Magical Habits

[book cover] Magical Habits

Duke University Press
Aug. 13, 2021


In Magical Habits Monica Huerta draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as a scholar of literature and culture to meditate on how relationships among self, place, race, and storytelling contend with both the afterlives of history and racial capitalism. Whether dwelling on mundane aspects of everyday life, such as the smell of old kitchen grease, or grappling with the thorny, unsatisfying question of authenticity, Huerta stages a dynamic conversation among genres, voices, and archives: personal and critical essays exist alongside a fairy tale; photographs and restaurant menus complement fictional monologues based on her family’s history. Developing a new mode of criticism through storytelling, Huerta takes readers through Cook County courtrooms, the Cristero Rebellion (in which her great-grandfather was martyred by the Mexican government), Japanese baths in San Francisco — and a little bit about Chaucer too. Ultimately, Huerta sketches out habits of living while thinking that allow us to consider what it means to live with and try to peer beyond history even as we are caught up in the middle of it.


“Monica Huerta moves readers toward a habit of being captured by objects that mesh one's own singular and collective histories. We learn to breathe with them and to be dispossessed by them. This fantastic book enchanted me and taught me so much.”

— Lauren Berlant, author of Cruel Optimism

Magical Habits is as much a treasure trove as it is a book — full of surprises, glittering insights, lyrical vignettes, personal archives, political history, family lore, and brilliant literary critique. The writing is exquisite, for the book is both polyphonic and constantly — effortlessly — changing tack. I would turn the page without any sense of where Monica Huerta might take me next, only knowing that I wanted to follow, that I did not want to come out from under this spell.”

— Justin Torres, author of We the Animals

“Thoughtful, wry, and intimate, Magical Habits is a memoir that’s rich with questions about identity, heritage, authenticity, and the true American dream.”

— Meg Nola, Foreword

“This striking debut blends personal and political essays with U.S. and Mexican histories, photos, menus and a fable to indulge ‘multiple habits of thought rather than proposing there is one way of knowing.’”

New York Times Book Review

“Huerta weaves into each chapter powerful stories of her upbringing and family and the narrative of her own winding path in academia. She cleverly uses a variety of documents and historical archival material, sourced from her family and their businesses in Chicago and Mexico, to explore wide-ranging themes of migration and displacement and the results of what she calls racial capitalism. . . . It is a fascinating read. . . .”

— Amy Lewontin, Library Journal


  • Duke University Press Scholars of Color First Book Award