Reading is usually a solitary activity, best pursued in a comfy armchair or a secluded corner of a library. Even on a crowded bus during the morning commute, the reader is essentially alone.
But Thursday, for the ninth year in a row, the Kelly Writers House will turn a well-loved novel into a communal experience. Starting at 9 a.m., a rotating group of devotees, academics, and passersby will spend about 14 hours reading all 417 pages of Gabriel García Márquez's masterwork, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
"It's come up every year I've worked here [during the selection process for the annual marathon read], but we've shied away from it because of the length," says Alli Katz, the Writers House program coordinator. "Márquez passed away last year; it's a way to celebrate this amazing writer and share our love. It's a fun atmosphere of being with people who also care about the things you care about."
One Hundred Years of Solitude traces five generations of a family begun by José and Ursula Arcadio Buendía, who establish a small village in the depths of South America in the early 1800s. The story continues through the family's trials, joys, and eccentricities - the father ends up insane and is tied to a chestnut tree in the garden - in the wonderfully bizarre region they have settled.
Previous marathon reads featured Jazz, The Crying of Lot 49, and even Lolita. It takes roughly a minute to read a page, and each shift is about 10 minutes. Anyone can attend and people drift in and out all day - with peaks around noon and after 5 - but there are usually at least six people in the room. (Only one person - community member Harry Saffren - has attended all the marathons and sat through entire readings.)
Attendees also bring home-cooked food, often related to the novel. This year, a student is baking a wedding cake and Writers House is considering buying a giant block of ice in commemoration of the novel's famed opening line: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
"It's one of the first grown-up books I ever read and I was totally transported," says Katz. "It's not just about the story. On every page there is something else that sticks with you. Even the opening scene, that's an image I think about all the time. In his moment of death, he thinks back to his youth. I was just looking at the text again and smiling."
The Kelly Writers House is at 3805 Locust Walk, on the University of Pennsylvania campus.
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