The book that changed your life: Arno Kopecky

This year, the Word on the Street festival returns with a new moniker—Word Vancouver—and a hugely varied schedule that runs at venues around town from September 25 to 29. As part of the runup, we asked some of the writers on the bill to tell us about the reading experiences that shaped them. Which book left deep impressions early on? Which one overhauled the way they see and think about the world, and set them on a path to a literary life?

Here’s what Arno Kopecky told us. He’s the Vancouver-based journalist and author of environmentally themed travelogues The Devil’s Curve and his latest, The Oil Man and the Sea.

He’ll be appearing at the fest at 2:15 p.m. on September 29, in the Canada Writes Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

There was a dusty old paperback in the basement of my mother’s house, and it occupied the exact same perch atop a pile of books beside the staircase for years while I was growing up. I remember how its tired cover left my prepubescent sensibilities totally unimpressed: no dragons, no swords, no otherworlds, just a sad-looking couple hugging in a featureless garden under a brooding sun. The overblown blurb from the New York Review of Books—“Forces upon us at every page the wonder and extravagance of life!”—made me fear adulthood, if it meant wonder and extravagance were to become so alien that they had to be force-fed, while the title itself girded all these impressions with the foreign and unwelcome whiff of melancholy: One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Then, when I was 15 or so and had gone through every other book in the house, I gave in. I opened García Márquez’s masterpiece, and read that unforgettable first sentence in which firing squads and ice-bearing Gypsies and several generations of madly heroic Buendías commingled, and then I consumed the entire century in a few lengthy sittings, and nothing was ever the same.