One of the best magazines among America’s allegedly bicoastal media originates just inland from the Gulf. Texas Monthly, where Francesca Mari happens to be an associate editor, is like a New Yorker you won’t let pile up. When I ring her up in Austin, we talk about what she calls the “rich history of the magazine” (which includes pieces she points out like this and this). Then, it’s on to Elena Ferrante.
“I’ve just been totally obsessed,” Mari says of the Italian author’s novels. “That’s certainly not new, but I found them spellbinding. A total feat of storytelling. On the sentence level, it’s not anything mind-blowing, but it’s just this psychological drama of oscillating power dynamics and the ups and downs of well-being and self-image and the different kinds of validation that people crave and the factors that motivate people: Whether they’re proud of these factors, or ashamed of them, and raw intelligence versus learned intelligence or education. Everyone I see, I have to prattle on to them about these books because they’re so great.”
Mari’s infatuation led her to start scouring for Ferrante coverage. She points to stories by James Wood, Joan Acocella, and Rachel Donadio. “It’s kind of like an addictive TV show,” she says of the books. The last series that she was as enthralled by was Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels.
She “reads The New Yorker like the Bible,” pointing to articles like James B. Stewart’s 2002 piece “The Real Heroes Are Dead.” She also gets Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, and The California Sunday Magazine. “They had a piece by Daniel Alarcón about this reality show in Peru and this contestant who is forced to tell the truth to win more money and completely embarrasses her family and then disappears,” Mari says. “I think that was the best piece published in 2014. In all publications.”
As a rabid magazine consumer, she’s got plenty of opinions and recommendations. “I think New York magazine is the best magazine,” Mari tells me. “It’s so vibrant and alive and every time I’m thinking about something, the magazine is picking up on that.”
When Mari was living in New York, she didn’t watch much TV. But in Austin, she says she has more time on her hands for it. “I love Veep, I think it’s absolutely brilliant,” she says. “And I binge-watched Transparent.” As far as movies go, she prays at the film geek altar of Michael Haneke, Terrence Malick, and Thomas Vinterberg. “I love The Celebration, but I may even love his recent film, The Hunt, more,” she says of Vinterberg. She points as well to Haneke’s Funny Games: “It’s extremely dark and masochistic and brilliant, but really terrifying.”
“We have this great movie theater in Austin called the Violet Crown,” Mari says. “I feel like I’m so spoiled and I’ll never be able to go to another theater because the chairs are so plush and there are footrests.” When I mention that I’ve been to the Alamo Drafthouse before and dug it — mostly because they serve beer — Mari puts me in my place. “I hate the Drafthouse,” she says laughing. “The waiters! They’re all in front of you, talking loudly, and the Drafthouse pretends to be serious about not coming in late and not talking, and the waiters are blocking your view. And — I hear they’re changing this policy — the thing that really blows is that they give you your check like 15 minutes before the film is over so you know when it’s about to end. It totally takes you out of the experience.” Noted.
“Austin is great for movie-watching,” Mari says. “Richard Linklater started the Austin Film Society and they have this theater up north that’s always showing cool films.” There, she recently caught classics The World of Apu and L’Argent. “I love Linklater, his movies and also his life as a philosophy,” she continues. “He’s an enthusiast, he just immerses himself and is a total fan. There are some filmmakers that are so competitive that they’re terrified to watch other people’s stuff. I love his dogged devotion to things.” She, then, recommends a New Yorker piece on him and a Texas Monthly oral history of Dazed and Confused.
As far as podcasts go, it’s all about the Longform for Mari. “It’s actually so nerdy. It’s just interviews between long-form journalists,” she says. “So they then do interviews with writers. It’s kind of getting to be in conversation with these writer heroes that I admire from afar without having to do any talking.” Don’t just admire Mari from afar. If she can’t recommend her own articles, I will.