The day before I traveled back from Southern California to Mexico City, I went to a Barnes & Noble store at one of those new suburban malls that still sprout up on the outskirts of cities. My mom and I hit up Otay Ranch Town Center, kinda east of Eastlake, east of Chula Vista, southeast of metropolitan San Diego. We wanted to see the book in its natural habitat.
With Borders going bankrupt, Barnes & Nobles is the only big bookstore chain carrying "Down & Delirious in Mexico City." We searched the long aisles of self-help books, books on celebrities in Spanish, study guides, books on crafts or pets, romance novels. I finally found two copies of my book on a low shelf in the travel section, wedged between a couple of bestsellers on ex-pat life in Mexico and some travelogues by Brits or Australians on India or the Pacific Islands. One of them had the word "savages" in the title.
The experience neither pleased nor disappointed me.
As I wrote and worked on the thing, I knew that one day I would walk into a big bookstore and see it on a shelf, an anonymous mass-produced product like any other. In Otay, it looked just as I had envisioned it. One book in a sea of books, each one waiting to be bought, each one worried that it might not happen. Its placement as a travel title also seemed a bit imprecise. But ... whatever?
It hit me. This book is no longer mine. The thing has its own life now. The process was my reward, my prize. After trying daily news reporting, weekly feature-writing, magazine work, blogging, radio, and video, I wanted to try another form to tell stories. Writing this book was that experiment, an opportunity to seize.
The process was long, hard, and often drove me crazy. I learned and grew and suffered plenty of doubt and setbacks. But I won't feign modesty. I'm proud of the work and the way the project turned out. Now I want to share it with people, and I'll keep doing so as long as you want me to. But in my mind I've already released myself of it.
That said, watching the book make its own life is exciting. I have to keep in mind that my collaborators and I might know the book intimately, but every other reader is getting to know it for the first time. That's exciting. Yes, I'm reading the reviews.
So here are some early reactions that have jumped out me. At AARP, with its millions of senior citizen members, Oscar Casares writes:
This one summer led to moving there for three years and writing a book that is part journalism, part memoir, but ultimately a coming-of-age story, which is what makes several of the early chapters of Down and Delirious so compelling. We are asked to discover, or rediscover, as the case may be, the Mexico City we thought we knew. Through the metro system, endless neighborhoods, unabated crime, smog, religions, music, subcultures, fashion, drugs, and hipsters, we are able to see the city from the eyes of both someone who knows his way around and someone who is seeing it for the first time.
At Turnstyle News, Joy Hepp says:
One of Hernandez’ greatest talents as a writer is being able to pave the way for readers to enter the worlds he inhabits and create a space for them to explore on their own. Down and Delirious in Mexico City conjures up the megalopolis' wild urban spell and the youth that are stirring its cauldron. Through the power of the journalist’s notepad he introduces the reader to the punk marketplace, the cult of Death, and the fashion queens of the night -- all in remarkable detail.
At Chicken Corner, Jenny Burman makes me smile:
I bought the book and went home, planning to call it a night. But I made the mistake -- or I had the good fortune -- to open Down & Delirious first. Into the night, and then again today, I could not put it down. I felt like I had gone to a place I had heard of in a dream. I also felt like a window had opened into the dilemma of so many of the Mexican-Americans with whom I share Los Angeles. It's also compelling reading, simply for some of its subject matter -- the fashion scenes in the Distrito Federal, the lawlessness, the fusion of Colonial and Indigenous cultures.
Finally, my eyes popped when I checked in at Amazon, where reader L. Bueno pretty much nails it: "This book will make you wish that you lived in Mexico City and glad that you don't."
* Above, the first day of the book's life, at Writers Week at UC Riverside.