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'50 Shades of Grey' heats up Mexico

October 31, 2012|By Hector Tobar
  • "Cincuenta Sombras de Grey" author E.L. James at Comic-Con in San Diego in July.
"Cincuenta Sombras de Grey" author E.L. James at Comic-Con… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

Back in the 1980s, when I lived in Mexico City for a year or so as an exchange student, I spent many hours inside one of Latin America’s greatest bookstores — La Librería Gandhi near the campus of Mexico’s national university, the UNAM.

Most of Latin America was ruled by dictators then and Mexico City was filled with exiled intellectuals from Argentina, Guatemala and many other countries. The exiles would hang out on Gandhi’s second floor, drinking coffee, playing chess and debating politics at the café there. Downstairs, the stacks were filled with great literature and works of history.

I remembered all that today as I went online and made a virtual visit to Librería Gandhi (link in Spanish), perusing the website of what’s now a chain of bookstores. Right there, on the homepage, I saw a strange sight: the bookstore’s bestseller list, dominated by a certain author whose works are ubiquitous on this side of the border too.

“Cincuenta Sombras de Grey,” by E.L. James is the bestselling book at Librería Gandhi remains at the top of Mexican lists. The other two books in the “Shades of Grey” trilogy are second and third, all sold at the rather hefty price of 299 Mexican pesos, or $23. “Cincuenta Sombras Más Oscuras” and “Cincuenta Sombras Liberadas” are flying off the shelves at that august temple of Mexican literature, more evidence -- if any were needed -- of bad erotica’s conquest of the reading world.

But fear not, lovers of great literature. At Gandhi, as elsewhere in Mexico, classic and serious works of art squirm their way onto the list, with Haruki Murakami, Robert Louis Stevenson and John Steinbeck all squeezing into the top 15.

Generally speaking, the classics tend to outsell other books in Mexican bookstores, as a report by NTRzacatecas.com (link in Spanish) illustrates. In Zacatecas, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Mexican author Juan Rulfo are among the bestselling writers over the long haul.

And, readers of English, you’re in luck because there’s a new translation of Rulfo’s classic story collection “The Plain in Flames” out this fall, translated by the legendary Latino literature book maven Ilan Stavans. Rulfo is the Chekhov of rural Mexico, and I highly recommend his work as an antidote to all things grey.

hector.tobar@latimes.com

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