The Best Book in a Quarter Century

I came into the pub in the middle of the day, not for any reason really, not even to have a beer, just aimlessly, because I had nothing else that needed doing that afternoon, and there was a guy at the bar, the only other person in the pub, reading a book.

“What are you reading?” I asked him, because I always ask people this, even if I’ve already seen what they’re reading.  I like to give them the chance to say it out loud, to confess it with their own lips.

“It’s Bolano’s 2666,” he answered.  He said this quietly, only flicking his eyes away from the book for the barest of moments, annoyed, then hunched down with his brown corduroy jacket up around his neck.

“What do you think of it?” I persisted.  I still hadn’t ordered anything, and the bartender hovered across the bar from me, but I wouldn’t meet his eyes, wouldn’t give him the chance to ask me if I needed anything.  I turned my back to the bar to avoid him.

The reader looked up this time, set the book on the bar, open, hard covers spread, without its dust jacket.  “Are you really asking,” he said gravely, “or are you just making small talk, because if you’re just making small talk, I’ll probably punch you in the mouth.”

His eyes were dark and round and something else, speckled maybe, and I saw that he meant it, and I thought, “This guy reads for real,” and I wanted to talk to him even more.  “I really want to know,” I assured him, and I tried to sound as sincere as I could, because I’ve read 2666 twice now, and I love that book, and I’m always trying to get people to read it, so I really did want to know.

“Fine,” he said, gripping the lapels of his jacket like a child reciting a presidential speech, “let’s just start by saying it’s the greatest novel written by anyone in any language in at least a quarter century.”

“Good,” I answered, “as long as we don’t end there, I think that’s good.”

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6 comments
  1. d said:

    A man talked to me for a while about Paco Ignacio Taibo II, and I asked if he’d read Bolano. He said, “I read 2666” very sternly and walked away before I could say anything else.

    Last year I did a long car trip with three friends who’d all read 2666, and the experience of spending hours in a car with other people who’d read it was intense. I always have at least 3 copies in the house, so I can give them to people who seem interested.

  2. d said:

    As I’ve said to a lot of people – and perhaps even commented here – 2666 is most astounding for simultaneously being a great Latin American, European, American, and Russian novel. How did Bolano do that?

    The Part About Archimboldi is the most transcendent thing I’ve ever read.

  3. d,

    Yes, the trouble is that it’s a hard recommendation to sell. People see the size of it, then they hear me describe it (five books in one? WWII Russia to modern day Mexico? lists of murdered women? really?) and they generally decline the loan of my copy. I have never recommended a book that has been so consistently rejected. It makes me despair.

  4. d said:

    Rather than recommend or loan, I have been buying copies and handing them to people, forcing them to confront it.

  5. d said:

    Also, the 3 volume edition in the slipcase is a lot less intimidating (and more beautiful). It helps to have it split up a little bit. I hope someday a publisher does a limited edition 5 volume hardcover edition with embossed covers and so on.

  6. d said:

    It was like a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else.

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