Discursus

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library. Jorge Luis Borges

On literacy

Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich published a paper called “What Reading Does For The Mind.”  Among its premises is this: reading makes you smarter.  Surprise!

Vocabulary is a big winner among readers.  The paper cites the research of Hayes and Ahrens (1988), who analyzed the distributions of 86,741 English words used in various contexts, and showed, among other things, that children’s books have 50 percent more rare words in them than do adult prime-time TV and college-graduate conversations.  The results aren’t limited to just vocab, though: Cunningham and Stanovich ran tests on kids and college students and “found that reading volume made a significant contribution to multiple measures of vocabulary, general knowledge, spelling, and verbal fluency.” Reading wins everything!

Finally, definitive proof of why I am so effing brilliant (but still can’t do maths).

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Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera

Dreadfully disappointed by the end of Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.  It was a lovely book, beautifully written, blah, blah, blah — but I despised Florentino Ariza, and he just wouldn’t-go-away.

There are so many strong female characters in this novel — Aunt Escolástica, Fermina Daza, Hildebranda Sánchez, Leona Cassiani — who only further accentuate the childishness of the two male protagonists, the slimy Florentino Ariza and the charming Dr. Juvenal Urbino.  I loved Juvenal right up until the fateful revelation of his infidelity, after which he sort of limped through the rest of the book.  But Florentino — I got bad vibes from him from the very beginning, with “his air of weakness, his reserve, and his somber clothes.”

In his 1988 review in the New York Times, Pynchon, who is totally duped by Florentino and his so-called pure, eternal love, recounts Florentino’s “622 ‘long-term liaisons, apart from . . . countless fleeting adventures,’ while maintaining, impervious to time, his deeper fidelity, his unquenchable hope for a life with Fermina. At the end he can tell her truthfully — though she doesn’t believe it for a minute — that he has remained a virgin for her.”  (Vom.)  I don’t think sex is anything to play around with, but that’s pretty much all that Florentino does while he’s waiting around for Juvenal to die, causing one woman to be slashed in the throat by her jealous husband, knocking up a maid, molesting his 14-year-old ward who later kills herself out of grief, and on and on he goes — more than 622 times, apparently.

One reviewer on Amazon makes a great point that the characters function as archetypes demonstrating the many different types of love: “unrequited love (Florentino for Fermina); marital love (Fermina and Juvenal); platonic love (Florentino and Leona); angry love (Florentino and the poet who makes him so furious); jealous love (the adulterous wife killed because of her affair with Florentino); young love (Florentino and Fermina in the beginning); dangerous love (the mental patient and Florentino); adulterous love (Juvenal and his affair, Florentino and many of his women); love from afar (Florentino and Fermina); elderly love (Florentino and Fermina, Fermina and Juvenal; the cyanide suicide); May-December love (Florentino and his ward),” etc., etc.  It’s this incredible range of emotion that gives Márquez’s work such an epic feel.  And, as Stephanie Zacharek says in a review of the 2007 film adaptation, “The story unfolds in a rich, leisurely fashion, and once you settle into it, it’s seductively evocative.”

Okay, I can buy that.  But the visceral response that the novel evoked in me remains.  I think what it boils down to is this: I want more than they have.  I want the young love and the elderly love; I want the passion and the stability; I want the marital love that’s free from adulterous, jealous, unrequited love.  I want it all.  The thought that I may not be able to is unsettling.  Damn you, Florentino Ariza.  I’ll never forgive you for this.