When I was sixteen I flew to London to visit my sister at
graduate school. It was June and I had been in Europe with my sophomore history
class on a tour of many major cities and their churches. We finished in Paris. My
classmates’ flight back home to San Francisco left at 6:30AM and my flight to
Heathrow left at 9:30PM, so all I had to do was sit still for fifteen hours.
Before I left home, weeks before, I had stolen my mom’s copy of 100 Years of Solitude for hormonal
Europe made me vaguely uncomfortable. Everything smelled weird;
everybody knew how to dress themselves. I also thought it was pretty
inconsiderate of my teachers to exist outside of the classroom, sort of like when
you meet someone famous, and realize they’re short and don’t actually wear
leather: you don’t feel ‘let down’, you just sort of feel guilty. Once I met a
hungover Sean Hunter from Boy Meets
World in Sebastopol, but that wasn’t my fault either.
Sixteen is an important age for most boys because it lasts
well into our twenties. At the time I think I was mostly re-reading The Lord of the Rings, while
occasionally cleansing my palate with stuff like Dune, Stranger in a Strange
Land, and Two Years Before the Mast.
I will always love fantasy and adventure fiction because they encourage me to
feel set-upon, which is a gateway feeling to other feelings, like
self-importance and romantic impatience, and when I combine them with other
substances I can usually even heighten these effects. I’ve been doing this
pretty regularly from a young age. But, even at sixteen, I think part of me
realized that experimentation is also an important part of growing up, and so
that morning I was only a little surprised to find that it was 100 Years of Solitude, rather than the
900-page Dragonbone Chair, looking up
at me from under my Dixie cup of orange juice in the downstairs café of Charles
I chewed my four croissants, eyeing the book sidelong,
instantly distrustful of its brevity, its classy cover, the good reviews on the
jacket, like a fat little gopher rummaging around just under the surface of my
garden. What’s it doing in there?
Luckily I felt a nasty head cold coming on, so, instead of opening it and
finding out, I spent half an hour asking directions to the pharmacy right
across the hall, where I bought a bottle of what I understood to be a sort of
French Theraflu. I couldn’t read the directions, so I took three capfuls and
then maybe drank a few espressos.
Six hours and two generations of Marquez’s imaginary
families later, I emerged from the airport bathroom to purchase another bottle
of Theraflu, just in case. It seemed to be working really well, though my face
felt swollen and my hair hurt. My iPod Nano had died, but I hadn’t noticed: I was
halfway through the best book of my life, and once or twice per hour a
beautiful Parisian floated by in a pair of those gauzy, see-through pants that
must have been in fashion at the moment. Between the magical realism, the
fever, and the sheer volume of antihistamines and caffeine, I must have synthesized
a new kind of molecule somewhere deep in my brain, magicaffehistequez, transforming me from the inside out. I was sixteen, on my own in another country; I
was the Lord of the Terminals, Stranger in a Strange Stall,
he-who-stares-at-books, watcher-of-see-through-pants, sailing through time and
genres, and even if I could have blinked, I wouldn’t have wanted to.
When it grew dark, I boarded the plane with tears in my
eyes, the completed book still gripped red-hot in my shaking hands, and promptly
fell asleep on my seat partner. To this day, 100 Years of Solitude remains the best book I have ever read.
Though, I couldn't actually tell you what happens in it.