each heartbeat meant for him lifted him past itself;
already turned away, he stood at the end of the smiles,
-Rilke, The Sixth Elegy
Image: Jon Snow and Ygitte, Game of Thrones
“I don’t know what I’m looking for,” Tara responds, and for the moment her face crumples as though she might burst into tears, but then she composes herself. “Ethan, do you sometimes feel like you are dreaming, all the time?”
“No, I can’t say that I do.”
“I’m finding it difficult to discern between asleep and awake,” Tara says, tugging at her lace cuffs again. “I do not like being left in the dark. I am not particularly fond of believing in impossible things.”
Mr. Barris takes off his spectacles, wiping the lenses with a handkerchief before he replies, holding them up to the light to check for rogue smudges.
“I have seen a great many things that I might once have considered impossible, or unbelievable. I find I no longer have clearly defined parameters for such matters. I choose to do my work to the best of my own abilities, and leave others to their own.”
-from The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
(a great book that I can’t put down…)
I decide to move to Paris because of its cafes, its writers, and its cultural life. I discover that none of this exists anymore: the cafes are full of tourists and photographs of the people who made those places famous. Most of the writers there are more concerned with style than content; they strive to be original, but succeed only in being dull. They are locked in their own little world, and I learn an interesting French expression: renvoyer l’ascenseur, meaning literally “to send the elevator back,” but used metaphorically to mean “to return a favor.” In practice, this means that I say nice things about your book, you say nice things about mine, and thus we create a whole new cultural life, a revolution, an apparently new philosophy; we suffer because no one understands us, but then that’s what happened with all the geniuses of the past: being misunderstood by one’s contemporaries is surely just part and parcel of being a great artist.
They “send the elevator back,” and, at first, such writers have some success: people don’t want to run the risk of openly criticizing something they don’t understand, but they soon realize they are being conned and stop believing what the critics say.
The Internet and its simple language are all that it takes to change the world. A parallel world emerges in Paris: new writers struggle to make their words and their souls understood. I join these new writers in cafes that no one has heard of, because neither the writers nor the cafes are as yet famous. I develop my style alone and I learn from a publisher all I need to know about mutual support.
~from The Zahir, A Novel of Obsession by Paulo Coelho
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. Every year during the month of March a family of ragged gypsies would set up their tents near the village, and with a great uproar of pipes and kettledrums they would display new inventions. First they brought the magnet. A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands, who introduced himself as Melquiades, put on a bold public demonstration of what he himself called the eighth wonder of the learned alchemists of Macedonia. He went from house to house dragging two metal ingots and everybody was amazed to see pots, pans, tongs, and braziers tumble down from their places and beams creak from the desperation of nails and screws trying to emerge, and even objects that had been lost for a long time appeared from where they had been searched for most and went dragging along in turbulent confusion behind Melquiades’ magical irons. “Things have a life of their own,” the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. “It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.”
How could you not want to read more? This has always been one of my favorite books of literature. It’s timeless, classic, with just the right amount of strangeness, called magic realism, which lends to its tone and rapturous nature. It’s loaded with beautiful Spanish names, which can be daunting to the faint reading heart, but there’s a nice chart in the beginning pages giving the family history of Aureliano Buendia with all the names in order of birth. It’s a profound story, leading up to the firing squad, and years after, I guess 100 in total, the rise and fall of a town called Macondo, somewhere in the world, somewhere in time, in some history that is the writer’s and readers imagination. Truly one of the best reads of all time.
Originally published in Argentina in 1967. First English copyright translation 1970.