When I was 18 my family went to live in Argentina for a couple of years. My father had taken a job there and wanted us all to join him on the adventure. My father left for Argentina in January and the rest of us were to join him in July, after the school year was over. It was a rocky start to begin with but things soon got better. We arrived in July, which is winter in Argentina, in the pouring rain and my dad picked us all up from the airport. Our new home was an apartment above a pizza place. At first I thought I would enjoy living above a pizza place but I didn’t like their pizza all that much and most of the time our apartment smelled like breadcrumbs burning inside a pizza oven all day. My two brothers and I shared one room, my sister in another, and my parents in theirs. It was a much smaller living space than we were all used to and most of the time it smelled like burning pizza oven and the deafening sound of motorcycle engines speeding by our window was a frequent occurrence. Eventually we all got more used to living with each other in such small quarters. My brother and I started going to a gym nearby and we even found a lending library with English language books. I signed up for a library card there and the lady running the place let me borrow one book at a time.
This is supposed to be the part of the blog where I say that the one book I chose to take out of the library was 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and it changed my life from then on. That’s not quite how it happened though.
The first book I borrowed from that library was The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. The most complicated book I had read before that was Perfume by Patrick Suskind. It’s about a murderer who steals women’s smells. Or something like that. I knew very little about Salman Rushdie but I knew that he got a lot of people mad at him by writing this book, so I decided that it would be my next book.
Living in Argentina got easier for myself and my family. We eventually moved out of the downtown pizza apartment and into a slightly more suburb-y area. My one brother and I shared a room with an air conditioner and my sister got her own room and I assume so did my youngest brother. There was a lot more space. There was even a lemon tree out back. Amazing! My favourite part of this house was this little nook thing under the stairs. This nook was made for sitting and reading a book. There was an old lamp and old chairs and old ottomans. It was lovely. I sat there a lot and read Salman Rushdie.
Eventually I decided, because I was 19 and thought I knew everything, that it was time for me to leave Argentina and go back to Canada on my own. This was a fantastic idea. I ended up back in Canada taking care of the family home while the rest of my family was still in Argentina for another six months or so. Immediately when I came back to Canada I realized that I did not really want to be back there. I was happy for English-speaking television and fast food but after the first week or so I realized that I probably should never have left my family in the first place. In order to punish myself for this decision I decided to look for work in any field that would allow me to work some kind of ridiculous night shift. If I played my cards right, when winter came, I could wake up in the dark, go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, and sleep all the daylight away. Hooray! It was some kind of weird Taxi Driver phase I went though.
Books were something that provided good company during my time back in Canada, all alone, working night shifts at a donut store. Salman Rushdie’s book led me to these lists that Amazon users would make on the website that would suggest books, movies, and other things that people should buy. I don’t think they have these any more. I loved these lists. They had titles like “25 Books that will change your life” or “10 Books to read before you’re 30” and stuff like that. One book that kept coming up over and over again was 100 Years of Solitude. “It should be required reading for the entire human race” I think it said on the back of the book or something.
I read this book with every free minute I had and when I wasn’t sleeping. I read this book instead of sleeping. I read very slowly. I still read very slowly. I was 19 years old and I didn’t realize that high school and college students were being forcefully introduced to this book in their curriculum. I just knew that somebody on the 2001 Internet was telling me to read it. I read this book and listened to Dark Side of the Moon a lot. I loved this book. When I was finished it I’m pretty sure I re-read the last page over and over again. It was right then, on my couch in a very dark and empty house that I decided I wanted to try to become a writer. I had no idea how I would do this. I only knew that I wanted to try to attempt the kind of alchemy that Marquez achieved. I wanted to try.
There is a writer named Shane Jones who I think is very great. His book ‘Light Boxes’ was something that I felt very much had the spirit of Marquez inside it. It’s also so much more than that. It is a beautiful book and it was a wonderful experience reading it. On his Facebook page after Marquez died, Jones wrote, “i read 100 Years at just the right time (like, 25 yrs old?) and it changed the way I thought about writing fiction forever, namely, that you can do anything you want and you should.” and I feel that this is 100% bang on. You can do anything you want and you should.
There are so many great writers that have come and gone in this world. We will never be able to agree on who is or was the greatest of them all. I do know that Marquez is the reason why I am still trying to be a writer today.
I was looking on Wikipedia and realized that I’ve probably read about 90% of GGM’s fiction. Here is a timeline:
2001– Read 100 Years of Solitude. We no longer have the couch that I read it on.
2001 (December)- read Love in the Time of Cholera. I borrowed it from the Fort Saskatchewan Public Library and then lost it in the Toronto International Airport. The fine was $45.
2002– Read Chronicle of a Death Foretold (recommended by my friend Adam). Was finally accepted to a post secondary institution of higher learning. I think that this book has a better love story than Cholera. It’s the one book I would recommend people to read of Marquez because it doesn’t have any of the added pressure that the previous two have.
2003– read Autumn of the Patriarch. Took my first Comparative Literature class. Read that book instead of reading the course material.
2003-2005– DISCOVERED THE SHORT STORIES!
2006– Wrote my first actual short story. It was a horrible ripoff of Marquez. It was accepted to a student literary journal. I read it in front of a small group of people at the launch party in a bar called RATT on a very hot day. In the front row was a Finnish girl named Nina.
2007– Used that one short story and some other stories that I wrote and applied to the University of Manchester Masters program. GOT ACCEPTED! Took my Marquez books to England with me. My bags were very heavy.
I have a copy of Marquez’s autobiography that I still have not read. It will be the last thing I read before I die perhaps. Just like Desmond from LOST who saved that one last Dickens book to read until the end.
It’s a nice thought.