He keeps an old paperback in the car for reading emergencies

By Amy Sutherland Globe Correspondent, Updated March 7, 2019, 8:52 p.m.


In The Line Becomes A River: Dispatches From The Border, Francisco Cantú meditates on the nature of boundaries and tells stories that show their real effects on people’s lives. He witnessed those as an agent for the Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012. A former Fulbright fellow, Cantú speaks at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27 at Boston College as part of the Lowell Humanities Series.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

CANTÚ: The End of the Myth by the historian Greg Grandin, who was a Pulitzer finalist for his 2009 book Fordlandia. This book is a history of the idea of the frontier and the border. For someone obsessed with thinking about borders this is the history book I’ve always wanted to read.

BOOKS: What are your other favorites that address that topic?

CANTÚ: One of the best books I read last year, Gore Capitalism by Sayak Valencia. It is like a philosophy book looking at Mexican drug-cartel violence and the ways it’s connected to US economic policy. It’s written in this forceful but lyrical prose. Another important book is The Land of Open Graves by the anthropologist Jason De Leon, which focuses on the part of the border where I live in Arizona and how it has been transformed into this deadly landscape for migrants.

BOOKS: How long has the subject of borders and immigration drawn you in your reading?

CANTÚ: Oh gosh, since high school probably. I remember my dad giving me Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses in middle school. The title sounded silly, and I didn’t read it until I was in college. But my big awakening in literary terms was when I started reading Roberto Bolaño and Latin American literature. The work of Juan Rulfo, which I read in Spanish, had a profound impact on me in college. In his book of short stories The Plain in Flames, he writes a lot about rural Mexico in the 1950s.

BOOKS: Do you still read in Spanish?

CANTÚ: Yes, though I read faster in English. The last book I read in Spanish was Cristina Rivera Garza’s biography about Juan Rulfo, which is very experimental. I also read a book of poetry in Spanish, Antígona González by Sara Uribe, which is about disappearances in Mexico. Honestly the most important writing about the border and immigration has been in poetry, such as Javier Zamora’s Unaccompanied. He’s from El Salvador and crossed the border as a boy to reunite with his parents in the US and has been living a lot of the realities that have been in the news.

BOOKS: Are there Mexican or Central American writers you recommend a lot?

CANTÚ: Óscar Martínez, a writer from El Salvador who writes nonfiction, is one. He’s done important work around gang violence and the question of migration. He wrote The Beast and A History of Violence. There are a couple of books I read last year about the 43 Mexican students who disappeared in 2014. One is I Couldn’t Even Imagine That They Would Kill Us by John Gibler. It’s an oral history that builds a chorus of voices around what happened to these students.

BOOKS: What other types of reading do you do?

CANTÚ: One of my favorite authors is the German writer W.G. Sebald. He wrote The Rings of Saturn, which is about a walking tour he took on the Suffolk coast. When my book was published in the UK I went to the Suffolk coast and followed the same paths he took. It was one of the most beautiful things I did all year.

BOOKS: What are your reading habits?

CANTÚ: I make sure there’s an old paperback in my car, like I threw an old copy of Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop in there. If I go to a doctor’s appointment and have to wait I don’t want to spend that time on my cellphone. I grabbed the book just the other day when I had dinner out by myself. It was my companion.

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Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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