When I was sixteen I flew to London to visit my sister at graduate school. It was June and I had been in Europe with my sophomore history class on a tour of many major cities and their churches. We finished in Paris. My classmates’ flight back home to San Francisco left at 6:30AM and my flight to Heathrow left at 9:30PM, so all I had to do was sit still for fifteen hours. Before I left home, weeks before, I had stolen my mom’s copy of 100 Years of Solitude for hormonal reasons.
Europe made me vaguely uncomfortable. Everything smelled weird; everybody knew how to dress themselves. I also thought it was pretty inconsiderate of my teachers to exist outside of the classroom, sort of like when you meet someone famous, and realize they’re short and don’t actually wear leather: you don’t feel ‘let down’, you just sort of feel guilty. Once I met a hungover Sean Hunter from Boy Meets World in Sebastopol, but that wasn’t my fault either.
Sixteen is an important age for most boys because it lasts well into our twenties. At the time I think I was mostly re-reading The Lord of the Rings, while occasionally cleansing my palate with stuff like Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Two Years Before the Mast. I will always love fantasy and adventure fiction because they encourage me to feel set-upon, which is a gateway feeling to other feelings, like self-importance and romantic impatience, and when I combine them with other substances I can usually even heighten these effects. I’ve been doing this pretty regularly from a young age. But, even at sixteen, I think part of me realized that experimentation is also an important part of growing up, and so that morning I was only a little surprised to find that it was 100 Years of Solitude, rather than the 900-page Dragonbone Chair, looking up at me from under my Dixie cup of orange juice in the downstairs café of Charles de Gaulle.
I chewed my four croissants, eyeing the book sidelong, instantly distrustful of its brevity, its classy cover, the good reviews on the jacket, like a fat little gopher rummaging around just under the surface of my garden. What’s it doing in there? Luckily I felt a nasty head cold coming on, so, instead of opening it and finding out, I spent half an hour asking directions to the pharmacy right across the hall, where I bought a bottle of what I understood to be a sort of French Theraflu. I couldn’t read the directions, so I took three capfuls and then maybe drank a few espressos.
Six hours and two generations of Marquez’s imaginary families later, I emerged from the airport bathroom to purchase another bottle of Theraflu, just in case. It seemed to be working really well, though my face felt swollen and my hair hurt. My iPod Nano had died, but I hadn’t noticed: I was halfway through the best book of my life, and once or twice per hour a beautiful Parisian floated by in a pair of those gauzy, see-through pants that must have been in fashion at the moment. Between the magical realism, the fever, and the sheer volume of antihistamines and caffeine, I must have synthesized a new kind of molecule somewhere deep in my brain, magicaffehistequez, transforming me from the inside out. I was sixteen, on my own in another country; I was the Lord of the Terminals, Stranger in a Strange Stall, he-who-stares-at-books, watcher-of-see-through-pants, sailing through time and genres, and even if I could have blinked, I wouldn’t have wanted to.
When it grew dark, I boarded the plane with tears in my eyes, the completed book still gripped red-hot in my shaking hands, and promptly fell asleep on my seat partner. To this day, 100 Years of Solitude remains the best book I have ever read.
Though, I couldn't actually tell you what happens in it.