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A Reader's Itinerary: 23 Books García Márquez Mentioned In His Autobiography


Throughout his autobiographical tale, the Colombia-born Nobel prizewinner mentioned several books that reveal his life as a reader.

One way of following the course of a life of person is through the books they read. With certain frequency, the different moments, stages and biographical events are also signed by a book. Our experiences irremediably enter into dialog with our reading.

Some perhaps remember their childhood under the mysterious and enchanting light of Arabian Nightsfor exampleor their adolescence as that time in which one’s own confusion of age coincided with the discovery of Nietzsche or Castaneda. Under that premise it would perhaps be worthwhile taking a look at this ‘personal library’ to gain an idea of the life of a person, their way of thinking, the places they have been, their preferences and aversions, the random combination of circumstances that made them who they are.

In his autobiography Living to Tell the Tale, Gabriel García Márquez offers a good example of this possibility: As he recounts the events of his life, from time to time the titles of the books that for him were obligatory, but not as if he were to list them all or dedicate a special chapter to them, but rather they appear like a narrative thread, as if referring to a family member, a friendly and constant presence who was always there to mark the difference in life itself.

Following are the books, taking as inspiration the list published by the always restless María Popova on her website Brain Pickings.

The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

The teacher in turn read in his well-lit alcove at the entrance to the main bedroom and at first we would silence him with mocking, real or feigned snores but which were almost always deserved. Later they lasted for up to an hour, according to the story’s interest, and the teachers were relieved by pupils taking weekly turns. The good times began with Nostradamus and The Man in the Iron Mask, which pleased everyone. What I still don’t understand is the thundering success of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, which required the intervention of the rector to keep us from spending the whole night awake waiting for Hans Castorp and Clawdia Chauchat to kiss. Or the rare tension of all of us sitting up on our beds in order not to miss a word of the disordered philosophical duels between Naptha and his friend Settembrini. The reading that night lasted for more than an hour and was celebrated in the dormitory with a round of applause.


Ulysses, James Joyce

One day Jorge Álvaro Espinosa, a law student who had taught me to navigate the Bible and made me learn by heart the complete names of Job’s companions, placed an awesome tome on the table in front of me and declared with his bishop’s authority:

            “This is the other Bible.”

            It was, of course, James Joyce’s Ulysses, which I read in bits and   pieces and fits and starts until I lost all patience.


The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner

I became aware that my adventure in reading Ulysses at the age of twenty, and later The Sound and the Fury, were premature audacities without a future, and I decided to reread them with a less biased eye. In effect, much of what had seemed pedantic or hermetic in Joyce and Faulkner was revealed to me then with a terrifying beauty and simplicity. I thought about diversifying the monologue with voices from all of the town, like a Greek chorus narrator, in the style of As I Lay Dying, which are the reflections of an entire family interposed around a dying man.


Oedipus Rex, Sophocles

“You may become a good writer,” he said, “but you’ll never become very good if you don’t have a good knowledge of the Greek classics.” The book was the complete works of Sophocles. From that moment on Gustavo was one of the decisive beings in my life, for Oedipus Rex revealed itself to me on first reading as the perfect work.


Moby Dick, Herman Melville; The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

[Gustavo Ibarra] introduced me to Melville: the literary feat of Moby Dick, the great sermon on Jonas for the whalers with skin leathered by all the seas of the world under the immense dome built with whales’ rib bones. He lent me The House of the Seven Gables, which marked me for life.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

It was a shame to have not yet read the new American novelists that were just beginning to reach us, but I was lucky that doctor Vélez Martínez began with a casual reference to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I had known well since high school. I immediately grabbed it. The two teachers must have been suffering from a bout of nostalgia as the sixty minutes that we had set aside for the exam flew by in an emotional analysis of the ignominious slave regime in the southern US. And that’s as far as we got.


Arabian Nights

Today, recounting my life, I remember that my concept of the story was primary despite all the ones I had read since my first astonishment with Arabian Nights. I even dared to think that the marvels recounted by Scheherazade really happened in the daily life of her time, and stopped happening because of the incredulity and realistic cowardice of subsequent generations. By the same token, it seemed impossible that anyone from our time would ever believe again that you could fly over cities and mountains on a carpet, or that a slave from Cartagena de Indias would live for two hundred years in a bottle as a punishment, unless the author of the story could make his readers believe it.


Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

Vega arrived one night with three books he had just bought and he randomly picked one to lend me, as he often did to help me sleep. But this time he arrived with the opposite: never again slept with my former serenity. [The book] determined a new direction for my life from its first line, which today is one of the great devices in world literature: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” [I realized that] it was not necessary to demonstrate facts: it was enough for the author to have written something for it to be true, with no proof other than the power of his talent and the authority of his voice. It was Scheherazade all over again, not in her millenary world where everything was possible but in another irreparable world where everything had already been lost. When I finished reading The Metamorphosis I felt an irresistible longing to live in that alien paradise.


Other books mentioned:

The Aleph and Other Stories, by Jorge Luis Borges

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

Point Counter Point, by Aldous Huxley

Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, by Steinbeck

Tobacco Road, by Erskine Caldwell

Stories, by Katherine Mansfield

Manhattan Transfer, by John Dos Passos

Portrait of Jennie, by Robert Nathan

OrlandoMrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

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