After that, after I stole that book and read it, I went from being a prudent reader to being a voracious reader and from being a book thief to being a book hijacker. I wanted to read everything, which in my innocence was the same as wanting to uncover or trying to uncover the hidden workings of chance that had induced Camus’s character to accept his hideous fate. Despite what might have been predicted, my career as a book hijacker was long and fruitful, but one day I was caught. Luckily, it wasn’t at the Glass Bookstore but at the Cellar Bookstore, which is—or was—across from the Alameda, on Avenida Juárez, and which, as its name indicates, was a big cellar where the latest books from Buenos Aires and Barcelona sat piled in gleaming stacks. My arrest was ignominious. It was as if the bookstore samurais had put a price on my head. They threatened to have me thrown out of the country, to give me a beating in the cellar of the Cellar Bookstore, which to me sounded like a discussion among neo-philosophers about the destruction of destruction, and in the end, after lengthy deliberations, they let me go, though not before confiscating all the books I had on me, among them The Fall, none of which I’d stolen there.
Soon afterwards I left for Chile. If in Mexico I might have bumped into Rulfo and Arreola, in Chile the same was true of Nicanor Parra and Enrique Lihn, but I think the only writer I saw was Rodrigo Lira, walking fast on a night that smelled of tear gas. Then came the coup and after that I spent my time visiting the bookstores of Santiago as a cheap way of staving off boredom and madness. Unlike the Mexican bookstores, the bookstores of Santiago had no clerks and were run by a single person, almost always the owner. There I bought Nicanor Parra’s Obra gruesa [Complete Works] and the Artefactos, and books by Enrique Lihn and Jorge Teillier that I would soon lose and that were essential reading for me; although essential isn’t the word: those books helped me breathe. But breathe isn’t the right word either.
What I remember best about my visits to those bookstores are the eyes of the booksellers, which sometimes looked like the eyes of a hanged man and sometimes were veiled by a kind of film of sleep, which I now know was something else. I don’t remember ever seeing lonelier bookstores. I didn’t steal any books in Santiago. They were cheap and I bought them. At the last bookstore I visited, as I was going through a row of old French novels, the bookseller, a tall, thin man of about forty, suddenly asked whether I thought it was right for an author to recommend his own works to a man who’s been sentenced to death.
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Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .
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