Fat Books & Thin Women

30 Day Book Meme, Day 30

Your favorite book of all time:

Gosh, last day of the 30 Day Book Meme. I bet you thought this would never arrive!

Since it stands to reason that my favorite book by my favorite author is my favorite book overall, you already know that Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor is my #1. I’ve offered so many repeats this month (posts on Harry Potter, posts on Nabokov, posts on stuff I read when I was a kid) that I don’t want to close this out by parroting something I wrote two weeks ago, as good a thematic fit as that might be.

Looking at Favorite Books Not Written by Nabokov, then, leaves us with a toss-up between Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. I am going to get a denar coin…

Well, a five denar coin.

Heads One Hundred Years of Solitude, tails The English Patient. I hope you are getting as anxious as me, wondering who will win this lamest of literary showdowns.

It’s heads! With apologies to Ondaatje, who I’m eventually going to write a post on, but it’s García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude declaring its domination of the literary arts today. You can read my scattered post on One Hundred Years here. While you’re doing that I’ll be laying down for a nap – it’s been a trying few minutes.

30 Day Book Meme:
Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

 Subscribe to the Fat Books & Thin Women feed

Reread: Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude

You’d think that Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude would get easier to write about after a third read, but it doesn’t. So, instead of a review this one will be a scattered collection of my thoughts on the novel.

  1. This novel has one of the greatest first lines ever written: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendìa was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice” (1).
  2. Márquez writes about a world that is heavy with time and its confusions and its progression or circular nature. Macondo, the town and time of the Buendìa family, sometimes exists outside of time, in a world that is “so recent that many things lacked names” (1) with progress and knowledge and the time of the outside world entering in the form of others: the gypsy Melquiades, Pietro Crespi, the train and the banana company. Macondo never feels a part of the world as much as it feels a place acted on by the rest of the world.
  3. Márquez’s characters experience “hereditary memory,” like the passed-down image of Melquiades:

    Aureliano, who could not have been more than five at the time, would remember him [Melquiades] for the rest of his life as he saw him that afternoon, sitting against the metallic and quivering light from the window, lighting up with his deep organ voice the darkest reaches of the imagination, while down over his temples there flowed the grease that was being melted by the heat. Jose Arcadio, his older brother, would pass on that wonderful image as a herditary memory to all of his descendants. (6)

    I’ve always loved this idea of memory being passed down in this way, and also how Márquez uses it in the novels – how characters, later on, will experience this image without knowing what it is or where it comes from, whose memory it is or that it is a memory at all, and how that circles the reader back to this early point in the novel. This may be what Marquez does best, inspiring the reader to loop across the novel’s time, with characters’ whole lives being revealed to us in a few sentences, as when we learn in the first line of the book that Colonel Aureliano Buendìa will one day stand before a firing squad, which colors our expectations of his future. (The Reading Ape gave a word and definition to this: telechronance, which is about perfect and captures the way Marquez reveals a whole life in a sentence, suggesting or revealing the future impact of a moment.)

  4. It’s not just hereditary memory that characters experience; they also actively remember their pasts, as when Amaranta wears a life-long black wrapping on her hand after Pietro Crespi kills himself, or when Fernanda turns “the royal regalia into a device for her memory” (369 – 370). These memorial devices don’t always seem necessary, though; characters are so tied with their pasts that the notion of a device for memory is nothing more than a formality.
  5. The first time I read this book I didn’t flip back to the family tree often, but this time I must’ve checked that page about a hundred times while I was reading. Hard as I try, I still can’t keep all the Aurelianos and Arcadios straight.
  6. So much like the way the reader is circled around in the novel is Pilar Ternera’s understanding of the Buendìa family history:

    There was no mystery in the heart of a Buendìa that was impenetrable for her because a century of cards and experience had taught her 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 axel. (402)

  7. Which Úrsala guesses at, too. (And she is by far one of my favorite characters from the novel – how she goes blind but keeps better track of where things and people are than anyone else, how she realizes the absolute sameness of her family’s daily routines, how no one around her realizes that she’s gone blind…) Okay, back to the quote which I wanted to get to:

    “Lord save us!” she exclaimed, as if she could see everything. “So much trouble teaching you good manners and you end up living like a pig.”

    José Arcadio Segundo was still reading over the parchments. The only thing visible in the intricate tangle of hair was the teeth striped with green slime and his motionless eyes. When he recognized his great-grandmother’s voice he turned his head toward the door, tried to smile, and without knowing it repeated an old phrase of Úrsala’s.

    “What did you expect?” he murmured. “Time passes.”

    “That’s how it goes,” Úrsala said, “but not so much.”

    When she said it she realized that she was giving the same reply that Colonel Aureliano Buendìa had given in his death cell, and once again she shuddered with the evidence that time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle. (341)

  8. Gosh, gosh, gosh. I love this book. When I was on vacation in January some people at the hostel we stayed at started going off on Márquez and the “cuteness” of his work. Whatever you might say about his work, it’s not “cute” and it’s not “light.” His writing is gorgeous, spider-webby, baffling, and I have no patience for anyone who blames the overwhelming sense (in North America, anyway) that reading a book by Márquez handles all “those magical realist writers from South America” on Márquez himself.
  9. There are some books I just need to quote from and gush about, and this is one of them.
  10. My page numbers are from the British Penguin Edition.
  11. Over and out.

 Subscribe to the Fat Books & Thin Women feed

What’s Literary Nonfiction?

Literary Blog Hop

Is it really fair that just two weeks after forcing me to define what “literary writing” is (I did not really define it, for those of you keeping track) the folks at the Blue Bookcase are asking for a definition of “literary nonfiction”? I mean, more accurately, they’re asking if I believe there is literary non-fiction. Of course I do! Of course there is plenty of literary non-fiction!

That said, I am not really sure how I would define it other than to say that, as with literary fiction, I know it when I see it. But like Connie at the Blue Bookcase says, I’d generally consider literary nonfiction to be any non-fiction book that places some emphasis on the aesthetic aspects of writing. And it’s a work of nonfiction that is maybe trying to do something new, in the sometimes confused world of fiction and nonfiction, like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

If someone says there is not such a thing as literary nonfiction, I will probably have no choice but to roll over and die. How about Boswell’s Life of Johnson? (Entering the dangerous realm of books I haven’t read but maybe one day will. Maybe.) How about Nabokov’s Speak, Memory? Marquez’s Living to Tell the Tale?

How about works that claim to be nonfiction but are really fiction, like the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus? (Thanks GRE! On a side note, this is one of those books that you can’t find a decent image for – which somehow increases my interest in reading it, incomplete or no.) Or those works that have a distinct grounding in events that, you know, actually happened, but are themselves fiction, like The Book Thief, or some of Hemingway’s novels, or Tim O’Brien’s The Things We Carried, which itself explores at length the question of what is “true” and “not true”?

Not all of these works I’m throwing out are nonfiction, strictly speaking, but in my mind they all land pretty close. As with In Cold Blood, it’s sometimes hard to draw a distinct line between fiction and nonfiction, and as O’Brien explores in his stories, sometimes what is true factually is not the most true thing we can find.

It’s typical of me that I turn a pretty simple question into a debate about truthiness, but I can’t help it because I’m sitting here at school waiting for classes to start for the afternoon and making plans for my adult English class I have tonight and trying to figure out my nightmare schedule for the next two and a half weeks (picture 10 spelling bees, mostly in villages about thirty minutes from my town), and am seeking desperately to think about something a little deeper than, I don’t know, how many “English stars” my students have to accumulate in order to win a Beanie Baby. And so often the books that seem the most true to me are not true in any strict sense. Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the most true books I can think of, although it is definitely not literary nonfiction. It is literary fiction that captures something essential and real about the world, that maybe couldn’t be captured just by the facts, although some facts do make their way in, as with the banana massacre. (And hey, can’t we add Marquez to our “is it fiction or not?” list, with his The General in His Labyrinth? We can! We can!)

I have veered woefully off course. But to answer the original question, yes, I think there is such a thing as literary nonfiction, and I define it in about the same way I define literary fiction. But I also believes there’s some ever-shifting gray area between literary fiction and literary nonfiction, that some of the best works manage to shift across. I like those books that make me question something about my world or that send me to google in an effort to figure out whether an event is “true” or not. Like those dreams referencing earlier dreams that will always frustrate me as I try to figure out whether I really am footnoting my own dreams in later dreams, or if I am creating “past” dreams, I like the works that shake my world up just enough that I am left unsure of where I stand.