Second Chances

Many years ago, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I devoured it. I loved the words; I loved the story; I loved the magic. I read it incredibly quickly, then reread it again (and again), savoring the language. I imagined being swarmed by yellow butterflies, just like Mauricio.

Shortly after finishing One Hundred Years of Solitude, a friend lent me Love in the Time of Cholera. Again, it was love at first read. The obsessions, the twists, the language. Had I found a new favorite author?

Somewhat obsessed myself, I went to the public library and checked out all of the books I could find by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And as I began to read them, I slowly felt disappointment creeping over me. The stories were flat. The plots weren’t intriguing. Where was the magic?

Since then, I’m been somewhat wary of reading additional books from authors who I’ve adored from the first word. That first encounter with them creates such an impression. I want to savor that, not have it tainted by additional works. Yes, there’s the argument that I may discover even more that I love. But I may not.

In 2005, my favorite book was published, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. It is a heart wrenching memoir of the first year of Ms. Didion’s widowhood, during which she was confronting grief, as well as taking care of an adult child hospitalized just before her father’s death. She flashes back to stories when she and her husband are together, suddenly remembering that he is no longer with her. It’s not a book comprised solely of happy memories, though many were. It’s real. It reflects how relationships are built in the day-to-day stuff that you slug through. It highlights how we replay true events in our mind. What if I had just done this differently? Could I have prevented the outcome? Her writing is sharp and meandering at the same time, providing a beautiful juxtaposition. This is my go-to book. Whenever I want to indulge in elegant language, or need a good cry, I pick up this book.

Fast forward to last Friday. I was at a friend’s house. She was on the phone; I was examining her bookshelf. I noticed an old, tattered copy of A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion.

Dare I?

As she hung up the phone, I lifted the worn book from the shelf. I casually asked, “How was this?” She paused. “I don’t remember reading it. You read it and let me know.” I turned it over in my hands.

Dare I?

She gazed at the bookshelf. “You know, I must have read it. This is my shelf where I keep my most treasured books. I just can’t remember what it was about.”

I dare.

I begin reading on the bus ride home. The first few chapters are not disappointing. The language is straightforward, yet complex. The scenes are not in chronological order, so there is suspense and revelation with each fact that is revealed. It’s quirky. It provides glimpses of realistic insight into the nastiness of family affairs and life as a privileged expat. By Sunday morning, I have finished the book.

And I still have a favorite author. Thank you, Ms. Didion.

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