Roberto Bolaño is your wakeup call; he's the alarm that goes off whether or not you intended to set it.
In many ways, this book of interviews, including his last one, which ran in Playboy in 2003 before he died at age 50 of liver failure, is more fun to read than his novels: His fictions crush that little word and send the "F," "U" and "N" skittering off in different directions.
In the novels, such as The Savage Detectives and By Night in Chile, poets betray their cultures; writers are serial killers; writers collude with totalitarian regimes even in their sleep and their silence.
In these interviews, you can breathe; there is a little space between the writing life and the reality, say, of 430 women and girls murdered in Ciudad Juárez, the subject of Bolaño's last novel, 2666.
Bolaño, a founder of the Infrarealist movement in Mexico (think Dada), rejects the choice between fantasy and realism that most Latin American writers face in perpetuity. He says the critic must, first and foremost, be a reader.
He tells us, enigmatically, about the difference between a writer and an author. He reminds us that people in power know nothing about literature. (They can't have everything!) He says he is less embarrassed by his poetry than by his prose.
He says underdeveloped cultures can afford only great literature. He says, given the choice between politics and literature, that he would rather have a library than a ticket to anywhere (even communist Russia).
Bolaño says that when he was growing up in Valparaiso (he was born in Chile), his parents made the mistake of giving him a pair of roller skates. It was a city of hills: "Every time I put the skates on it was as if I was trying to commit suicide."