my love affair

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I don't think I came to Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez until after his Nobel in Literature. I seem to remember the book jacket bragging of this distinction. Some think only the Pulitzer could confer the distinction needed for someone serious to be in abjection to a writer. They're snobs. And they're wrong.

I've had many different eras punctuating my life. One thing you can say was constant was reading. So, when I wasn't working three jobs, I read more than anyone I ever even heard of, except maybe Joseph Campbell and my drunken friend, Ann, who was a fantastic photographer and as fantastic a cook, and wouldn't go anywhere without both her camera bag and a book. She would read while walking down the street; during lulls in conversation; while riding in a car; whenever things that did not directly demand her attention, day or night, her nose would be in a book. Though, I may have passed her up in later years. There were many stretches where I read no fewer than ten books a week, every waking hour was reading, and I would become irked by the need to get up and pee or eat something. Attending to the daily chores of living was a serious drag. Answering the phone was unhappy. Still, all this mostly took place when I did not have to be at work.

Except for Gabriel García Márquez. I could not bear to put down any of his books, and least of all One Hundred Years of Solitude. I would try manfully to take them in stages, to titrate the thrill, but lost every time, EVEN in some of the more experimental stuff, the one with no punctuation, no clear end to any sentence, and Chronicle of a Death Foretold sent me into gales of very vocal admiration.

So this little presentation seems pretty tepid to me, but it outlines vaguely some of the reasons the book is such a masterpiece. The one that presents itself the earliest is all the characters with the same name. I have always been really, really bad at remembering the names of characters in novels, in nonfiction, from one chapter to the next, from one paragraph to the next, but this is radically worse when they are foreign-to-me names. This book forced me to forget worrying about that once and for all, to quit going back to drill myself until I could keep it straight by the later chapters. Adding to the trouble were all the characters who were very similarly-named to the identically-named, and all foreign-sounding, ones. The start of this was shaping up to be hell for me, but, mystically, it suddenly freed me by shoving me through the frontier of thought into the place where knowing takes over. The moment that happened, I had no further problem keeping any of the characters straight. I fancy there is a lesson about cognition itself here.

No. Wait. I don't fancy it. I know it.


Or... not. I'm sitting here in a fuddle of the decades and remembering that when they resurrected Vanity Fair from the ashes, I was one of their first subscribers. They published Chronicle before it came out as a novella. I think it was me running around the office and screaming of the perfection of this writing that prompted someone to give me their copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude and I think that all would have been shortly before he got the Nobel. I think I'm thinking of the tens of times I had to go out and buy the book over again because yet another person had skipped returning it to me entirely.

Somewhere in the mid-90s, I gave away or sold ALL my books. I was tired of lugging them around or paying for their storage. But I never got rid of any of his books, or Dashiell Hammett's. To this day I have them all. I have stacks of translations of the ancients, some pretty cool reference works, all the books written by personal friends, and everything by my two favorite novelists, far more books than average, I guess, but radically less than before.

Someone in the office gave me Love in the Time of Cholera for Christmas one year. I didn't make it out of the office until after I'd finished it. I hopped up and down with glee, ran out of the party and into my office and didn't emerge again until I'd read it through.

Maybe it's nutty to be so involved with books, but I pity people who don't or can't read.