Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Great Gabby

Gabriel García Márquez, the Mexico City-based Colombian writer who is essentially the Gabriel García Márquez of Mexico, died today, just one day before Jesus Christ himself.  Sadly, this means he will not live to see us finish One Hundred Years of Solitude.  We've always held him responsible for our multiple failed attempts to complete the book - which is perhaps unfair, except for the fact that he wrote the thing in the first place so, y'know.

The eulogizing will go on for several days here, and while we don't question the sincerity of the nation's love for the man, we don't for a second believe more than a tiny fraction of the populace have actually read him.  (We say the same about the Irish and Ulysses, by the way.)  So in tribute to Gabo, here's an encore presentation of a 2007 post on the reading (or, more accurately, non-reading) habits of the Queretanos.

It could be a while before some sort of cafe society takes root here in Querétaro, at least judging by the statistics buried in the appendices of the president's state of the union address.

While literacy in these parts is over 95%, it seems that people really just can't be bothered with it. According to government statistics, people in the central-western region of the country (that's us!) read just 2.3 books per year on average, the lowest in the nation. (The dilettantes down in Mexico City plow thorough an average of 5.5 a year.)

These numbers are averages, and the whole thing is probably stacked against queretanos since it doesn't count pornographic comics as "books." Drilling down a bit, we find that 51.3 percent of queretanos claim to read books - which means an astonishing 48.7 percent are perfectly comfortable telling another adult, "Books? Ha! Never read 'em!" (Of these, 31 percent do acknowledge having read a book at some point - so that's good, right? Only 36 percent of queretano adults have never read a book in their entire lives.) This probably helps explain why the Querétaro Public Library has just 60,000 volumes - about two-thirds the size of the one in Swampscott (population 14,000).

And what are Mexicans reading? Well, our mediocre local paper, a.m., breaks it down for us. For Mexican readers over the age of 55, their favorite book is (Wait, wait! Let us it the Bible?) the Bible! In the 46-55 age group, the top choice is One Hundred Years of Solitude. Among the 18-30 set, it's a three-way tie between The Da Vinci Code, The Little Prince ("Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought Jonathan Livingston Seagull!"), and something called A Desperate Cry, which we'd never heard of, but is listed under both "juvenile" and "spirituality" on Amazon, so it makes sense. The Harry Potter books, collectively, top the list for teens. People between the ages of 31 and 45 apparently don't read anything.

By the way, we're calling bullshit on the 46-55 year-olds.  We tried twice to finish One Hundred Years of Solitude and failed both times - which is hardly a scientific sampling, but still leaves us highly skeptical to see the least-bookish region of the country rank it as their favorite - in between Little Prince and the Bible. This afternoon we plan to stop a dozen random 46-55 year-olds on the street, and will hand our car keys to the first one who can accurately summarize the plot.

2014 Update: No one won the car.


mcm said...

hahahahaha! I too have never finished 100 Years of Solitude! I feel pretty bad about this, along with my failure to finish Gravity's Rainbow.
I'm thinking that for many survey-responders that ''picking up a book and looking through it'' counts as reading.
You've got to start somewhere.

Charles Pergiel said...

Wait a minute. Having a favorite book means you have to have read it? That's discrimination, at least I think it is.

Mexfiles said...

Of course, the most influential novel in the United States is allegedly Ayn Rand's "Altas Shrugged" (which no one has actually read) so I wouldn't get too snarky about Mexican reading habits... and people actually do finish "100 Years...". For one thing, it's readable, and for another, "magical realism" is a lot more like real life than anything found in a Rand novel.

Burro Hall said...

Unless it's sponsored by the Federalist Society, I can't imagine a poll declaring "Altas Shrugged" America's favorite book. But yes, even the parts of "100 Yrs" I've read are considerably better than it. Undoubtedly.

I'll take your "no snarking" proposal under advisement.

Charles Pergiel said...

I read "Atlas Shrugged" about a thousand years ago. I thought it was, uhm, very interesing? Probably because I had never read anything like it.

I have to agree with "magical realism".