Tag Archives: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Top 10 — The Books That Stay With Me — Gabriel Valdez

One thing we noticed when putting together these lists is that Vanessa’s had seven women writers. Mine only has two. Cleopatra’s and Eden’s lists had three. Now, we’re working with a small sample size, but looking at the rough draft I did – where I listed about 20 books, I still only had three women (Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife just missing my top 10).

I didn’t actively avoid women writers. I just didn’t give it a second thought when I grew up reading so many books written by men. It’s worth considering how this trained me at a young age to look at art – even the best male writer will include different perspectives and prioritize different themes than women writers.

It’s very easy to limit our viewpoints without ever realizing it, especially when we’re young and haven’t even had our own viewpoint challenged. That’s one reason why, as readers and viewers, it’s crucial to always be expanding, challenging, and communicating about the way we look at art.

Here’s my top 10:

Books Watership Down

Watership Down
by Richard Adams

Even today, if I see the cover, I’ll feel chills up my spine, the urge to go hide under blankets. There’s nothing else like reading this so young as I did. The tale of a group of rabbits who set out to find a new home after their old one is destroyed, Watership Down joined White Fang and The Secret of NIMH as challenging works that introduced me to political and philosophical strife. Rabbits and wolves and mice taught me about conquest and military industrialism and social experimentation, that it wasn’t always us vs. them but that it was very often us vs. our government, and them vs. their government, and that we’re often thrust in the middle of false wars to keep administrations running.

Book Congo

Congo/Sphere/Eaters of the Dead
by Michael Crichton

All right, this is cheating, but everything I learned about pulp genre fiction came in a compilation my parents got me for Christmas one year. I didn’t really look at Eaters of the Dead, but Congo – about an adventurous archaeological expedition in Africa – was an action movie in a book. It even found an inexplicable reason to have a gorilla go along for the ride, though for the life of me I can’t remember why.

Sphere, on the other hand, regarding the exploration of a mysterious alien artifact under the ocean, was the most complex science-fiction novel I’d read up to that point. They were gateway novels – Congo led me to Edgar Rice Burroughs and other pulp writers, while Sphere led me to start reading Golden Age science-fiction – the big idea stuff from the 60s and 70s.

Books Chronicles of a Death Foretold

Chronicles of a Death Foretold
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

At a point, I realized I should read something written by the author I was named after. To fully define the effect Gabriel Garcia Marquez has had on my life, I’d need a full article. Luckily, I already wrote one.

Books The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass
by Philip Pullman

The entire His Dark Materials trilogy is stunning, but it was the first – The Golden Compass – that captured me so completely. Known as Northern Lights outside North America, it was the beauty of Pullman’s prose, describing in all of its detail a Victorianesque fantasy world, that made me change the way I wrote. I realized it wasn’t just the words themselves, but some magical atmosphere that resulted from their rhythm, from the intersection of their sounds, that made the kind of writer I wanted to be.

Books Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

And so I sought out the master of that rhythm, the man who wrote about sacrificing accuracy in your description for the tone of the sentence as a whole, the one who came up with alliterative phrases that overpowered your senses. I read everything he wrote – his famous horror stories, his comedies, his detective stories, his poems, his essays on writing, and with this came an awareness of other writers of dark fantasy – Sharon Shinn, Clive Barker, Graham Joyce, Neil Gaiman – and how they’d used the lessons Poe taught in their own work.

Books Neuromancer

by William Gibson

My introduction to cyberpunk, an 80s science-fiction genre that posed a world dominated by disturbing attachment to technology, racial divides, military-industrial oligarchies, and aristocratic corporation-states. The work of William Gibson has continued to pose an eerily accurate portrayal of the direction our world is taking, less in its action scenes but more in its mortifying concepts of corporate personhood and human inconsequence. Neuromancer is the definitive introduction to cyberpunk, an enigmatic head trip of mood, tone, and international corporate politics.

Books The Word for World is Forest

The Word for World is Forest
by Ursula K. Le Guin

The 1972 novel with which James Cameron’s Avatar holds a strange number of similarities. I’d read Le Guin before, but never had she written a tale so brutal, stark, and unforgiving. The tale of an indigenous race of aliens who are ghettoized and exterminated in order to retrieve a valuable resource, I would later find it was a direct response to America’s involvement in Vietnam. Even without that context, you could tell it was housed squarely in the United States’ historical genocide of indigenous Americans.

I hadn’t expected three of us this week to include an Ursula K. Le Guin novel on our lists, yet alone three different ones (Vanessa chose The Dispossessed, and Eden chose The Left Hand of Darkness). If you’re at all a fan of science-fiction, you owe it to yourself to pick up one of her novels and dive in.

Books Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert Heinlein

Heinlein wrote some good novels and Heinlein wrote some great novels. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is his best novel. The story of a penal colony on the moon that revolts against Earth and declares itself a nation, it forced me to look at how cultures develop alternative lifestyles to those typically found in Western nations, and why terrorism, revolution, and rebellion are sometimes interchangeable concepts.

Books Pedro Paramo

Pedro Paramo
by Juan Rulfo

During an independent study in college, I was directed toward Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo. This was the novel that inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez toward magical realism. I started with one translation, not liking it much, before I switched to my girlfriend’s translation, which maintained a more Spanish attitude of thought. It was yet another novel that communicated its messages more in tone than in finite detail.

Books Shock Doctrine

The Shock Doctrine
by Naomi Klein

I’m a little surprised that all four of us chose a Naomi Klein book. We didn’t communicate about it beforehand, but while Vanessa, Cleopatra, and Eden all went with her seminal expose on manufactured identity and brand loyalty No Logo, it was her history of how administrations use disaster and war to overhaul governments that most haunted me.

She compares these restructurings to torture – the idea of torture is not so much to punish or to elicit information. It is instead to force a reset in perceived reality on the part of the victim. You don’t change the victim, you just retrain them to look at the world the way you want them to see it. From early American experiment in torture MK-Ultra, she follows a line of conservative academic thought that posed that torture and overhauling the reality of victims can actually be performed not just on individual victims, but on nations.

She follows the journalist thread from how the CIA practiced social experiments in third-world countries to small-scale implementations up to the seizure of African-American property and the overhaul of New Orleans’ school system after Hurricane Katrina. She finally introduces the ultimate experiment in disaster capitalism – the Bush-Cheney administration and its wholesale overhaul of American government and military structures after 9/11.

The Shock Doctrine is the most revealing look at 21st Century Western government you’ll ever find, and Noami Klein is the single most important non-fiction writer working today. If you take nothing else away from our book lists this week, please remember her name, and look up what she’s written.

– Gabriel Valdez

Wednesday Collective — Lana del Rey, Game of Thrones, & Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Lana del Rey, our master storyteller
Richard Marshall

Lana del Rey

Lana del Rey is our best storyteller-in-song since Pearl Jam. She portrays an image of wealth (or sometimes the emulation of it) and a conscious rejection of consequence that speaks to the profound boredom of excess. Her character is one who’s traded in her own desires so that men can project their fantasies onto her. She narrates with the idealized nostalgia that drove Fitzgerald’s Gatsby to obsession, but plays it with the despondence of Camus’ Meursault, who was apathetic to his imprisonment because he could while away the hours listing off what he once owned.

Through it all, there’s the ghostly afterimage of a soul who might break through were she not so practiced at replacing her own thoughts with the distractions and egos of others. This is mirrored by a fear of old age, of wisdom, of a loss of beauty that would force her to finally face the world as it is, of the dissipation of an illusion created from such thin veneer it threatens to tear apart at the slightest conscious challenge not immediately subdued.

Richard Marshall compares her style to the work of director David Lynch: “There’s the theme of the double in all these songs, where a consciousness of intense eagerness to survive the blackest nightmare places the feelings onto another ego, like in a diabolical pact.”

This is an elegant, thoughtful article about the woman who may very well become the most important musical artist of this generation, and it pairs superbly with last week’s article of the week, Izzy Black’s analysis of the new films of excess.

Rape as Social Issue, or Just a Plot Device
Genevieve Valentine


Game of Thrones uses rape as a plot device. That it’s difficult to criticize a TV series set in a medieval world for not interrogating the topic with a modern sensibility is a deflection. Valentine only has to go as far as Mad Men to find another male-dominated world that found a way to fold the topic into its characterization and storytelling.

It’s not that Game of Thrones chooses to use rape as a plot device. It’s that – unlike Mad Men – it fails to fully deal with what this use means, both in its own world and in ours. Thus, it trivializes rape as a MacGuffin, a lazy shorthand to get people from point A to point B, rather than seeking to understand the effects the act has. It is disappointing storytelling from a series that has a lot going for it, but might quickly be burning up its goodwill.

Thanks to Chris Braak for the heads-up on this.

An Interview with Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Peter H. Stone

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Marquez may be the most important author in my own life. He was also a rousing and challenging interview. Paris Review republishes Peter H. Stone’s 1981 interview with the man at a time when he was at the top of his art.

A Brief History of the Art-Horror Film
Bilge Ebiri

Only Lover Left Under the Skin

I somewhat object to the delineation between art-horror and regular horror. It lacks defining structural tendencies or stylistic elements that other genres can hang their hats on, and usually devolves into simply separating horror that’s good from horror that’s bad, or horror that’s weird from horror that’s not. Nonetheless, this article at Vulture does a solid job of describing the history of critically applauded horror in the lead-up to Under the Skin and Only Lovers Left Alive.

“Why Historical Accuracy on Film Matters”
A. E. Larsen

300 Again Again

Last week, I highlighted an article I didn’t entirely agree with – why the expert review should die. I diverged somewhat from Matt Zoller Seitz’s scorched-earth approach to the subject by saying that expert reviews done by non-experts in that particular field should be avoided. From now on, I’ll differentiate those by calling them the “inexpert review.”

A. E. Larsen, my favorite medievalist film critic, rebuts Seitz with a defense of the expert review that describes our need for more contextual awareness in how we view art.

Ranking Rocky
Matt Singer


While researching an upcoming article about the best films never made, I came across this ranking of the Rocky movies by Matt Singer. Ordinarily, I don’t link to best-of/worst-of lists. I’m a recovering list addict and I find many of them – much like the inexpert review (wow, that caught on fast) – go in one ear and out the other. I’m careful about which ones we do here – there’d better be an important reason to make one. For instance, we made our No Miley Here list to highlight under-seen music videos in a year plagued by Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus, and the terrible music criticism that holds their celebrity as an artistic accomplishment.

Well, this ranking of the Rocky movies passes the List Test by reflecting on Singer’s own experiences of the films growing up – defining the moment they changed from character study to superhero movie – and by describing how Sylvester Stallone himself originally envisioned the franchise and the drastic concessions he made in exchange for bigger and bigger paychecks.

“How Hollywood Killed Death”
Alexander Huls


I wrote about something similar in my Pacific Rim piece last year. American filmmakers have a tendency to treat death as an operatic moment that every single character forgets about minutes later. In contrast, many foreign films have death occur off-screen or so suddenly that characters don’t have a five-minute, slow-motion sequence with its own theme song in which to prepare for it.

It connects a bit with Valentine’s piece above, about the treatment of rape on television. We use death in much the same way, devaluing it as a basic plot point or momentary inconvenience, and not treating it as a searing moment the remaining characters deal with for the rest of their lives. There are some spoilers in this article, obviously.

Kicking a Good Bond While He’s Down
Horatia Harrod

Pierce Brosnan Goldeneye

This interview sparked an interesting discussion between some friends and myself, especially after Russ Schwartz’s article on Skyfall last week. Brosnan critiques his run as superspy James Bond harshly, taking himself to task for never fully inhabiting the role.

I tend to think this was an asset – the films he was given were so glossy and empty and badly written that Brosnan’s ability to wink his way through them made even the worst semi-watchable. If he didn’t take them so seriously, we didn’t have to either, and that moved the goalposts considerably.

Thanks to J.P. Hitesman for the heads-up on this.

To the Reader: My Religion and Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Migrant Worker by Dorothea Lange

Randeep would always ask me, “What’s the religion of the week?” It was the staple question starting my sophomore year in high school. My father was Mexican Catholic. My mother was Atheist. My sister was Wiccan. I was much like a free agent, researching a new team every week and visiting their facilities on the weekend – I sat quietly in Catholic pews and raised my arms shouting for the Pentecostals. I wrote feverishly in the margins of Job to keep up at Temple and I read Greek tragedy to understand the madness of the gods. I did my best at being everything and nothing. I stared curiously as Buddhists explained themselves and – to a teenager – it made no sense not to feel as hard as I could about everything. I realized I had dated a Satanist and that she hadn’t told me. She was really very meek and quiet and relentlessly kind.

I worshiped hardest at the altars of poets – Eliot before shelves of books in the library and Cummings at the old desk on the second floor so sturdy it might have once been the ark, Frost at the blazing fireplace outside admissions during winter, and Dickinson in the gardens when flowers finally opened by the lake.

I met Socrates in a two-week crash course, read Heinlein in an independent study, and took Barker on long trips. Socrates had a cave, in which we interacted with shadows and called this reality. When people died in Heinlein, they went to the afterlife they expected. Barker offered Quiddity, a dream sea in which we achieve what we expect. Deep down, we know what we deserve. We move ourselves to Heaven, we banish ourselves to Hell.

The Tetons and the Snake River by Ansel Adams

Gabriel Garcia Marquez died yesterday. I wasn’t named after the angel Gabriel. I was named after the author, down to the feel of the syllables. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Gabriel Diego Valdez. Much like Sesame Street taught me letters and numbers, and my parents taught me to figure out not just what the words said but what they meant, Marquez taught me empathy. He taught me pride. He taught me the greatest tragedy humanity had to offer, that of misunderstanding.

I cannot communicate how utterly racked I am by his passing. Putting word to page and realizing I could choose what happened made me want to be a writer. Being bullied in school and all the reading I did because books contained worlds of hope and understanding gave me something worth putting to page. Marquez gave me a standard and an expectation.

On Facebook, it says my religion is Pantheistic Solipsism. This means that I think everything ever written, every thought, is true. Every religion, every story, every fairy tale and TV show and video game – every character and each of their beliefs is true. This is an utterly silly notion. It’s ridiculous on its face. This is not the way I think the universe really works, it’s not how I think anything was made or came to be. But it is what I choose to have faith in – creation. Each of our abilities to create, to make entire worlds and shape new beliefs and refine old ones.


Chronicles of a Death Foretold is the Marquez novel many read first. It begins with its ending – the death of a young man, the result of a misunderstanding. Its tension isn’t about whether the man will live. We are told from the beginning he won’t. Its mystery is about how this misunderstanding came to be. It is a novel about social pressures, motives that go unrecognized, and meaningless omens obsessed over. It is a novel about lies and distractions, and finding the good moments between them to enjoy life.

The truth is that my religion is free agency. My religion is those Catholic pews and raucous Pentecostal shouts. It’s the Bhagavad Gita and Dine Bahane’. It’s scribbled in the margins of Job in black and blue ink and once those ran out red, and it’s crammed into countless post-it notes in Chronicles, and it’s in books on dinosaurs that fell apart at their bindings, and in “The Road Not Taken” and in hair that’s “bold, like the chestnut burr” and in “There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground.” But most of all my religion is in what you haven’t written yet, the story that’s not told yet, the understanding I have yet to be introduced to, let alone grasp.

Chronicles of a Death Foretold begins with its ending – the death of a young man, the result of a misunderstanding. We know through the entire book that he will die. In this, Marquez captures our understanding of ourselves, of the world. The same is true of him, of me, of all of us. We live in an overpopulated world, rife with hunger, war, oppression, racism, misogyny, despotism, rape, slavery, corporate feudalism, pollution, extinction, genocide, you name it. If we were a book, we’d already know the ending. If we were a book, we’d know it’s the result of misunderstanding after misunderstanding after misunderstanding. Some are based on lies, others are honest mistakes.

Winslow Homer

Composer Stephen Sondheim once said, “Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos,” but a creative act won’t solve any problems. A piece of art can’t heal the world. At best, it can engender understanding and create connection between a handful of people. But two pieces of art can create more connections, encourage more understanding. And a thousand pieces of art can create a thousand times the understanding, and a million pieces brings a hell of a lot of order out of chaos. We never know what that crucial piece is going to be. We never know if it will change one person’s life or be that piece on top of thousands of others, all together tipping the scales. That’s why we need to keep on trying. That’s why you can’t let one failure stop you, because one piece of art won’t solve anything. But you, as an artist, trying day after day and failing and crying and feeling lost and trying again and losing faith and trying again and trying again and trying again – that’s what I believe. That’s why I believe in every religion, every story, every painting and photograph and poem. Scratch what I said earlier – that’s exactly how the universe really does work.

My parents taught me to figure out not just what words said, but what they meant. If you asked me to name the best thing my parents ever did for me, I couldn’t. There are too many good things. They’ve lived lives of working hard and learning to be kinder and more understanding every year. They see a country that’s turned its back on many of the values they fought for, whose politics and treatment of the middle- and lower-classes is shameful. There are too many good things I won’t ever realize they’ve done for me because they never did them for the recognition. But I do know where it started. I know when all those good things began. I can trace them back to a single moment, when they named me after Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Because that gave me a standard. That gave me an expectation. And Socrates raised the bar. And Heinlein raised the bar. And Dickinson raised the bar. And one day, you’re going to raise the bar, too. And the rest of us will keep on rushing to meet it. That’s what I believe in.

Christinas World by Andrew Wyeth