Thoughts on never having read anything written by Gabriel García Márquez

So I heard that Gabriel García Márquez just died.

My immediate reaction was one of personal embarrassment.

Because I knew almost nothing about this famous writer. Now, that in itself is insignificant, since there is no shortage of famous writers or musicians or athletes or scientists whom I know nothing about.

But there’s a twist.

I once bought his novel

Over a decade ago, I actually bought a copy of his famous 1967 novel, “Cien años de soledad” (translated into English as “One Hundred Years of Solitude”). It seemed to me that everyone around me had a copy of this lying around somewhere, so I figured that I was missing out on something. After taking a Spanish class, in which his name popped up only incidentally as the inventor of “magical realism” (whatever that was), I finally went and bought his novel, in English translation.


I didn’t make it past the first page of the novel. It was then that I realized that my fiction-reading days were over. Actually, I hadn’t voluntarily read and finished any fiction for decades, except for short stories, and even then, read only when I was taking a creative writing workshop and we were assigned stories to read: I did enjoy the readings, but never looked for more, and also, despite enjoying writing some stories for the class, I decided to stop after the class was over. Something wasn’t working out for me.

This was strange because I survived high school largely through reading fiction alone in my room. But that was a different phase of my life. I almost feel like I used up my “quota” of fiction reading right then, during my years of high school. When I went to college, I did some fiction reading in my first year, but after that, did very little such reading outside of literature and philosophy classes, and by then I greatly preferred shorter forms to huge novels (for example, my discovery of ETA Hoffmann.

You can also just tell, from the content on my blog, that I don’t write much about literature at all!

I am not “well-read”

I realized by the time I left college that I was not interested in being “well-read” the way some of my peers were. This was probably clear even in my first year of college. While many of my new classmates eagerly signed up for the Shakespeare course to fulfill a literature requirement, I had no interest in reading more Shakespeare, after all I was subjected to in high school (I will note that in discussion with friends, they claim that Shakespeare is not meant to be read anyway, but experienced as actual theater). I’ve never been one to follow a checklist of “great books” or “great music” or “great films”. I find something here or there, and it might or might not be popular, but I have no bucket list to check off.

For example, now and then I get forwarded some quiz like “how many of these 100 great books have you read” and I take it and my score is not very high and reflects what I read in high school, and in particular, high school English classes! Most recently, someone posted on Facebook “BBC believes you only read 6 of these books” (yes, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is on this list), and of the 100, I scored 36, and my friends who responded seemed to score between 50 and 80.

I have not cracked open “War and Peace”. Or “Moby Dick”. Or “Ulysses”. I might never do so. I’m actually somewhat ashamed I had copies of them in the first place. Despite “intentions”, I would classify my having them around for years as indulging in “vanity reads”: some people “show off” their books or CDs or DVDs, and I suppose to some extent I was not an exception, until several years ago, when I decided that was a stupid game to play, and in the name of decluttering and minimalism, I donated or sold almost all of my books and CDs and DVDs that I had no reason to keep around any more. I got tired of being embarrassed about all the books I had not yet read or had no clear intention of reading or had read years ago but never planned to revisit.

Never say never

On the other hand, I do sometimes feel like I’m “missing out” if I don’t check out something that seems to be popular. I don’t want to be narrow-minded. But I’ve learned I can’t force myself to be “well-rounded”. This has been true for literature as it has been for music, where, for example, I didn’t really bother checking out much Baroque music for the first four decades of my life, but had a radical awakening to the beauty of it only in recent years, and it’s become a cornerstone of my current musical life. If you had forced me to “endure” Baroque music in an earlier stage of my life, it might have just backfired. Similarly, when it comes to food, I have been very late in diversifying my taste. In the case of film, again, I am not a “film buff” like some of my friends; I actually very rarely watch films these days, maybe 5 a year (I’m amazed by those who watch something more like 150 a year, but apparently that’s average for Netflix users).

So, in the same way, it appears I am not yet in any mood to read Gabriel García Márquez. “It’s not him, it’s me”? I gave away my copy of his novel a couple of years ago, knowing that it had sat around at home too long and that I wasn’t going to read it anytime soon. It is possible that in twenty years I’ll be giving it a shot again. But just not now.


It always feels a little odd when a lot of people around me mourn the death of someone I know little about. It was particularly odd in the case of a writer whose novel I once bought but never managed to read. Life seems short.

How did you feel upon hearing about the death of Gabriel García Márquez? How many of his books of his have you read? Did you enjoy them? Why did you read them? Do you ever experience feeling embarrassed by not having read something that many of your friends have read? If you do, how do you deal with this?

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