Words With Gabo

By now you’ve likely heard the news that Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away yesterday at the age of 87.

I remember my first Gabo experience. It was my senior year of high school, and it involved his short story The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World, a class taught by one of my all-time favorite teachers, and a plethora of analysis.

I did not like the story. Whether it was because I didn’t truly understand it or because having to analyze it drained any hint of enjoyment I gained from reading it, I don’t remember. What did stick was I don’t like this story.

But this was Garcia Marquez. He was a Name in literature, and I wanted to be one of those readers who read Names in literature, who enjoyed them, who understood them.

So a few years later I picked up his short story collection No One Writes to the Colonel. This reading experience went much better than my first one did, so I moved on to the novella Leaf Storm. Cheers all around, so I tried One Hundred Years of Solitude. Or maybe it was Love in the Time of Cholera. Whichever one it was, I failed after about ten pages – it read like the pages of begats in the Bible.

It was another five or six years before I tried another of his novels, and in the interim I read News of a Kidnapping, which is still my favorite of his works and one I recommend on a regular basis. Finally, a few years ago, I read The General in his Labyrinth. I’m not going to pretend I understood it. My goal was simply to get through it, and in that, I succeeded.

What Gabriel Garcia Marquez did for me is evident in other ways. He’s the reason I tried Isabel Allende (whom I love) and Roberto Bolano (and we all know how my experience with 2666 turned out). He’s the reason I seek out stories set in Central and South America, and he’s a big part of the reason I’m fascinated by the history of political and social unrest the region is rife with.

Because I found it easier to enjoy his short stories before tackling one of his novels, I applied the tactic to another Name in literature, Tolstoy – I read the collection Three Novellas and wasn’t completely scarred by the experience – and I’m debating which of his plays I’m going to pick up to read next.

His death will have ripples that reach far and wide, even into the world of genre fiction. It’s sad to think that there’ll be a run on his titles now that he’s gone, and even sadder to know there won’t be anything further from this giant. But it’s hard to complain if this is the nudge that leads more readers to great literature, whether it’s Gabo’s or someone else’s. So go forth and read great Names, and maybe you’ll find Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a Name for you.

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