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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Chapter Seventy-Six, in which Everyone wants to own a Bookstore

The Bookologist recently pondered what it takes to run a bookstore. She says, "Having a shop requires patience and organization and a genuine liking for being with people." Then what in the world is Bernard Black doing with a shop?

Black Books is a second-hand bookshop in London owned and operated by a grumpy Irishman. The essence of the Black Books experience is the sign hanging in the door: one side says "Closed" and the other side says "Closed". Though it might seem to the rest of us that selling lots of books and getting on well with customers is vital to a bookseller's business, Mr. Black claims his is "not that kind of shop."

For those who don't know, Bernard Black is the protagonist of a British comedy titled "Black Books," what the BBC calls "a hugely affable slice of lunacy." Though he hates people, Mr. Black loves his books. The only thing he prefers to books is alcohol. And when the two come together, Mr. Black rolls himself in his chair over to the bathroom, unzips, and relieves himself from a distance, never once allowing any of it to interfere with his intense reading.

Edith notes that "almost every other person coming into our shop tells me that owning a bookshop is his or her dream. When I ask them why, they tell me they love books." But what Mr. Black demonstrates, and every bookstore owner knows, is that owning a bookstore is about people, and retailing, much more than about books. There are moments when one is alone with one's books, to read, to caress, to make friends with, but squeezing out those moments are all the other times when people are asking who wrote The C&O Canal Companion, or bills are irritating to be paid, or discussions are to be had with the landlord over the appropriate temperature in the shop, or employees need training, or the little old lady who just spent two dollars on a Cassie Edwards paperback wants to spend forty minutes telling you her family history, or the hours of operation conflict with the hours of the biggest book sale of the year. If one has a passion for all these things, then a bookshop is wonderful; if not, then your Bibliothecary highly recommends a personal library.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Chapter Seventy-Five, in which Terror is Escapism

Time magazine recently published its Top 100 Photos of the year. One, by Matthew Rosenberg, was of a double decker bus damaged by the 7 July terrorist bombings in London. Ironically, on the side of the bus is a poster, probably for a movie, with a tag line proclaiming "Outright Terror... Bold and Brilliant."

This made me think about Stefanie's post concerning the value of genre fiction. She wonders why genre fiction--such as mystery, horror, and science fiction--is so often disparaged as mere escapism. "Good writing is good writing," she writes, "no matter if there is a murder to be solved or an alien race to come to terms with." Or a terrorist bombing to be suffered. She believes such stories ought to be paraged (a doubleplusgood word according to neologeneticists) as much as literary fiction.

Why is it, then, that the same people who suffer the terror of a suicide bombing, or refuse to use an airplane because they are terrified it may be hijacked, also eagerly slap down ten dollars to be terrified by a film, or the latest novel by Stephen King or Jack Higgins? Are such plots so disturbing that they can be accepted only as escapist? And why do the media review films and praise them for their heart-pounding terror, and then wail at the outright terror on a London bus, or in a Tel Aviv discotheque? Sensationalism? Exploitation?

Your Bibliothecary once attended a reading course at a college near Mad About Books International Headquarters. The instructor assigned several books, and then solicited nominations for a final selection. We suggested The World According to Garp by John Irving. The instructor informed us a few days later that the book we suggested was too vulgar--without putting words in her mouth, it was not acceptable to her literary sensibilities. What must she think of This Side of Paradise and Lolita and Ulysses and la morte d'Arthur--escapism or literature?

Shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, our friend Tiresias wondered in public about the terrorists: "Can you imagine the absolute thrill they must have felt watching the building come at them at 400 miles an hour? The god-like power they must have felt carrying so many people to their death? The bravery they must have possessed to prepare for and commit such an act? The incomprehensible faith they must have possessed, to believe they were doing good and they would be forever praised?" What they did was quite literally bold and brilliant. Yet those remarks of Tiresias were disparaged more than a Luke Short western. But he was considering events as a novelist, not paraging the terrorists--he was trying to understand the emotions and the motives involved in such acts. After all, isn't that what people want: four-star bold and brilliant--fear, explosions, terror, unmitigated and unparalleled evil? Shouldn't good writing be good writing, whether the story is a dazzling chronicle of a romantic egotist or a disturbing psychodrama about a suicide bomber?

Might any of this indicate where American civilization is headed? Perhaps we should be more careful of what we wish for. The Roman plebians must certainly have feared an attack by lions on themselves, and yet they relished the spectacle of Christians as lion chow. We refer you, Dear Reader, to Gibbon to learn the end result.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chapter Seventy-Four, in which Your Bibliothecary gives up reading

Your Bibliothecary reads as much as possible. Of late, we have had a difficult time finding books that are truly readworthy. Though we grew up on fiction, we have been regularly disappointed by almost everything new, and we continue to wait eagerly for the next novel by Thomas Hardy. Our tastes have shifted mildly toward non-fiction, and it is there we have found some good reading in the last year. Unfortunately, it seems as if the bad books have outpaced the good books in 2005.

One can tell something about a reader by the list of books they have read and enjoyed. One can also tell something about a reader by the list of books they tried to read but gave up on. Though we always believed it was important to read a book complete to the end, hoping the author would pull off a miracle on the last page, we now have discovered so many more books that are appealing, that call to us like the Sirens, demanding we leave behind those boring books and pick them up instead. So, inspired by Semicolon, we offer the titles that come to mind (because we didn't maintain a list, and perhaps we ought to) that we did not finish reading.

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. Somehow we had the idea it would be in the vein of Umberto Eco, and we were deceived.

Science: The Glorious Entertainment by Jacques Barzun. We so thoroughly enjoyed From Dawn to Decadence and a collection of his essays, but, alas, his science was dry.

A Fool and His Money by Ann Wroe. A story set in a medieval city that we hoped would provide great flavor, and now have all but given up on.

A Lover's Almanac by Maureen Howard. Just not engaging.

The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett. This one I really wanted to read, and I may have to give it another chance sometime in the future.

The Floating Book by Michelle Lovric. She put together such a great book on love letters. Apparently the quality of writing she found in those letters did not fully rub off on her.

No doubt there were other books consigned to the forget-it pile. What makes you give up on a book? How long do you continue before ejecting from the doomed flight of literary trash? What, I wonder, was the most gived-up-on book of 2005?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Chapter Seventy-Three, in which We mark an old fashioned Christmas

It is a beautiful arrangement, also derived from days of yore, that
this festival, which commemorates the announcement of the religion of peace and love, has been made the season for gathering together of family connections, and drawing closer again those bands of kindred hearts which the cares and pleasures and sorrows of the world are continually operating to cast loose; of calling back the children of a family who have launched forth in life, and wandered widely asunder, once more to assemble about the paternal hearth, that rallying-place of the affections, there to grow young and loving again among the endearing mementoes of childhood.

--excerpt from "Old Christmas" by Washington Irving

Chapter Seventy-Two, in which Your Bibliothecary settles down to a long winter's Nap

Lo, now is come the joyful'st feast!
   Let every man be jolly,
Eache roome with yvie leaves is drest,
   And every post with holly.

Now all our neighbours' chimneys smoke,
   And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with bak't meats choke,
   And all their spits are turning.
      Without the door let sorrow lie,
         And if, for cold, it hap to die,
      We'll bury't in a Christmas pye,
         And evermore be merry.

--excerpt from a carol by George Wither

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Chapter Seventy-One, in which are considered Books as Films



Woman sitting in easy chair beside fireplace reading book.

I bet Helena Bonham Carter would make a wonderful Helen McGill.

# # #

The Silent Partner and Your Bibliothecary have been spending several nights each week viewing films delivered by a prominent rental service that really doesn't charge late fees. We have experienced a smattering of everything, some good and some not. We have yet to identify a prominent pattern in our tastes.

As far as we can determine, about twenty percent of these films have come from novels. Perhaps our favorite was "The End of the Affair" of 1999. In some ways the 1955 version more tightly followed Graham Greene's novel, but it pales miserably beside the remake. The performance of both leads is brilliant, and the tone of the novel is far more successfully conveyed in this more recent version.

"Dangerous Liaisons" and "Valmont" hit the screens at nearly the same time, both based on Choderlos de Laclos' epistolary novel. Both are good productions, and each sheds a slightly different light on the story. The book, however, revealed the characters as more intriguing, more plotting, more devious than either screen version.

"Camille Claudel" was based on the biographical novel by Anne Delbée. The book does a good job of contrasting Claudel's work with that of Rodin, and leaves us with a profound sense of sadness. The movie covers her career, but only suggests how the rest of her life is spent, and therefore misses that sadness. However, the performance of Isabel Adjani is what we believe to be one of the greatest in cinematic history, and she gives true life to the artist that simply cannot come through the pages of a book.

"The Phantom of the Opera" was wonderful, and easily an improvement over Gaston Leroux's rather dreadful novel.

"The Name of the Rose" did not come close to the level of satisfaction of Umberto Eco's wonderfully detailed medieval novel.

So what makes a good film adaptation? What is your favorite movie version of a novel, and what is your least favorite? What book are you yearning to see brought to the big screen?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Chapter Seventy, in which is presented the first Review of the Slaves of Golconda

There had never been a death more foretold.

On January 22, 1951, in the town of Sucre, a handsome medical student named Cayetano Gentile was killed by the brothers of Margarita Chica Salas, after she had been returned home by her husband, Miguel Reyes Palencia, who found her not to be a virgin on their wedding night. Minutes before being stabbed, Cayetano had mailed a letter to the father of Gabriel García Márquez, and had encountered his brother and sister, who invited Cayetano home for breakfast. So the writer, working as a provincial journalist on a local paper in Cartagena, heard the story in intimate detail from his family.

Thirty years later, García Márquez put to paper a similar story: when Bayardo San Román discovers that his bride is not a virgin, he returns her to her home where her brothers Pablo and Pedro Vicario demand to know who has dishonored her. Angela Vicario names Santiago Nasar, a man merry and peaceful, and openhearted, who belonged to a different world than she did, who had never been seen with her, and who was too haughty to have noticed her. Thus, with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, the unsettling events begin to unfold.

What had happened, Angela Vicario would tell in all its details to anyone who wanted to hear it, except for one item that would never be cleared up: who was the real cause of her damage, and how and why, because no one believed that it had really been Santiago Nasar. The investigating magistrate could not find a single clue, not even the most improbable, that Santiago Nasar had been the cause of the wrong. García Márquez, in the role of narrator, says Santiago Nasar died without understanding his death, a belief confirmed by the statement of Santiago Nasar when he learns the Vicario brothers intend to kill him: "I don't understand a God-damned thing." Though the details change, that is probably the way death comes to us all.

The Vicario brothers were set on defending the honor of their sister and their family. But they did not really want to kill Santiago Nasar. [T]he Vicario brothers had done nothing right with a view to killing Santiago Nasar immediately and without any public spectacle, but had done much more than could be imagined to have someone to stop them from killing him, and they had failed. They announce to everyone their intentions, causing one woman to believe the Vicario brothers were not as eager to carry out the sentence as to find someone who would do them the favor of stopping them. This was the key element of the story that, when eventually struck upon by García Márquez, turned the nearly forgotten subject of Cayetano Gentile's killing into the basis for a novel.

Unfortunately for the brothers, [t]heir reputation as good people was so well-founded that no one paid any attention to them. And those who tried to warn Santiago Nasar were unable to find him in time. The investigating magistrate explained these facts by noting "Fatality makes us invisible."

If the wedding of Bayardo San Román and Angela Vicario had not been such a public event; if Angela's prayers for the courage to kill herself had been answered; if the mayor hadn't had a date for dominoes; if the bishop had stopped--any of these things, and a hundred others, would have changed the fate of Santiago Nasar. Though there were many who could have done something to prevent his killing, they consoled themselves with the pretext that affairs of honor are sacred monopolies, giving access only to those who are part of the drama. The narrator concedes that this was a death for which we all could have been to blame. With the bishop coming to town that morning, and passing right by in his boat without even stopping, it is as if the whole town has been damned by God. For the immense majority of people, there was only one victim: Bayardo San Román.

A strong sense of machismo and honor pervades Latin cultures. "We killed him openly," Pedro Vicario said, "but we're innocent." Unfortunately, for Santiago Nasar and others like him, honor is not always the same as justice. The lawyer stood by the thesis of homicide in legitimate defense of honor, which was upheld by the court in good faith. Such notions seem odd to most North Americans, among whom refusing to get involved is a well-documented practice. One of the most famous examples of this was the 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese at her New York apartment, where at least 38 people had some knowledge of the crimes but did nothing to stop them. The recent passage of so-called Good Samaritan laws are reactions to such incidents. One even sees mirrored in individual blindfoldedness the collective reluctance to become involved in foreign conflicts in places like Bosnia and Iraq.

A blurb inside our edition of Chronicle likens the novella to the performance of a ballet. Indeed, there is the stage of the town, and upon this stage the various characters all move about in a dance of death. What keeps us reading, knowing from the first line the fate of Santiago Nasar, is the details that flesh out the how and why. With his training as a journalist, it is in a reporter's plain and thorough style that García Márquez tells his story. To the basis of truth he adds but a few touches of magical realism--a bullet that penetrates a cupboard and several walls before destroying a plaster statue; a man who does not sleep for eleven months; an aged woman whose beauty is preserved like a rose by sleeping past noon--all characteristically related as simple fact. The supreme talents of García Márquez as a novelist remain in this story in the background, producing a perfect choreography--like a ballet--so the coincidences and fatalities, as absurd as they may seem, work. Even though the fate of Santiago Nasar is known from the beginning, we are still stunned by his death at the end.

In what we consider to be the gem of the whole book, the investigating magistrate summed up the speechless perplexity of the whole matter: he never thought it legitimate that life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature, so that there should be the untrammeled fulfillment of a death so clearly foretold.

Crónica de una muerte anunciada was published in 1981, one year before García Márquez won the Nobel Prize. Gregory Rabassa's English translation followed in 1983, from which quotes in italics above are taken.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Nine, in which your Bibliothecary explores the Marvelous Real

In anticipation of the upcoming celebration of Gabriel García Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold by the Slaves of Golconda (fully described in the chilling, edge-of-your seat Chapter Sixty-Three), Sylvia has been doing some background research. Your Bibliothecary hopes to further whet the appetites of Slaves and Dear Readers alike by offering a piece written a few years ago in recognition of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the publication of the acknowledged classic One Hundred Years of Solitude.

So, without further preamble, we give you...

One Hundred Years of Solitude

by Gabriel García Márquez
(first published 1967, Editorial Sudamericana, S.A., Buenos Aires as Cien Años de Soledad)

My introduction to Gabriel García Márquez, and to the style termed "Magical Realism," came in 1988 with the publication of his novel Love in the Time of Cholera. I enjoyed it greatly, touched by the love story and enchanted by the everyday "magic." Based on that experience, I decided to try his proclaimed masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude. Although I prefer the lighter touch and tighter focus of Cholera, Solitude has many aspects to recommend itself, and can indeed be considered a landmark literary achievement. What follows, then, is not a critique or review, but one avid reader's appreciation.

One Hundred Years of Solitude has been variously called myth, biography, and history. I find aspects of all these, and others, in the book. What one can say without dissent is that it is a wonderful and popular read not at all dependent upon a knowledge of the history or politics described. This has certainly helped it to become what Gerald Martin has called, "The first truly international best-seller in Latin American publishing history." Mostly for this book did García Márquez receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

Despite its warm reception outside Latin America, Western audiences have yet to truly understand the novel and the style in which it is written. Our emphasis on science and logic ignores a real and potent strain of enchantment that runs through our daily lives. Solitude is filled with these every day miracles. But the term "Magical Realism" is misleading at best. To draw a line between fantasy and reality is to misunderstand the novel completely. Everything García Márquez presents is genuinely real, but seen with a new (to Westerners) perspective. In fact, everything in the novel could more accurately be described as fantasy, because that is the perspective with which García Márquez has us view life. In an interview with Miguel Fernandez-Braso in 1969, García Márquez said, "My most important problem was to destroy the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic. Because in the world that I was trying to evoke, that barrier didn't exist." Solitude therefore erases the dichotomy between reality and imagination, history and myth, memory and prophecy. The book itself blurs the boundaries between popular consumerist fluff and enduring literary art. To categorise Solitude as "Magical Realism" is lazy and denigrates the Latin American experience of life, forcing it to conform to Anglo American norms. This novel and others of the same style are more precisely described by Alejo Carpentier's term "the marvelous real."

A fine example of the blending of history and myth (and the precise and sincere narrative tone in the novel) is the aftermath of the banana workers' strike. The government summons the workers to a meeting. One of the main characters of the novel, José Arcadio Segundo, is among the workers:
Next to José Arcadio Segundo there was a barefooted woman, very fat, with two children between the ages of four and seven. She was carrying the smaller one and she asked José Arcadio Segundo, without knowing him, if he would lift up the other one so that he could hear better. José Arcadio Segundo put the child on his shoulders. Many years later that child would still tell, to the disbelief of all, that he had seen the lieutenant reading Decree No. 4 of the civil and military leader of the province through an old phonograph horn. It had been signed by General Carlos Cortes Vargas and his secretary, Major Enrique García Isaza, and in three articles of eighty words he declared the strikers to be a "bunch of hoodlums" and he authorized the army to shoot to kill. (p. 309-10)

Just such an atrocity occurred in Colombia's history. And just as in the novel, the government denied the event ever happened and the victims ever existed. Such a thing seems more like fiction to an Anglo American audience, but it is indeed horribly true. Governments do deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate in their own interests.

That brutal episode aside, there is something clearly magical about Macondo. It is a state of mind as much as, or even more than, a real geographical place. To further underscore the difference in the perspective of García Márquez, the inhabitants of Macondo are unfazed by things that seem plainly supernatural in the Western world, such as a flying carpet or levitation by means of chocolate; but when they encounter electric buses, movies, phonographs, and telephones, they can no longer recognise the boundaries of reality.

In general, the history of Macondo follows a linear development, from its Edenic founding, through the military struggles as it becomes integrated into the rest of the world, to its invasion by technology and civilisation, and ending with its decadence and physical destruction. There is clearly a line connecting definite points in history, beginning with the exploration of Sir Francis Drake and continuing until the banana workers' strike. But this line inscribes a circle. Úrsula, the central female character, is repeatedly struck by the conviction that time is going in a circle and events are repeating. Pilar Ternera observes that "the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle." (p.402) In the case of the room of the gypsy Melquíades, "it was always March there and always Monday." (p.355) And the very first sentence of the novel is constructed such that past, present, and future all exist at once, with time flowing out in every direction. Indeed, the novel is multilayered, telling many stories of many characters often all at once, as if they coexisted all at once. I have found the best way to read and understand the book is to digest it in individual episodes that follow characters and thoughts with no regard at all for time.

Some of my favorite episodes in the novel are the trickle of blood (p.135), the shower of flowers (p.144), and the discovery of a monster or fallen angel or the Wandering Jew (p.349-50). Embedded within the episodes are also synopses of several of the author's short stories.

Many people recognise in the novel a central Oedipal plotline veined with a theme of solitude. At the start of the book, the founders of Macondo are familiar with their family history, how their relatives had produced a male child with a pig's tail. This tail was a badge of solitude and an integral part of the son as a human. When the tail was removed, the son died. This episode of the past is actually a future (or prophecy) which never comes about, despite the fact that the Buendías eventually lose track of their history, and the last couple has no idea how closely related they are. When pressed on the subject of the novel, García Márquez has said that he really wanted to write a book about incest. And so it is that incest becomes the ultimate solitude of the Buendías and ends the family and the town.

The men and women of the Buendía family become the two sides of the marvelous real in Macondo. It is here that the line is most clearly drawn between the fantasies of the men and the realities of the women. Yet they all eventually resign themselves to the failures of their efforts. It is their very acts of resignation that condemn them to solitude of every kind. There is fearful solitude, terrible solitude, miserable solitude, and bitter solitude; a shell of solitude, an aridity of solitude, a cloister of solitude, and a pox of solitude; a solitary bed, a solitary vulture, a solitary chestnut tree, a solitary vocation, a solitary meditation, a solitary window, and solitary frustrations, streets, and hours; there is the solitude of death (which is nothing compared to the solitude of living!); there is a pact with solitude, and even accomplices in solitude. Despite all this, Úrsula believes the downfall of the Buendías can be attributed simply to war, fighting cocks, bad women, and wild undertakings.

The novel is also full of allusions to the Bible. Some interpretations are based on the presumption that Solitude is a reworking of the Book of Genesis. Macondo is initially a paradise in which no one dies. The inhabitants suffer numerous plagues. One of the women ascends bodily into the clouds. A storm of biblical proportions annihilates the town. The discovery of a Spanish galleon in the middle of the jungle elicits thoughts of the ark. And throughout the novel there is an implicit acknowledgment of the power of namery. When Macondo is still a village, many things are yet to be named. Later, a plague of insomnia is combated by inscribing the names of things and their purpose, and the inhabitants realise they are "living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words...."(p.49) By far the most potent example is the names of the characters, which repeat incestuously and doom the characters to the events of their predecessors.

But something else is happening here. Near the end a priest seems to know what is going on, as he tells Aureliano Babilonia, "It's enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment." (p.415) So what exactly does he mean?

In 1965, García Márquez withdrew to the study of his Mexico City home and essentially remained there for eighteen months until he had overthrown a three-year reign of writer's block with the thirteen-hundred page manuscript for One Hundred Years of Solitude. In his novel, the gypsy Melquíades acts in exactly the same manner to create a mysterious quadruple-coded manuscript. There is another famous novel concerning one Don Quixote which is purported to be a translation of an Arabic manuscript, which mirrors life much like Solitude, and in which the author refers to himself. Readers of either book can easily find a copy in English, and thus treat themselves to an extra layer of decoding. For the Buendías, the task of deciphering and understanding the manuscript of Melquíades is not so simple. Generations pass and histories are forgotten before Aureliano Babilonia finally succeeds.

At the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia discovers he is only a character in a manuscript, I realise that the narrator is not outside the novel but within. I survive (though not forever!) to share my appreciation of this fabulous novel. But the self-knowledge Aureliano Babilonia gains means the end of his family and town.
...he began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he lived it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he was looking into a speaking mirror. Then he skipped again to anticipate the predictions and ascertain the date and circumstances of his death. Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments.... (p.422)

It has all been like a dream, seemingly so real when we are in it, until we wake to discover the dream-us doesn't really exist, and it all vanishes.

How does one interpret this novel then? Brian McHale has posited that "a character's knowledge of his own fictionality often functions as a kind of master-trope for determinism--cultural, historical, psychological determinism, but especially the inevitability of death ... being the puppet of playwright and director is a metaphor for being the puppet of fate, history, the human condition." (Postmodernist Fiction, p.123)

But Aureliano Babilonia never dies. He remains in the room, reading about his end, as the city of mirrors is swept away by a warm wind "full of voices from the past, the murmurs of ancient geraniums, sighs of disenchantment that preceded the most tenacious nostalgia...." (p.421)

Melquíades had been through death, but returned "because he could not bear the solitude." (p.50) He was the first one to die in Macondo, and was buried there. "He was a fugitive from all the plagues and catastrophes that had ever lashed mankind. He had survived pellagra in Persia, scurvy in the Malayan archipelago, leprosy in Alexandria, beriberi in Japan, bubonic plague in Madagascar, an earthquake in Sicily, and a disastrous shipwreck in the Strait of Magellan." (p.6) The one hundred years of solitude are his.

A person who exists in solitude also exists outside of time. Melquíades claims to have discovered the means to immortality-it is that of written memory. He is a prophet because he is an author; he knows what will happen because he writes it. His name itself, based on a Hebrew root combined with a Greek suffix, leads, according to Kabalarian wisdom, to writing as a more natural mode of expression than the spoken word.

Alicia Edwards has made another enlightening observation. She draws a comparison of the text within a text to a set of Chinese boxes. Though it is readily accepted there could always be another box inside, creating an infinite history, one rarely explores the possibility of another box outside. With our new Latin American perspective on reality, can we begin to imagine that García Márquez and his readers are merely characters in a much larger text written by a much greater author?

Let me suggest one more interpretation. Milan Kundera has said that all his books are basically transcripts of the discourses he has with the characters he creates. It is possible García Márquez has done this, one step removed, through Melquíades. What Ursula sees as the wild dreaming of the men is their struggle to be alive, to somehow escape the text. Whereas the women are docile and accept their fate as characters in a book, the men attempt to rebel against their author. Indeed, as the book progresses, the women no longer see Melquíades, and they think the men are talking to themselves when they are really talking with him. But try as Melquíades might, García Márquez makes certain that Macondo and the Buendías are not "exiled from the memory of men" as the massacre of the banana workers has been. For this we should all be grateful.

I prefer to read One Hundred Years of Solitude as a demonstration of the magical ability of writing to create a reality.

feather line
All quotes and references to One Hundred Years of Solitude correspond to the 1971 Avon Books publication of Gregory Rabassa's English translation.

Links for further study:
Visit Macondo at The Modern Word.
Read a lecture given by Ian Johnston.
Read a review of the book upon its first release in English in 1970.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Eight, in which Dreams have consequences

Yesterday morning your Bibliothecary had the pleasure of breaking fast with our darling Erato. Sadly misunderstood and eminently beddable, few women are as dear to us, or as fascinating. A keen ability to sense the pain she kept hidden behind her mask of beauty absolutely disarmed her at one of our earliest meetings, and we have been devoted confidantes ever since.

Even before reaching the restaurant, we sensed her elegiac mood. We gave her time to exude her charm and captivate her audience, and then demanded to know what troubled her.

"Dreams," she said quietly.

In an earlier time, Erato had participated in a fast and furious affair of the heart with someone we viewed as a rather common man, and who we shall refer to by the common name of Dennis. Dennis had a commitment, and Erato had many attachments, but somehow these two shared a sense that they were meant to be together. She cherished their bond in a manner completely different from any other we have witnessed. Then, by some tragic event--the only thing we know of that she keeps shrouded from us--they parted ways. Often we have wondered if Erato has not pursued so many other casual affairs in an effort to escape the suffering of separation from the one she is still convinced she was destined to love.

"The other night I dreamed we were reconciled." She woke that morning with such a feeling of fullness, of completion, of at-long-last. "It was," she said, "the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced."

So we returned to the original question: what troubled her now. Without any sense of embarrassment or irony, she revealed that a great melancholy had descended over her because she had woke every morning since unable to dream of Dennis again.

The waitress arrived at just that moment with our food, and we were allowed the time to think before responding, to try to make sense of what Erato had told us, or was trying to tell us. We should have known better than to say to a woman like her, "They're just dreams."

She asked us about the last time that we did something strenuous. Before the snow, we were riding a bicycle daily. She asked how we felt after a ride. We generally returned home sweaty, out of breath, tired, but exhilarated.

"That is exactly how I woke from my dream," she said. What she meant was, she had experienced the dream as real as any of our bicycle rides.

So we wonder: are dreams real? Is reality a dream? If the brain perceives and responds to something, how can we claim that it never really happened?

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Seven, in which Books make great Gifts

Today I woke up and discovered the postman had stuffed my mailbox with the new Common Reader Holiday Catalog. And I didn't even leave any cookies and milk!

In the address to his readers, James Mustich says books "charm, strengthen, and inform the mind and heart."
Making a gift of a book speaks of our desire for significant conversation. It's an emblem of respect between giver and recipient.
Last week we donated over 400 children's books to be distributed with annual holiday food baskets given to those in need. Your Bibliothecary made a formal presentation to the local Rotary Club, whose members were absolutely thrilled. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, we saw photographs of New Orleans from a pastor who had volunteered there for two weeks, and listened to his story. We then talked a little about our shop and made the donation. We had the means, and we wanted to make a gesture of community.

The local newspaper printed a picture and story about our event. Response has been positive. We have two billboards in town right now, and a third to go back up at the end of the month. We have extended our hours to give those who work all day the opportunity to visit in the evening. Internet sales are very good, and the website is getting hits. Waldenbooks has even sent readers to us in search of out-of-print books.

Despite all this, traffic in our store is all but non-existent. What we hoped would be a strong month has begun, since Thanksgiving, with less than a whimper--it's been a whimp! Is reading such a solitary activity that reader's do not even share books with loved ones any more? Haven't people heard that books make great gifts?

We are enjoying the catalog from A Common Reader, using it to make our own list for Santa. We are also searching for the gifts our loved ones will be receiving with best wishes. Milton said, "A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life." What better gift could one make?

Friday, December 2, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Six, in which your Bibliothecary is a Punctuation Mark


There's no denying that you have a certain flair. You don't mind being around others, especially your little brother, the hyphen, but you rarely emerge except when needed. You respond well to those who know how to treat you, but have only contempt for those who don't--you tend to embarass them every chance you get. Your only enemy is the colon--he will sometimes try to move in on your turf.

Ahthe Dash. Why not use a comma? Why not a colon? Why not the perfectly serviceable period? Is there a punctuation mark that is any more misunderstood?

In appearance, the dash is long and straight. However, according to Patricia T. O'Conner in Woe Is I, the dash is, in actuality, a detour. Okayso I am off the beaten path. One begins along a sentence and then suddenly I appear, pointing in another direction. In this way do I add emphasis to key components within a sentenceI cause one to pause and really concentrate on what is to follow.

Chapter Sixty-Five, in which the Poem of the Month is featured

One day late, but, nevertheless--the bloggods perhaps wanted to balance the day-early posting by Karie.

Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of America's foremost poets. Recognition of her talent came early from Christopher Morley, by whose influence she was first published. Today her poetry is acclaimed for its lyrical perfection.

What follows is an excerpt from "The Poet and His Book".

When this book is mould,
   And a book of many
Waiting to be sold
    For a casual penny,
In a little open case,
    In a street unclean and cluttered,
    Where a heavy mud is spattered
From the passing drays,

Stranger, pause and look;
    From the dust of ages
Lift this little book,
    Turn the tattered pages,
Read me, do not let me die!
    Search the fading letters, finding
    Steadfast in the broken binding
All that once was I!