The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is a series of stories linked together in the small town of Macondo in South America. It is surrounded by a swamp and thus is known for its isolation.
One day the town was infected by a plague that causes insomnia. The people of the town were not unhappy at first because it meant there was more time to get things done. But there was more to this plague. In addition to insomnia, they began to lose their memory. Marquez called it the loss of “the name and notion of things.”
They countered these symptoms by writing names on things or pinning signs to them. You would walk around the town and see the words clock, chair, dog, wall, and so on. But they were afraid they would forget the purpose of the items. So they would write longer and more elaborate signs with instructions. For example, this is what was looped around the neck of the cow: “This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk.”
This literary exploration of collective amnesia made me think of the purpose of writing books and publishing in general. Writing is a thankless task during the process. But the finished work is a “signpost,” a place of memory or experience. A place where a traveler can go, sit for a while, and later move to another signpost having been affected by their previous reading. Without these books, our society would forget where we came from and where we should be going.
In a small way each book being written, whether for entertainment, education, or inspiration, is a signpost. A stopping place with a set goal of direction. When driving you see signs: “Stop,” “Yield,” “Slow, children crossing,” “No parking,” and more. But even something as simple as the roadside mile marker tells us that we are one step closer to our destination.
Bear with me for a moment and think of the “signs” we find in Scripture. Ones that point to greater things to come (emphasis added):
“I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:12-14).
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:13-15).
“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger”
Think about the sign that your book is creating. Signs like “Hope,” “Love,” “Redemption,” “Joy,” “Lament,” “Restoration,” “Create,” or “Beauty.” Make your sign unique and one that makes a reader stop and sit a while.
[Unfortunately, while writing this, the 1971 hit song “Signs” by The Five Man Electrical Band kept playing in my mind. (https://bit.ly/3zXnIlO)]
What is written on the “sign” for your book (fiction or nonfiction)? It can be a single word or two or a phrase up to six words (short enough to remember).
[This is a revised version of a post from December 2012.]