Roberto Bolaño and the Only Way You’ll Ever Be Great

I woke up this morning at five something because of an intense desire to urinate, and couldn’t get back to sleep for the rest of the morning. That is, I don’t think I got back to sleep. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. On the one hand I like to think I didn’t lay there for two hours, since I didn’t actually exit my bed until 7:30am. And even then I didn’t exit completely. I got out of bed, checked the ripeness of my avocados (I bought a bag of five yesterday for just over a dollar), opened my curtains to let in the fresh Guadalajara morning air, and then got back in bed and rated Instagram ads for exactly 18 minutes.

I still sleep with white noise for colicky babies, because it drowns out most of the annoying sounds sometimes produced by my neighbors and roommates. The shower knob, for example, is about 16 inches from my head as the crow pecks, and makes a terrible squeaking noise every time it’s turned on. Yesterday, my roommate, Rodolfo, must’ve showered for 45 minutes. After he was done he had to mop the floor, such was the deluge produced. And yet, I get the feeling this is normal for him. Maybe he doesn’t bathe often, but when he does, he really bathes. Come to think of it, yesterday was the first day I’d ever seen him bathe. And it’s not like he smells. Rodolfo is a wonderful guy. Our conversations now include jokes on a regular basis. We often talk about Bill, my aloe plant. Today the first thing I did when I got up was check on Bill. He has a new shoot sprouting right in the middle of the two main shoots, and this shoot looks fairly healthy. I still think Bill has a good chance of surviving. His main fronds, though, worry me. One looks like it might be dying. I don’t know what to do at this point. I’ve talked to several people about aloe plant care. I’ve consulted websites (*website). And everyone says the same thing: “Aloe plants are so easy to take care of.” Which doesn’t really help me. Imagine if you went to the doctor because your baby was sick and the only thing she said was, “I don’t know what the problem is. Babies are so easy to take care of.”

Last night I fell asleep reading the book La sombra del viento (The Shadow of the Wind) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I didn’t like it at first, because it seemed too simple and predictable. It had one sentence that was something like, “The first thing my dad told me….” or “The first thing I remember…” which is such a cliche sentence, something I would write, so I was ready to put it down, but the book was steadfast. What do I mean by steadfast? I mean that it didn’t deviate in tone, that it wasn’t self-conscious, that it didn’t doubt itself, that it gave you the feeling — and I’ve talked about this before — that: “This is real. I mean, it’s a novel, but it’s real. And if you don’t think it’s real, then (expletive) you.” This is how Roberto Bolaño books feel, though Roberto Bolaño takes it a step further in that he doesn’t take it anywhere at all. His books say: “This is real. I mean, it’s not real, but it’s real. And I don’t care whether or not you think it’s real. Thinking about what you thought about this novel would never in several millennia cross my mind.” This indifference towards the reader is key if you want to become a great novelist. You must not care about what the reader wants or needs. But it mustn’t be disdain. It must be indifference. And indifference is impossible to fake.

I haven’t acquired this indifference, and I don’t know if I’ll ever acquire it. I care about what readers think. When someone says they liked a blog post I immediately re-read the blog post in question, congratulating myself on my good writing (all the while wondering whether it’s really good). And when someone says something bad about a post it ruins me, even though a voice deep down wonders whether they’re wrong. And this is what I was getting at with Bolaño. It’s not like he cares about whether he’s right or you’re wrong when it comes to his books. It’s that your right to an opinion doesn’t exist.

A special thanks to Starbucks and it’s kitschy atmosphere for unwittingly supporting this blog.

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