Monthly Archives: January 2015

Live! (to tell the tale…)

vivir para contarla

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in Columbia in 1927 and passed away just last year, on the 17th of April (2014). He was one of the most significant and inspiring Latin American authors of the 20th century, and was even awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. I finally got around to reading his autobiography Vivir Para Contarla (or in English, Living to Tell the Tale). It goes without saying, the man had a way with words…

His autobiography tells a lot not only about his upbringing, his family, and his friends… but also a lot about his way of looking at life — admitting that there is a fine line between fact and fiction, as “life is not what you live, but what you remember and how you remember it.” In other words, life is just a story we tell ourselves, and our memories are often altered by figments of our imagination.

Nonetheless, what strikes me most about his life as a writer is how deeply he was influenced by his thirst for books, and his well-read friends. They discussed authors, they discussed literature, they lived to talk about story-telling, and they were constantly striving to acquire more books they could share amongst themselves. Mr. Garcia Marquez indeed kept excellent company, in this sense. He even read the dictionary! … a gift from his grandfather — a man who loved words and loved learning about them — Garcia Marquez admits he read this dictionary as one reads a novel: in alphabetical order and barely understanding any of it. The man was a lover of words and stories in any shape or form: novels, news articles, tales among friends, movies … life. He claimed he knew he would be a writer even before learning how to write! He knew because of this irresistible urge to write so as not to die.

Garcia Marquez did not live a life of privilege. He was often destitute and broke, barely getting by with his ease for making new acquaintances despite his shyness (such as police officers who once found him sleeping on a park bench), or simply due to his friends’ kindness. Even when he was making some money, he was so immersed in his work that his only concern with it was making sure to send financial aid to his large family so as ensure they could make ends meet. He lived to party, to sing, to write, to read, to soak up as much of his surroundings as possible… the good, the bad, the painful, the beautiful, the ugly, and the devastating.

I was struck by his words, “The terror of writing can be as unbearable as that of not writing.” The need to write is strong… the fear of it being worthless is strong, too. Yet every story that demands to be told will take whatever form it may need… but in the end, it must make its way into the light. Fortunately, Garcia Marquez’s works live on despite his passing… and through his memoirs, he encourages us to live, so that one day we too can tell our tales.

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Reading Gives Me Wings

book shelves

Why do we read? As an elementary school teacher the first thing that comes to mind is, “Good readers set a purpose for reading. Do we read to learn new information? Do we read to be persuaded? Or do we read for entertainment?” – But those three little options leave far too much out of the equation for me as a reader. Reading is just very personal for me – and my purpose for reading is quite simple: I read because I need to.

I learned to read when I was about 3 or 4 years old – my mom, who was my kindergarten and first grade teacher, taught me how to read. I read just about anything I could get my hands for years after that: grammar books, encyclopedias, fairytales, comics… anything at all! Once we moved from the Dominican Republic to New York, I discovered the New York Public Library. My mom took my sisters and me there on a regular basis. It was nothing I’d ever experienced before: so many books! I remember reading Ramona The Pest in Spanish in my bilingual class… and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. I loved reading anything that sparked my imagination.

I still do. Although I do take some time to read newspaper and magazine articles, I’m truly passionate about fiction, of any kind. Picture books, middle grade books, young adult books, and even some grown up books now and then – I live with my head stuck in a book and I love it! I’ve enjoyed sharing the everyday troubles of Freckleface Strawberry and Windy-Pants Patrick with my little students. I love hearing the gasps of my current students as they make their way through The Lightning Thief or Before We Were Free,  and currently, Wonder. I admit I have been completely transfixed by young adult fiction for a few months now: Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, the Legend Trilogy… I’m all over it! And I’ll even admit to having quite the soft spot for “Richard Castle’s” Nikki Heat mystery series.

But why do I read? I read for the pleasure of diving into a world that is not my own. I love living a different life for a while – whether it’s traveling to the past through historical fiction, or into the future to dystopian worlds, or simply looking at the world through a different set of eyes. My thirst for stories goes beyond escapism – it’s a learning experience. Fiction reminds me to practice empathy – to feel for others, to feel through others… or just to feel. My days are packed to the brim with things to do – just like every other fast-paced New Yorker – but reading slows me down. Reading stretches my mind, paints new pictures in my head, and introduces me to characters I wish were real… characters that become real to me.

I read because I feel empty when I’m not reading. I don’t know what to do with myself if I’m not the midst of a story. I find myself searching for a new book, a new author, a new series to follow when I’m done with one. I’ve experienced post-series depression – I didn’t know what to do with myself after Harry Potter… I was homicidal after Divergent… I wait every year for Isabel Allende’s new book. I’m a lover of books – it’s part of who I am and what I do.

Perhaps that’s why I do what I do for a living: I encourage others to read – it’s the most amazing experience and readily available to just about everyone willing to engage in the mental exercise of following an author through the rabbit hole.

I read because it’s fun. I read because it’s liberating. I read… because it gives me wings.

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New Year… Lots of Books to Read!

Gideon and Gutenberg

Winter Break is just fantastic! And I will be making even more of an effort to read, read, read, and READ! Simply because… I genuinely was born with a book list I may never finish — but not for lack of trying.

I have spent some time on my latest book reviews, Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon by David Barnett, Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie, and Wonderboy by Tom Conyers. Each story could not be more different: one is an exciting steampunk adventure (and I am really loving those!), another is the tale of an arduous task made even more challenging by a megalomaniacal genius, and the last, a coming of age story (that reminded me very much of Bridge to Terabithia) about a boy and his best friend.

These will all make their way into the San Francisco Book Review around February. In the mean time, I am off to do more reading!

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