I’ve basically given up in trying figure out why I like some books over others. I know that I’ve been influenced by lots of variables. I like the Gran Turismo series of simulations because I like to win races, money, and I love that heart-race when I just barely beat the oppenent. The hands shake and you go, “Yes, beat you, you bastard.” I like beating the machine and outsmarting it. It’s not a question of high mindedness or bettering myself. It’s a rollercoaster.
And why do I enjoy the stories of Alice Munro? In fiction I look for an interesting story, a fabulous sense of craft, and a dip into ideas. But those are vague criteria. Doesn’t Clive Cussler tell an interesting tale? In my mind, not at all. What about Stephen King? I don’t find Pet Cemetary interesting, no. I read Stephen King for how scary things could get (although I did find the metaphors I found in Misery appropriate). But then I found Kundera and figured that The Joke was a pretty scary tale if you looked at it through a particular lens. Kundera’s terror is a different kind of terror than King’s. The vision of The Joke is of a terrifying politics and society which resonantes with relevance, more so than Brave New World. Both novels signal possibility, but from my point of view Huxley is naive.
One of my top novels is Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. There are many reasons why I reread this novel. Stylistically (in translation), the writing is beautiful, energetic, risky, and because of this, I like to read passages outloud and to myself, just to hear the craft, the music, and the logic. Secondly, there’s the serious comedy here. Garcia Marquez draws incredibly huge characters who are also incredibly funny, serious, tragic, and honest. They’re pathetic, monstrous, masterful, crafty, hateful, and strange. You don’t want them to die or change, but they do; you don’t want them to make mistakes, but they do. Third, Marquez connects to significant human ideas such as time, memory, structure, hope, dignity, justice, history, love, sex, and want. Philosophical, political, social, and personal content is woven deeply into the work. When you talk about One Hundred Years of Solitude, you can find a lot of thing to talk about: the writing, the narrative, the sequence, the culture, history, gender, religion and a lot more. I believe also that I’ve seen a lot of what the author gets down in the novel, having traveled through Mexico and the Southwest US, an issue that is more subjective and true to my own experience of landscape, color, and light. It’s possible to say when I hear a politician say something dumb I could say I’ve already seen that in Kundera and Marquez, just as when we see the leader talk like a machine, we can say, “Oh, that’s what Orwell was referring to.” Lastly, of the many books I’ve read, One Hundred Years of Solitude has one of the best closers I’ve ever encountered. The end draws you back to the beginning with such a punch, you race through the novel just to feel its totality. Just the thought of Pico de Gallo or of Jalapenos makes my mouth water. Mention Marquez, and the same thing happens.
But, in my mind, Borges is still bigger. Why? No reason other than I enjoy his mind more than I do Marquez’. But, it’s unfair to compare them. Borges wasn’t necessarily concerned with the fictional story as he was with the very idea of “fiction.” Borges provides me with a language with which to struggle through ideas and one of those terms is “fiction.” I like the idea of an aleph as a metaphor for “reality” and “sight” and human experience.