The Death of an Author

It was a job that did not pay, but it was a job that I loved.  I was surrounded by books, music and lovely co-workers, kept in good humour by the good cause that we were donating our hours to.  It seemed that every week I volunteered I ended up buying at least one or two books from the shop itself, having rifled through the stock during or after my shift.

It was in this busy little shop that I became fully aware of Márquez’s literary works for the first time.  His name had haunted my literary periphery for some time by this point, but I simply hadn’t yet read a single short story or novel of his.  This changed as I came across a copy of Love In The Time of Cholera on the shelves one day, during one of my weekly shifts.  Perhaps somewhat sneakily, as I was still only half way through my shift and thus still on duty serving customers, I hid the only copy in the shop behind the till so that I could pay for it when I finished the shift.  I subsequently took the book home and devoured it.

Love, in its many myriad of forms, washes over the pages of that novel in all of its wonderfully euphoric and gut wrenching explorations.  Magical realism taints the characters lives and experiences, their town and the very type of the printed words on the pages of the book itself.  In short it is beauty, it is love for the written word, and for the value of stories themselves, that is expressed so eloquently in so fine a book that I took Marquez the author to heart.

In particular it reminded me, at a time where I was reading many dense and dry academic texts, of the value of the story as a common human experience and denominator in, and between, various populations, cultures and nations.  It was also something that I was lacking at that time in my solitary life, as I shuffled wearily between sleep, food, and the library for research and writing.  Essentially Márquez, along with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, helped plug me back into realising the vitality and depth of human life.

My love for Márquez was further solidified coming across a copy of his short stories in another shift.  Later still I came across a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude in another book shop in a different city and I immediately clasped it close to my heart.  Where romance makes the characters flush with life (and death) in Love In The Time of Cholera, it is family history (and political commentary) that bind the characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude.  The book did help to open my eyes anew to Márquez’s work and words, in how social commentary and political narrative can be combined so artfully within a delightful and fluid narrative to make flesh the stories that need, and must, be told to generations new.

Although my bedside table currently bulges with books waiting to be read and although Márquez will now not write any further novels, short stories or journalism, I will keep a space open for any of his works as, when, and if I come across them.  May he rest in peace.

Marquez

Gabriel García Márquez 1927 – 2014. A photograph taken shortly after his speech for accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.

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Short Scenes

I love delving into new authors without really having much or any knowledge of their work or style.  Recently, on a trip to Newcastle, I had a bit of time to kill so I popped into a bookstore and browsed the shelves.  On one of the shelves I found When I Was Mortal, a recently published short story collection by Javier Marías.  I had heard of his name, indeed had looked at his novels before, but I had never read any of his work.  The front cover grabbed my attention with the beautiful photograph of the crow, elegant yet not too understated.

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I am fast becoming a fan of short story collections and folk tales.  Vonnegut showed me the way and Márquez taught me the value of them, Marías is now enticing me to know more.  The short story is a wonderful form, one that is much maligned in the modern printing world.  Of course how could it not be?  Where once it was a mainstay in helping the author to produce work and maintain an income whilst working on novels, it is now rare for authors to be able to earn a living from short stories as a sole main income.  Only stable authors have collections of short stories out in the shops.

Of course this is largely due to the internet and the relatively dying off of short story magazines in recent decades.  But where there is a will there is a way.  New independent magazines are appearing all the time online and in hard copy, and you can contribute to them, as I have done.  The Paperbook Collective is one such example: full of photography, poetry, reviews, short stories and short scenes.  I also got wind that another friend is looking to set up an interactive online magazine full of music, photography, poems, short pieces and essays.  It is something I look forward to contributing to.  Even now as I type ideas fizz and pop into my head, short scenes stolen from real life or dreamt up in fantasy.

In the meantime I heading back to the world of Mariás.  Keep on writing, keep on dreaming.  (But, perhaps most importantly for me, I must keep on editing!).

I Ain’t Got Those Cemetery Blues

I love this cemetery, but don’t bury me here.  Take me somewhere far away, where the trees are evergreen and the sky a deep azure blue.

As I read a book* in the cemetery today I’d thought I’d take a few photographs of the place.  The trees, for me, make this a place of refuge, hemmed in from the hustle and bustle of the nearby streets.  It is not the hustle and bustle of people, but of cars, of individual machines that speed along the tarmacked roads and have no tale to tell save the speed and fury of the human race.  This place, on the other hand, hums with life, with the numerous species of birds calling to each other with stories of love, with the rabbits eating freely on the grass, with the insects teeming over every stone, with the dogs and cats amiably walking around, and the people, the people walking slowly, deep in thought.  I love this place, I have read innumerable books here, wrote letters to friends here, took girlfriends for walks here, learnt to ride my bike here, and yes, I visit old friends, people I have known who have died, here.

In all seasons, in the full cycle of the blinding heat of the full on rays of the sun to the showers of the ice and snow, I have visited and loved this place.  I am lucky to live here in this area, that much I know, where the shades of humanity’s gray dour buildings are offset by the colours of nature herself.  This is a place that I love.

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* The excellent ‘One Hundred Days of Solitude’ by Gabriel García Márquez.  I adored his novel ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ and his short stories, and when I saw ‘One Hundred…’ in a bookstore (we still have those, just) recently I couldn’t resist buying the book, that I felt to be lost in Márquez’s world of magic realism once again would be a deep and fulfilling pleasure, and one that I could not pass up.

Roads To My Reading

Here I present some of my favorite books of 2012 (and a few from before).  You’ll notice they are mostly travel/history books in one form or another, often about places outside of my home country.  Reading for me often opens up the mind, and I tend to gravitate towards travel as this opens up the realms of history and prehistory for the writer, something I’m particularly keen in.  However I am keen on a good novel, so please let me know if you come across any, and I am always open to reading about travel writing, no matter where in the world.  I’d heavily recommend you take a look at the blurbs of the books as they are awfully interesting, and I’m happy for any suggestions to add to my pile.  I’ve put ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy on this list, but I’ve only just managed to hunt down a copy from my local library after having to hand back in my University copy unfinished.  Rest assured though that Oblonsky, Levin, Vronsky and Anna will live long in my imagination.  Click the links to learn more about each book.

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  • And Quiet Flows the Don‘ (1978, USSR 1920) as the first part of the Don Epic by the Russian Nobel Prize winning novelist Mikhail Sholokhov (I think the Melekhov family will be with me always).
  • The Don Flows Home to the Sea‘ (1978, USSR 1940) as the second part of the Don Epic by the Russian Nobel Prize winning novelist Mikhail Sholokhov.
  • Anna Karenina‘ (1995, serial installments 1873-77) by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (not pictured).
  • The Periodic Table‘ (2000) by the Italian chemist and writer Primo Levi (not pictured).
  • Timequake‘ (1997) by the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut (not pictured).
  • The Stranger‘ (also known as The Outsider, or L’Etranger in the original French version) (or.1942) by the French author and philosopher Albert Camus (not pictured).

Of course this is just a selection of some of my favourite recent books that I have come across.  Every time I enter a library I feel honoured to share the same space as so many great works of literature and art.  The beauty of the written word never ceases to amaze me, whether it is from a novel, a poem or a piece of travel writing.  It can open up new ways of thinking about every day events, or provide new views on events or people you thought you knew.  It can move you to the edge of tears, or terrify you to point of horror.  The sign of a truly great book is one that keeps you hooked, long after you should have been asleep after a busy day.

I shall forever have treasured and fond memories of volunteering in a Oxfam book and music store, and mulling over which book I should buy next when my shift ended.  One of the pure joys of books is passing them onto friends once you have finished it to lend it out or give it to someone else to enjoy.  I haven’t included any brief synopsis’ of the books here because I want you to take a minute or two to click the link and have an explore, and see what you think is interesting.