It was the spring of 1970. I was twenty-three years old, writing and translating poems, writing essays and reviews, but also dreaming of one day being able to write novels. By then, I had read nearly all the masters of the twentieth century—Joyce and Proust, Kafka and Beckett, Faulkner and Nabokov, Fitzgerald and Céline—and was feeling a little crushed. How on earth could one ever get out from under those giants?
One day, I read a highly enthusiastic review of a novel by a South American writer whose name was unknown to me. At the time, thirty-three years ago, buying hardcover books was an extravagance I could scarcely afford, but my curiosity had been aroused to such a degree that I went out and sprang for the book anyway. I started reading One Hundred Years of Solitude in the early afternoon and I didn’t put it down until I had finished reading it late that night. Here was something new and fresh and altogether mesmerizing: an imagination, a voice, a sensibility that resembled nothing I had encountered before. And yet Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, in the masterful translation by Gregory Rabassa, contained many old-fashioned virtues as well, most of which can be summed up in a single phrase: love of storytelling.
This love is what creates pleasure in the reader, the sense of amazement and happiness that washes over us whenever we stumble upon one of those rare books that changes the way we look at the world, exposes us to the infinite possibilities of what a book can be. Every passionate reader has had that experience, and each time it happens, we understand that books are a world unto themselves and that world is better and richer than any we have traveled in before. That is why we become readers in the first place. That is why we turn away from the vanities of the material world and begin to love books above all other things.