Books, Teaching

The Magic of Marquez

It was with great sadness that I read The Guardian article that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writing career may be over. Very few writers have impacted me the way he has. 100 Years of Solitude taught me more about life and literature than any other piece of writing ever has. I’ll never forget finishing the book the first time (I’ve read it at least four times) and being overwhelmed by a feeling that I had just experienced something profound, earth shattering, humbling, and even mystical. The story of Macondo is the story of us all.

Marquez also taught me that magic is more than a rabbit in a hat or a scarf up a sleeve. He taught me that magic is something that we wake up to, something we experience in our everyday lives. There is no price of admission for a magic show-all we have to do is open our eyes and see.

This sounds like a eulogy; if he never publishes another book it is like a passing. Marquez changed my life, and even though he may be losing his memory, I know I’ll never forget him.

I recently read the interview that he did with Paris Review magazine. Reading it was like spending time with an old friend. I learned a few things about him, and was reminded of his genius and immense talent.

Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 69, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

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Books, Literacy

Friends with Benefits- Reasons Why Books Make Good Friends

My wife wishes I was more social. I don’t go out much, and I’m not always keen when my wife suggests we have people over. My wife has plenty of friends and enjoys their time and company. When I tell her that she has too many friends, she tells me that there is no such thing as too many friends.

I have friends; I may not have many of them, but the ones I do have are the best friends anybody could ask for. My three best friends live thousands of miles away from me (Australia; British Columbia; London, England). We don’t see one another often, but we make up for it in emails, texts, talks on the phone, Skype sessions and with our thoughts. We visit one another when we can, and when we do it always feels just right.

The most immediate friends I do have, the ones I can visit whenever I feel like, the ones I can count on in a tough bind, the ones that are always within reach- are my books. Over the past little while I have realized (not sure what took me so long) that I spend more time with books than I do people.

Now, you might think that by spending so much time alone (because most reading is done alone), that I might be lacking in all the good things that comes with being around people and friends. I thought about this and came to some conclusions as to why books make such good friends:

Reading a book is like having a really good conversation. When you read, a conversation is taking place between the writer of the book and the reader. The difference between conversing with a person and conversing with a book is that with a book you can pretty much guarantee that at least one of the parties has thought alot about what they are saying.

A book makes a good friend because a book will never overstay its welcome.

Books make great travel partners.

A book won’t judge me too harshly.

There is a certain level of intimacy when reading a book. You can lay down with it, hold it in your lap, and bring it to bed with you without it ever getting really, really, really awkward.

Unlike some people, some books (fiction in particular) can’t lie.

The pages of an open book are like two arms waiting for a hug.

Good books keep me grounded, humble.

Books make good friends because when you need them you know where you can find them (under the bed, in my bag, on my desk, in the kitchen, out in the garage, in my car, in the bathroom, on my phone, on the nightstand, on the stairs, behind the bar, on the floor).

Books protect me; books rock my world.

My books, like the best of friends, leave me with something after we have spent time together- something to think about.

My wife keeps telling me I have too many books. When she says this I just roll my eyes and tell her that there is no such thing as having too many friends.

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Books

Some thoughts (because I don’t do reviews)  on Just Kids by Patti Smith.

It starts with the word swan, and ends with a black coat on a beach. A  story about commitment to love, and a commitment to art, about wanting something, wanting someone, needing someone, and having someone; about grinding it out, hustling, grinding and hustling and wringing it (love, art) out like water from a sponge; about saying something that hasn’t been said because others haven’t the voice (or the love); about building and destroying; about living and not dying, because in art, like in love, there is no death. This is a book about living between the lines, about living the story before the story is told, and knowing that while living, loving and creating, that a story is unfolding.

The excerpt I would have liked to share is 288 pages (the entire book). For the sake of brevity I begin, and end, with the end (as all things do):

There are many stories I could write about Robert, about us. But this is the story I have told. It is the one he wished me to tell you and I have kept my promise. We were Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together. Only Robert and I could tell it. Our story, as he called it. And, having gone, he left the task to me to tell it to you.

Hansel and Gretal ~ circa. 1970

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Books

No Passport Required

With a baby on the way, and a to-do list of baby things to get through, this March Break was always going to be about…well, not about me. Some of my previous breaks included trips to Newfoundland, Mexico City and Chicago. But with my wife three weeks away from giving birth to our first child, I certainly wasn’t going to ask for permission to go away.

So instead of putting together a travel itinerary I put together a domestic one. Between visits to Baby’s R Us, putting together strollers and playpens, talking finances and imagining what the little guy is going to look like, I’d try and make some time to read and write, something that might be able to get me away without really having to be away.I was going to start Murukami’s IQ84 but wanted something that was going to fit nicely between the beginning and end of the March Break. I didn’t think a thousand page novel would turn the trick.

I thought I’d try the short novel and see where it might lead me. Where it took me was a place I hope to never return from. What happened was something that shocked me, moved me, and just straight up changed me. What typically came to me in far-away places, in old shops, street corners and alleys in a city that I was visiting for the first time (or maybe the third) happened to me at home.

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray shook me to my very core, almost seismic like an earthquake. I had never read Wilde, and here I was not being able to put him down. It is a book about identity and how we spend our entire lives trying to figure out who we are (and God forgive the person that discovers it too late). I devoured each letter like a crumb, every word like a course, and ever sentence like a meal. I copied out passages before I could forget them, and knew immediately that this was a book that I would re-visit again and again and again- much like Paris, London and Chicago. It was truly one of my most beautiful reading experiences.

The next journey took place with Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God- easily one of the most terrifying reading experiences of my life.  Child of God is  a chronicle of individual depravity. Lester Ballard, is a murderer and necrophile, expelled from the human family and eventually living in underground caves, which he peoples with his trophies: giant stuffed animals won in carnival shooting galleries and the decomposing corpses of his shot victims (the man loves his rifle). This is the child of God. The most terrifying lesson of the novel is that  monsters aren’t what we see in films and movies; monsters are human beings, perhaps living in caves, but more likely living right next door. McCarthy is a genius.

And like a short trip to the convenience store there was Italo Calvino’s short story The Flash. The story, all one and half pages of it, made me weep  at the fact that the protagonist, in a brief flash, understands everything and nothing that there is to understand about human existence- and he has nobody to share it with.

I may not have gone anywhere, or met new people, but I certainly experienced plenty. I learned that spending time reading short books is like how time should be spent with friends  – short little visits that leave an indelible impression. I know nothing can replace the experience of travel and meeting new people in new places, but my reading experiences over the past week sure came close to it.

This summer my son will be two months old. We won’t be able to go anywhere, but  I’ll make sure that we have plenty of chances to travel through time and space, and read our way through the universe.

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