by Javier Marías

Every year between April 23, Spain’s Book Day, and mid-June, when the Madrid Book Fair comes to a close, everyone in our country gets very philosophical about literature, and our conversations bubble over with all sorts of clichés (some accurate, others less so) on the topic: we all talk about how reading makes better, more imaginative people; it broadens our knowledge; it has the capacity to change us and our understanding of those around us; it allows us to live vicarious lives; it makes us more tolerant; and it may even help stop some of us from committing crimes. I fully admit I have made my share of these comments, but I do try to limit myself so as not to contribute to this general overkill of saccharine sweetness. This year, as Don Quixote is trotted out in his endless and exhausting four-hundredth-anniversary dance, politicians in Spain have been extolling the virtues of books and reading as never before. We haven’t given Cervantes a moment of peace this year, so forgive me for repeating one of the most celebrated lines from his novel: “Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that heavens have bestowed upon men… for freedom… men can and should risk their lives; and on the other hand, captivity is the greatest evil that can befall mankind.” I don’t object to the politicians who cite these words, though some of them do sound a bit ludicrous when they do.

Translated from the Spanish by Kristina Cordero

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Javier Marías was born in Madrid in 1951. English-language translations of his novels include All Souls, A Heart So White, To-morrow in the Battle Think on Me, and the short-story collection When I Was Mortal.

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