TQC Favorites of 2012: Francois Monti

Francois Monti is the European Editor of The Quarterly Conversation.

2012 was the year life caught up with literature, but I’m still happy I managed to force some commitments to make way for a few great books. Here is a short selection, in chronological order of reading:

Yuri Herrera – Los Trabajos del Reino & Señales que precederan el fin del mundo: two fantastic short novels about two phenomenon that have a huge impact on both Mexico and the United States : the former deals with drug overlords, the latter with illegal immigration. Novel length prose narco-corrido and the mythical adventures of coyotes: if you only read one Mexican author next year, go for Herrera. Unfortunately, you’ll have to do it in Spanish.

Kevin Brownlow – The Parade’s Gone By. 44 years later, no one has published a better essay on American silent movies. Brownlow met them all (well, the ones that were still alive) and had them talking. Packed with fantastic insights and invaluable testimonies, this book will have you rush to Criterion or Eureka’s website. If only we could get an updated version, with everything Brownlow learned since 1968…

Lowell Edmunds – Martini, Straight Up. In 1981, nobody cared about cocktails. Not even Tom Cruise. Lowell Edmunds, Classics professor at Rutgers loved his martini and decided to write this short and fascinating study. It remains to this day the only cocktail book published in a Cultural Studies collection that I know of. The only negative thing I could say about it is that the writing (ah, Academia…) is a bit dry. No pun intended.

Juan Francisco Ferré – Karnaval. Now, let’s imagine Coover’s Public Burning with Strauss-Kahn instead of Nixon . . . A master of the world called Edison. DSK transformed into God K. God K (the last hope of dying social-democracy?) decides to take on the world and defeat the system. Weird and wonderful at the same time. Obviously. And I haven’t even told you about the book’s central pages: a (fictional) documentary on the Strauss-Kahn case. One of the interviewees is one Harold Bloom. “Shakespeare wrote about this,” he says.

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As someone who lives half time in Central Mexico I was happy to see two young Mexican novelists on this list, Yuri Herrera & Juan Francisco Ferré. The terrible truth, though, is that these writers are little read in Mexico because of the ridiculous price of books in Mexico. Federal law prohibits charging less than the published price of books for the first two years of publication, and even after the two years, reductions of more than maybe 20% are rare. Both of Ferré’s books are paperback novellas. Each is listed for 228 pesos. That is almost $USD 20, and in Mexico it is more than you would pay for an appointment with a lawyer or doctor, and almost a week’s gross income at the minimum wage. Herrera’s Karnaval, another paperback novel, is 300 pesos.

The Latin American Mixtape

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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