Not all book discussions are friendly.
Many of them are passive-aggressive struggles for intellectual superiority. You mention a Dostoevsky book you like while at a party or study group, and then someone responds with, “Oh, but have you read Turgenev?” You bristle and say no, not yet, but right now you’re on a Gogol kick and have discovered his satirical sensibilities for both upper- and lower-class Russians to be criminally underappreciated.
These duels are all too common among relative strangers who read. I never went looking for them, but I wear dark-framed glasses, which is walking into the room with a rapier at your belt; they find you. Now, since I was in college, the customs have changed. In the literary world, Latin America is the new Russia. Márquez, Bolaño, Borges, and Neruda are the standards for proving your reading tastes are more sophisticated than everyone else’s, and the likes of Alejo Carpentier, Carlos Fuentes, and Julio Cortázar show you’re a true competitor.
I’ve been slow to adapt to this shift. I haven’t even read Márquez. Granted, saying you like Márquez isn’t going to impress anybody. He’s like The Shins of the Latin American authors: you’re trying, but not hard enough. Anyone who brings him up will promptly be defeated with a Mario Vargas Llosa mention. Unless, of course, the defender fortifies his/her position with a deep cut like Leaf Storm or any Márquez nonfiction, or if they’re just preparing something real nasty like the “I’ve Read Márquez-You’ve Read Llosa-But I’ve Read Miguel Angel Ásturias” counter-riposte of death.
I’m not reading One Hundred Years of Solitude for these battles. I’ve already got a book for that, and it’s served me all right. At the slightest provocation of a Latin American Lit Hipster Faceoff, I flick Pedro Paramo around like a butterfly knife until the challenger backs away.
I’m reading One Hundred Years of Solitude because it’s been said to cure babies of cleft palates. They say it grants the reader four wishes upon completion. You wouldn’t eat this book, but if you did, it would taste of mangos and unconditional love. People really like this book, basically.
If I share the enthusiasm, it could lead to an eventual arsenal of Latin American authors for conversational self defense.