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By Alan Cheuse

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Sample text

At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe homes, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. The opening lines of the novel mark a good place to conclude this hurried survey of much more than a hundred years of strife, solitude, false sentiment, and new solidarity. In the face of impending death, Aureliano Buendía casts his mind back to a time of origins, childhood, and the early days of the Colombian village of Macondo, but also, given the resemblance of the polished stones along the stream bed, to a pre-historical moment, to an age of ice, a time before language, before fire.

And for a glimpse of what a coherent vision of the world might be like? It may well be that putting together in our own minds a lifetime of novel reading is close to knowing what it must be like in the mind of God. A. freeways, we make up a cosmos. Think of reading, then, as an act of praise, of prayer, even, in which individuals reassert their devotion to creation and to the immanent world in which we reside, a world in which every aspect of life, from old tires piled high in a trash heap to the multiform patterns of snowflakes on a day in high winter, from the sickness of murder to the charity of parenthood, all make up part of a larger pattern.

Perhaps it’s always been so, but lately it seems more so than usual. As the late publisher Sol Stein once put it so ironically and truly, “It’s only those books that transmit the culture from one generation to the next” that are being left off the lists these days. And so-called “midlist” writers, wonderfully entertaining and serious all in one, find themselves driven out of the marketplace for—where? If the trend keeps moving in this direction, an entire generation of gifted but non-best-selling American fiction writers are headed toward oblivion long before death.

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