Monday, January 29, 2007

100 Years of Reading

I've been saving this post until I finished the last book on my list. I just finished, so tonight begins a series of posts about great books and great authors and literature in general. Please start your tapes now. There will be a test at the end.

A little over a year ago, I started a year long reading bender. It all started in November 2005. I came down with my usual November illness, and while too sick to go to work, I did manage to drag myself to a used bookstore and picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Earlier in 2005, I read the first book. Now began a somewhat frantic period in which I devoured the next five.

I have always been a reader. The ladies at the Chinese restaurant that I frequent (the restaurant, not the ladies) comment on the fact that I always have a book. But for many years I have tended to reread the same books over and over. I've read Lord of the Rings over twenty times, the original Conans probably five times, Fritz Leiber's Nehwon series probably ten times, the Earthsea trilogy (plus Tehanu) seven times, three times each for Faulkner's The Rievers, Go Down Moses, and The Hamlet, five or six times for Dinezen's Out of Africa, a couple times each for Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises plus a half dozen each for Green Hills of Africa and Death in the Afternoon, not to mention multiple rereadings of Hemingway's short fiction. And a few others, to be sure.

But in November 2005, I decided first to not read anything that I had already read, and second, to read books and authors who are (or were) considered the very best in their genre. Now, some fifteen months later, I've finally finished the novel I started reading in early December. I want to see if I can go back through all the books I read and give you my impression of them, whether I think they live up to their reputations (either the author or the book), and how the book affected me as a reader and an author.

I'll start with book I just finished - 100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This novel is a large part of the reason Marquez won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Because of it, the genre of magic realism became acceptable as "high literature" (but only if you're from Latin America). It has been called the great novel of the Americas and required reading second only to the Book of Genesis. It was featured in Oprah's Book club, for God's sake!


It's a good book. I enjoyed it, although I thought it went on too long. Toward the end, I just wanted it to end and I was reading out of a sense of duty more than anything else. Really, the book should have ended with the death of Ursula, or somewhere soon after, but what do I know - I've never won a Nobel Prize.

It is an interesting novel with a huge scope - to tell the saga of a family over a period of 100 years. There are parts of it that are brilliant. There are parts that are forgetable. But this is not a book that will stick with me. It did not haunt me. I don't think I will reach a point one day where I wil be stuck with a story and I'll say to myself, how did Marquez handle this in 100 Years of Solitude?

This is how I measure the worth of a book or an author to me - does their work haunt me, do I continue thinking about it days, weeks, months, years later? Do I dream it? Do I find the author's voice creeping into my own writing? Do I seek the author's help with my own stories? Will I search out other books by the same author? Will I reread the story at some point knowing I will enjoy it? Would I miss the book if I were to lose it?

Perhaps I read 100 Years of Solitude too late in life. I don't know. I wasn't disappointed by it, as I have been disappointed by so many books over the last year. Neither have I fallen in love with it, as I did with Nabakov's Lolita and Peake's Gormenghast. But we'll save them for later.

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