The Voyage Out Book Group’s Guide to The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (Tr. By Christina MacSweeney)
The Story of My Teeth
Tr. Christina MacSweeney
Coffee House Press
Literature of Mexico
Other Books in the Region:
Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos
Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa
Born in Mexico on August 16, 1983 – which makes her 32 as of our reading – Luiselli is one of the younger writers we’ve read. With the recent publication of The Story of My Teeth, Luiselli has published three books that have been translated into English: Sidewalks (essays), Faces in the Crowd (novel), and The Story of My Teeth (novel). She has also written widely in many periodicals and many platforms, to include The New York Times, Granta, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, etc. etc. She was also named one of the National Book Foundation’s well-respected list – 5 Writers Under 35.
Although she was born in Mexico City, she has spent very little time in one place, and is in every sense of the word living a cosmopolitan life. She has lived in these places: Mexico, U.S.A, Costa Rica, South Korea, South Africa, India, Spain, and France. She currently lives in New York City.
Luiselli received a bachelor’s degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Philosophy. She went on to study Comp Lit at Colombia University. She now teaches, writes, and is the librettist for the NYC Ballet.
- In an article on Vice, a reporter writes of heading into Luiselli’s NYC neighborhood and worrying about whether she was walking into a conversation that may be too smart for the interviewer to follow. This book, like all books necessarily are, is conversational, but is it a welcoming, understandable conversation?
- Is it the author’s responsibility to make the conversation something that is able to happen?
- We try as a group to stay within a text when discussing that text, but this book is heavily referential. How does the book interact with the cultural references inside its pages?
- Compare and contrast the jobs of the storyteller and the auctioneer. How are Luiselli and Highway doing the same thing? How are they doing different things?
- How do things gain value in the story?
- Highway calls himself the ‘Best Auctioneer in the World’, how does he come to this conclusion? What do you think would be his rubric for deciding that he is in fact the best?
- Who is, in the conceit of the story, actually putting the story on paper? Highway? Voragine?
- There is a real disconnect between what is the ‘book’ and what is the ‘story’, can the reader become yet another collaborator and merge the ‘book’ and the ‘story’?
- How does the book feel about collaboration?
- The book has a great deal of physical architecture (quotes, tables of contents, art, photos, chapters, fortunes, etc.) do these things have legitimate purpose within the text? How do they add value?
What We Talk About When We Talk About This Book:
- As reader’s, how do we interact with works that are both playful and contain depth, versus works that lack playfulness and contain depth, or contain playfulness, but no depth? We talked about accepting and enjoying Luiselli’s playfulness, but still reading in a way that pushed to something else.
- The Chronologic chapter was a huge topic of discussion. A case was made about the chapter pointing towards the smallness of a single life within a larger cultural space, the opposite case was made for the chapter pointing to the connectedness of big/small, known/unknown, and high/low.
- Staying with The Chronologic chapter, we discussed it as a unique situation in which the author didn’t even write the chapter. This strange, humble entity further drives home the author’s affinity for collaboration. I personally think that much of the book is actually a love note to collaborative art (if there is any other kind).
- The book’s farsical nature and Luiselli’s nostalgic tone led more than one Voyager to compare the book favorably to Don Quixote. Highway being just as loved and just as doomed as our old friend Don.
- We talked, with joy, about the tale of how the book came into being. Luiselli’s interaction with the Jumex factory workers was wonderful to discuss. We talked about just how much of the book wasn’t written by Luiselli, and were amazed by how little it mattered.