Barnes & Noble. Thursday. April 17, 2014. Six forty five p.m.
A hundred less than solitudinous years ago when I was in Boston working in a bookstore and in charge of our literature section, Avon Books was publishing a series of paperback editions of the great Latin American writers of the day. Jorge Amado, Julio Cortazar, Mario Vargas Llosa, many others. The covers were white with fragmented paintings on the front, all in a similar style, maybe by the same artist. They were bright and rich with lush greens and sugary browns dominating the motifs, calling up images of jungles and cinnamon skin. Employees could take home as our own any paperback we desired by tearing off the front covers, which would be sent back to the publishers and written off as discards I rarely took advantage of this perk and I didn’t with this set because books have feelings and the covers were too pretty, too evocative, too much a part of the appeal of the books But we were also allowed to borrow books, encouraged to, in fact. The company wanted us to be able to make knowledgeable recommendations to customers. I borrowed most of these books over the course of a month and became insufferably knowledgeable. At that time, that was the point. Showing off my knowledge. I still thought of myself as a playwright in the making. I read fiction for fun or homework but not to help learn a craft.
I don’t know what kind of girl I thought would be impressed that I’d read Epitaph for a Small Winner.
Like I said, I read most of the ones we had in the store. Maybe all of them. All of them but one. However many I read, there was at least one I didn’t get to.
I don’t know why I stopped before I got that one or why I didn’t start with that one, since it was the most famous. Maybe I was saving it because it was the most famous. Maybe I thought that because it was the most famous it didn’t serve my purpose as an intellectual showoff. Everybody knew that one. Most likely what happened, however, is I found something else I felt needed to read first.
I never got around to reading that one.
Did you see this post by Michael Hiltzik at the LA Times?
I’ve read other books and stories by Marquez since. Autumn of the Patriarch. Love in the Time of Cholera. One Christmas when I was home from Iowa and it still seemed not just possible but likely I was about to become a novelist in my own right, Mom and Pop Mannion gave me his Collected Stories. I loved that book, for itself, for his sake, for what it seemed to promise for me and my career. Today I went down to the basement and retrieved it from the box where it had been stored since our move here from Syracuse, ten and a half years ago. A dozen other books in the box with it and it was the only one time and damp had touched, its cover slightly warped, a few of its back pages bloated. I put it between two heavy books, hoping it’ll flatten out. I’ll read a story or two from it tonight, and then I’ll open the copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude I just bought and finally begin that one.