the instruments of change rather than sources of stagnation, its political system more open and democratic.

Mexico: One Plate At A Time

In this companion book to his 26-part Public Television series, Rick Bayless takes readers through Mexican markets, street stalls and home kitchens to bring us the great dishes of Mexico’s thrillingly diverse cuisine, one plate at a time. Each plate Bayless presents is a Mexican classic given a contemporary tweak, like his roasted poblano guacamole with garlic and parsley. The book also features 24 color photographs of finished dishes.

On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel

“On Mexican Time” documents how Los Angeles novelist Tony Cohan and his artist wife, Masako, find a new home and a new lease on life among the leisurely cobblestone streets and sun-splashed plazas of San Miguel. Cohan’s evocatively written memoir recounts how he and his wife absorbed the town’s sensual ambiance, eventually find and refurbish a crumbling 250-year-old house, and become entwined in the endless drama of Mexican life.

For Greater Glory: The True Story of the Cristero War

The official companion book to the film of the same name, “For Greater Glory” tells the tale of Mexico’s struggle for religious freedom in the Cristero War of the 1920s. Lavishly illustrated with historical photos and stills from the movie, the book enables fans of the film to delve much deeper into the history behind the motion picture and gain important insight into the ongoing fight for religious freedom today.

Tequila Oil: Getting Lost in Mexico

In “Tequila Oil,” Hugh Thomson recounts his first wild adventure in Mexico at the age of 18, plus his return, 30 years later, to explore the country, its people and its history. From the badlands of Chihuahua to the jungles of the Yucatan, Thomson’s travels lead him to discover the kindness, hospitality, and mercy of the Mexican people, and eventually to understand the richness of the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures.

Street Food of Mexico

Hugo Ortega, an award-winning chef from Mexico City, takes readers on a journey across the country to enjoy the best of Mexico’s most humble and traditional cuisine: street food. From the tortas and tacos of the central highlands to the cocteles and ceviches of the coast, Ortega explores different regional specialities, shares the stories behind the dishes and provides recipes and instructions to make them accessible to cooks everywhere.

Mexico: What Everyone Needs to Know

Exploring themes such as security and violence, economic development, foreign relations, colonial heritage, and more, Roderic Ai Camp explains how and why Mexico has become what it is today. “What Everyone Needs to Know” tackles major questions such as: Why does Mexico have so much drug violence? What was the impact of the NAFTA? How democratic is Mexico? Who were Benito Juarez and Pancho Villa? What is the PRI?

Mexico: 40 Activities to Experience Mexico Past & Present

Aimed at kids aged nine to 12, this book encourages readers to learn about Mexican culture and history through firsthand experience. Among other activities, it teaches children to carve an ancient Olmec head, sing in a Mariachi band, build an Aztec pyramid; concoct Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls (then eat them!), construct a topo map alive with mountains, valleys, and volcanoes; and whip up an authentic meal of home-made tortillas, salsa verde, and Mexican hot chocolate. 

Mexico: Democracy Interrupted

In this vivid account of Mexico’s recent history, Joe Tuckman, a Mexico-based correspondent for British newspaper The Guardian, investigates the nation’s young democracy, its shortcomings and achievements, and why the PRI was always likely to retake the presidency this year. Reporting on the murky, terrifying world of Mexico’s drug wars, the counterproductive government strategy, and the impact of U.S. policies, Tuckman also describes the reluctance and inability of politicians to seriously tackle rampant corruption, environmental degradation, pervasive poverty, and acute inequality.

The Mango Orchard: The Extraordinary True Story of a Family Lost and Found

The extraordinary story of parallel journeys, 100 years apart, takes British author Robin Bayley across Latin America, through Guadalajara and much of Jalisco, to the town of Bellavista, Nayarit, where his great-grandfather once lived in pre-revolutionary Mexico. In search of family history and enchanted by his grandmother’s stories of bandits, wild jungle journeys, hidden bags of silver, Bayley sets off on an adventure that ends with him discovering much more than he had bargained for.

San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart

“A Place in the Heart” features interviews with 32 people who left the United States to settle in San Miguel for as little as 18 days or as long as 50 years. Author John Scherber provides an intimate glimpse into their fulfilling new lives, as the reborn expats talk candidly about why they came, the obstacles they encountered and the unexpected benefits, and ultimately how the experience changed their lives.

 Secret Mexico

Translated from Spanish, “Secret Mexico” takes readers back to World War I, detailing German strategies to involve Mexico in an armed conflict against the United States. Renowned Mexican lawyer, diplomat, novelist and journalist Francisco Martin Moreno uses valuable historical documents to imagine the inner dialogues of three powerful leaders on the brink of war. This 44-page book is available for free on Kindle via Amazon!

For a guide to drug-war related books, see my guide to narco-lit.

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