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List of Books: Central Mexico

November 15, 2011

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Last week, my mom and I took advantage of a great deal on airfare to book our tickets for a trip I’ve been planning for awhile now. Next year, we will be climbing one of the tallest pyramids in the world, boating through canals, trying to narrow down which of over one hundred and fifty museums we should visit, and strolling through narrow streets laid into a mountainside over five hundred years ago. The post title rather gives it away, but we’re going to Mexico City and Guanajuato! I couldn’t be more excited to be visiting a place steeped in history and culture, as well as a country known for its excellent street food. ;) Since we’re not leaving until late May, that leaves plenty of time for my other favourite pursuit: reading!

Mexico has an extensive, thriving literary scene and is also a popular topic for Americans to write about, so I’ve limited this list primarily to Mexico City and the central highlands (of which Guanajuato is a part) in a futile attempt to keep it shorter. Also, since I’m trying to avoid a ton of typing, the format won’t be as, well, thorough as my past approach.

With those disclaimers, let’s begin! First up are the relevant books I’ve already read and recommend:

Now to the ones I want to read, grouped in various categories!

Aztecs (and the Spanish conquest)

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  • Lord of the Dawn: the Legend of Quetzalcóatl by Rudolfo Anaya: I can’t track down a lot of details about this, but I loved Bless Me, Ultima.
  • Life and Death in the Templo Mayor by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma: Matos Moctezuma is a Mexican anthropologist, so I’d love to read more about this archaelogical site located right on the Zocola.
  • The Great Temple of Tenochtitlan : Center and Periphery in the Aztec world by Johanna Broda, Davíd Carrasco, Eduardo Matos Moctezuma: a look at Tenochtitlan through the eyes of scholars from three disciplines: archaelogy, ethnohistory, and religion. Two of the three were attached to Mexican universities and the third, Carrasco, is a Mexican American.
  • The Aztecs : Life in Tenochtitlan by Matt Doeden ; illustrated by Samuel Hiti: a recent children’s picture book, which I thought would be fun both for myself and to read with my niece!
  • Legends of the Plumed serpent : Biography of a Mexican God by Neil Baldwin: this is published by PublicAffairs, who I’ve had good luck with in the past. And who can resist that title?!
  • The Goldsmith’s Daughter by Tanya Landman: a recent YA novel set amongst the Aztecs just before the Spanish arrive. Landman is a British author.
  • The Aztecs by Michael E. Smith: while this includes an account of the conquest, I’m especially interested in the focus on everyday Aztec life. Smith is an American archaelogy professor working at ASU.
  • Malinche’s Conquest by Anna Lanyon: a recent fictionalised account of historical figure Malinche, a young slave who became Cortez’ interpreter and mistress. Lanyon is Australian.
  • Night of Sorrows by Frances Sherwood: another recent historical novel set during the conquest centered around Malinche. Sherwood is American
  • Bernardino de Sahagun, First Anthropologist by Miguel León-Portilla : a biography, written by a scholar from Mexico City, of a sixteenth-century Franciscan monk who spent much of his time in the New World studying the cultures he found there.
  • The War of Conquest : How it was Waged Here in Mexico : the Aztecs’ Own Story as given to Bernardino de Sahagún : one of the results of the monk’s studies.
  • The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz del Castillo: a firsthand account of Cortes’ campaign written by one of the soliders.

Mexico City

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  • First Stop in the New World by David Lida: I’m not completely sold on this, since it seems a bit, um, gritty for my tastes, but it’s a contemporary account of Mexico City by an American expat.
  • El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City by John Ross: another account by an American expat, this one combines profiles of contemporary residents with historical accounts of the city.
  • Nothing, Nobody: The Voices Of the Mexico City Earthquake by Elena Poniatowsky: Poniatowsky, a noted Mexican journalist, collected these stories about the devastating 1985 earthquake.
  • The Magic Lantern by José Tomás de Cuellar: written by a nineteenth century author, a collection of two novellas that look at the nouveau riche of Mexico City (he sounds a bit like Edith Wharton).
  • Treasures in Heaven by Kathleen Alcalá: written by a contemporary American novelist and set during the Mexican Revolution, it tells the story of a young widow who has to build a new life in Mexico City.
  • And Let the Earth Tremble at Its Centers by Gonzalo Celorio: a downtrodden professor goes on a walking tour of the capital in this Mexican novel.
  • The Streets of Mexico by Don Luis Gonzalez Obregon: I can’t turn up any information on this, but my library has it, so I’m tempted to get a copy and see what it’s about.
  • The Meanings of Macho : Being a Man in Mexico City by Matthew C. Gutmann: you know me, I find books about gender issues irresistable! And Latin American culture is well known for its machismo.
  • Where the Air is Clear by Carlos Fuentes: I couldn’t make a list of Mexican books without including Fuentes! This is his first novel and is set amongst Mexico City’s upperclass.

General (aka, I can’t think of a better theme)

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  • Biography of Power by Enrique Krauze: this will be a project, since it’s massive, but it sounds like a great all-inclusive history of Mexico by a Mexican professor.
  • The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela: a classic Mexican novel set during the Revolution.
  • Tear This Heart Out by Angeles Mastretta: I love Mastretta, as my thoughts on Lovesick attest, and this novel is set in Puebla. I’m not making it there this trip, but it’s in the general region!
  • Frida : a Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera: you can’t go to Mexico City and not visit Frida Kahlo’s house! I love the Salma Hayek film, but I’d like to have a nonfiction biography for reference too.
  • A Visit to Don Otavio by Sybille Bedford: a travelogue from the 1950s, although I can’t quite tell which cities she visist.
  • Villa and Zapata: a History of the Mexican Revolution by Frank McLynn: a joint biography of Mexico’s two most famous revolutionaries!
  • No One Will See Me Cry by Cristina Rivera Garza: Rivera Garza is a Mexican currently living the US, and this novel sounds fascinating. It’s set in a mental asylum, I’m not quite sure what city the asylum is located in though!
  • Life in Mexico by Frances Calderon de la Barca: in the last century, Scottish-born Frances married a Spanish diplomat and then went with him to newly-independent Mexico City. These are letters she wrote home about her life. It’s already loaded on my Nook (via!
  • Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry: featuring a middle-aged British diplomat posted to the state of Morelos (and thus in central Mexico), I remember seeing a few bloggers do a group read along of this one.
  • News from the Empire by Fernando Del Paso: I find the story of Maximilian & Carlota fascinating, but I couldn’t turn up a good nonfiction book about them. I guess I’ll ‘settle’ for this 800+ page historical novelisation of their lives!

Whew! That’s enough to keep me reading for awhile. ;) I had to leave off so many great sounding Mexican novels, just because of the geography, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be reading them! And if you have any suggestions for me, do share.

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2011 6:26 am

    I hope you have a lovely time. My honeymoon was in Mexico and it brings back lovely memories.

  2. alp permalink
    November 15, 2011 7:27 am

    May I suggest Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna. I just finished it and it is wonderful. I look forward to hearing about your trip!

  3. November 15, 2011 8:33 am

    Oooh! I’m so jealous of your trip! I would LOVE to visit Mexico some day… especially to try some of that awesome street food! ;) I’ve seen a few cheap deals to Mexico City in the past, but Tony keeps saying it’s too dangerous to visit right now… But I intend to get there one day!

    • November 16, 2011 10:35 am

      I did lots of research beforehand to make sure Mexico City was safe, and as long as you don’t get in unmarked cabs, there’s not much to worry about! And Guanajuato & the other Highland cities are super safe…maybe you could fly into Mexico City & then do a highland trip instead if that’d make Tony less nervous? Or go to Puebla!

  4. November 15, 2011 10:10 am

    This is an awesome list. I am most interested in the Aztec books and put some on my “for later” library list :) Look forward to your thoughts on the ones you read.

  5. November 15, 2011 12:46 pm

    Hey, consider coming home by way of Texas! (It’s also a foreign country.)

    • November 16, 2011 10:34 am

      lol! You know I live in Texas now, right?

  6. November 15, 2011 2:32 pm

    Sounds like a fantastic trip.

  7. November 15, 2011 6:57 pm

    Oh wow, that sounds like a fun trip! And you have quite a lot of good reading in front of you.

  8. November 15, 2011 9:05 pm

    Congratulations on your upcoming trip Eva! sounds wonderful, as do all of the books you want to read in preparation :)

  9. November 16, 2011 10:23 am

    Another suggestion: Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo (1955). It’s a weird one, but very interesting, especially because it was the book that kick-started the “magic realism” movement.

    • November 22, 2011 4:33 pm

      I came across that one but couldn’t put it on this list because of geography. BUT it sounds like such an Eva-book: thanks for the reminder to put it on my own wishlist!

  10. November 16, 2011 11:46 am

    I would love to go to Mexico City. What a wonderful trip!

    Miriam Toews new book Irma Voth is partially set in Mexico City. I’m not entirely sold on the book and my review of it was pretty mixed, but the Mexico City part is definitely the highlight.

    • November 22, 2011 4:35 pm

      I’ve added it to my wish list, but I’ll keep your mixed feelings in mind!

  11. November 16, 2011 2:33 pm

    I will contact my buddy who is a well-read guy who happens to be a law professor and teaches summers down in Guanajato (sp?). He will probably have a few good titles for me to give ya…

    How exciting for you….

    • November 22, 2011 4:36 pm

      Oh yay Liz! If you want to give him my e-mail address (astripedarmchairATgmailDOTcom), I’d love any travel tips he could share too! (I understand if he’s too busy.)

  12. November 16, 2011 3:33 pm

    Wow, that is quite a list of books! You’re going to be so prepared and in the mood for your travels after reading them. :) What a neat travel opportunity!

  13. November 16, 2011 9:47 pm

    Wow, what a fantastic and thorough list of books! So jealous of your trip (in the best possible way), I bet you are going to have such a fantastic time. Congratulations on getting it booked and on going in May! Can’t wait to hear about some of these books and to hear about your trip!

  14. November 17, 2011 5:27 am

    have fun on your trip Eva ,a great list of book ,all the best stu

  15. November 17, 2011 6:38 pm

    I don’t know what I love more: the lists or the photo! ;-)

  16. November 18, 2011 8:55 am

    Eva –

    Here is what my buddy suggests for you (like you need more book titles!):

    Journey of Hope, Memoirs of a Mexican Girl

    On Mexican Time – Tony Cohen
    Mexican Days – Tony Cohen
    Opening Mexico – Julia Preston and Samual Dillon
    Mexico – Biolgraphy of Power – Enrique Krause
    Destiny and Desire – Carlos Fuente

    liz in texas

    • November 22, 2011 4:36 pm

      Thanks! I already have Opening Mexico and the Krause on my list (read Opening Mexico earlier this year actually), but I’ll add the other ones. :D

  17. November 19, 2011 5:00 pm

    I am so glad you put Opening Mexico on your list. I was going to suggest it, and then I saw it! :) I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, but I also have a history degree, and my specialization was in Mexican Studies! I love the country and the history, so I am super jealous of your future trip!

  18. Kathleen permalink
    November 19, 2011 7:05 pm

    How exciting that you have such a wonderful trip to look forward to. I hope you enjoy all of the reading and that it further inspires you about your trip!

  19. November 23, 2011 8:39 am

    Awesome book list. I look forward to your reading and physical journey through Central Mexico.


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