This book review contains NO SPOILERS at all. It’s also my humble exhortation to the reader to pick up this title and read.
First, why are you writing about Don Quijote, and not schedules, homeschooling, the holidays, political issues, life?
In answer to your question, Don Quijote is the Spanish novel by definition. Every Spaniard, reader or not, is born knowing EN UN LUGAR DE LA MANCHA, DE CUYO NOMBRE NO QUIERO ACORDARME. We all know the book, though not many have read it. This opening line is as well known as Anna Karenina’s opening line is among readers, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” After several attempts in my youth, I remember reading it, finally, but after this second time, I have doubts as if I ever completed part II.
There are various reasons why we choose to read a classic, but I think there are more reasons why we choose not to. Up until recently, I had many biases towards classics: they are a bore, some are so long, they are dry, they are not fun to read, they are difficult, I’m not interested, I don’t care for long old books, etc. Some of those preconceived ideas are surely based on truth, -classics can be difficult, depending on how familiar we are with the theme, language, their length can also be staggering…- I’m with Italo Calvino, there is a classic for each of us, we just have to find it. Don Quixote, in athletic terms, it’s not a short sprint, but a decathlon of sorts. Even if you are interested, it will be difficult to cross the finish line. In culinary terms, classics are not classics because they are as easy and quick to master as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or because of their effortless accessibility. But once you are able to enter their universe, the wall falls down, they are not difficult but satisfying, not dry but full of layers of different meaning. It happens that, once in classic-land, one has the time of her life.
Still you are beating around the bush? Why did you choose to read or re-read Don Quijote?
My main reason was because I saw many others whom I admire, (authors and their books), say how much they got from reading Don Quijote. I was a bit incredulous, though I liked the little of it I revisited here and there. I wanted to inhabit a universe for weeks and months, I wanted to enjoy Don Quijote, live Don Quijote, and secondly, several dear friends were also interested in reading along with me, or me with them. I was delighted by my reading besties wanting to read this classic. If they were going to enjoy this title, I wanted to be able to see what’s so good in my national literary heritage.
What’s the reason not many read this classic?
Classics have, as I said, many preconceptions. When I was a student, most of us in high school and later in college, did not read, or did read scarcely and in a non discriminating way. Maybe for many of us who were not been raised in a diet of living books, life was apparently so interesting and vibrant, we refused to bury our noses in a book, and when we did that, we prefered the book to be a kick, a popular title, or something that fitted our pace in life. Classics usually are not that obvious for those who are not used to looking and finding their hidden treasures.
What’s most remarkable about this book?
Grin. Here I am, a nobody talking about this titan of literature. But those reading this review don’t do so because I’m a critic, or an erudite, but because they are readers themselves, and we all cross borders and climb mountains when it comes to good living books, we all know we review them from the heart.
You know how you hear Don Quijote is the first modern novel. After reading it, this makes full sense (and I don’t necessarily know what’s meant by “modern novel”). I mean it is so new, so innovative, it talks about so many topics, it is a book in a book, thousand books in a book, the characters talk about them being in a book already, about the second bastard part called, El Quijote de Avellaneda (it’s an apocrypha second part), it contains poems, stories, legends, idioms, it discusses books, translation, social strata, religion, it’s full of humor, adventures, seriousness.
To the point, is Don Quijote, Alonso Quijano, a mad man?
This is exactly the question I rather not answer after reading the book in full. If he is or he is not, what matter is what makes him mad, and what makes him sane. I prefer to say I am very fond of this man. He made me laugh, and cry. He did. It was almost impossible to come to the last chapter, the last minutes were beautiful, but very painful too.
Don Quijote is, above all, a wonderful, remarkable, vulnerable and courageous man. He is sweet and funny, loving and mesmerizing. His biggest fault of character is that he has an explanation for everything. (Ouch, that’s so close to home).
And what can you tell us about Sancho?
Aww, my Sancho. The second part is his, and I loved it with all my heart. The friendship between these two, I will never forget. Sancho and Don Quijote need each other, and they were better because of their friendship.
What’s your favorite part?
All the humor is remarkable, but, being the reader I am, I loved the most Don Quijote speeches, and his philosophical conversations with Sancho. All the stories, Chaucer and Shakespeare like, included in the book, are my favorite too. As I don’t want to add spoilers, I’ll leave it here. It has so many favorite parts, it’s also useless to add them all, but, if you have read it, I’d love to discuss favorite parts with you.
The food in the book is a character on its own. The romances and misunderstandings are very numerous, it can drive you a bit crazy too. Some of those tales within the book are never ending. When I got overwhelmed by the many tales within the tale, I just left it for a bit, and came back fresh with more time.
Is there reading life after Don Quijote?
Difficult question. Some books I was reading at the time, so it’s easy to continue them. But the classics are so unforgettable, they raise the bar so high, it’s difficult to know where to go after a title like this. I believe this title won’t impact all of us the same. Lately, while reading Unamuno, I felt a non describable pang of beauty, something that precedes understanding. I believe we all have a reading instinct, a mother tongue. Not long ago, some friends commented on how much I read in English. Ever since I started teaching the girls, I jumped in the learning train myself, and stretched my limits as a reader, built some good muscle, climbed some mountains (and non only book wise). I submitted myself to reading in English, not because I despise or reject my own language, but because I saw the importance of English (King James Bible, Victorian English, our first steps into Shakespeare, initially difficult to read translations of Plutarch, such as Dryden, challenging classic authors and their titles…), and I unattended my Spanish reading. That was another reason to read Don Quijote, a desire to heal my Spanish reading soul, to nurture something that, as a reader, I had left malnourished.
Last December I took a first and in hindsight foundational step in this direction. I was in Madrid, and I thought it was fitting to read Benito Perez Galdós’ Fortunata and Jacinta. In school, we read the much shorter novella by him, Marianela. I almost have no memories of the books I read when young. Is it because my life and other reads could not inform it? I wonder if my girls, with their diet of ideas and their exposure to living books, will have a different experience. I used to spend recess hours in high school reading, reading, reading, and I can’t, for the life of me, remember any of the titles of that season. Later, I had a subscription to something called “Club de Lectores”, where book sellers came to your door, and for a monthly subscription you got offers for books and series in their magazine. If I had money, I’d buy what I fancied, if not, all I had to buy was at least one title. From that time I remember titles, but not so much what they meant to me either. A few sketches of some books’ plots I can recall, but the ideas, the connections, are missing.
My only few distinctive memories are these:
I remember being able to finally finish a book by myself when I was 10 or 12, Las aventuras de Vania el Forzudo, a short Russian legend. I also remember at the time, reading and memorizing some poems by my favorite poet, Juan Ramón Jiménez, from one of his poetry for children books. As a teen, reading from an old red cloth collection called Biblioteca de Obras Famosas, Miguel Strogoff, by Julio Verne. From the same collection, I tried reading The Iliad, and found it very difficult to get pass the incessant battles. As a grown up, I brought the Iliad and Odyssey from my parent’s home in Madrid, and finally read them in English and Spanish respectively. Those books still smell of smoke (my father was a chain smoker for many years).
I don’t know if those few experiences were all I needed to reconnect with being a reader much later in life, to come back or start to see me as a life long learner, or if it was my discovery of Charlotte Mason and the Ambleside Online community, or if it was reading some challenging books along with other ladies who blog and tackled difficult books (I participated in two book clubs, The Aboliton of Men by C.S. Lewis, and Poetic Knowledge). Later I also kept attempting books that intimidated me with others at the Ambleside Online book clubs. But what made me come back to be a reader, a learner?, maybe it’s that reading after 30, or 40, brings your life to your experience with these classics, making it so different and rewarding. But I can tell you it’s beyond books. I opened an old title, El árbol de la ciencia, by Baroja, a book with my own margin notes and underlined words, and it’s as if I’m reading it for the first time. The references to character, education, details and descriptions that went unnoticed in my teen years, do blast my senses and stimulate my thinking like never before.There is life in the ideas and people worth meeting in those pages. There is some diversion in books, which is welcome too, but above all, there is beauty, truth, and some valuable learning in all this.
Do we need all these books?, do you need ALL these books you read?
I don’t keep track for the sake of numbers. I do like my book lists, though. Some collect keepsakes, I like my lists and as the year ends, I go to them and think and write about what’s been the best reads of the year.
I’ve been more anxious about my reading in the past, as with everything else, whenever I have made the mistake of comparing, but, as long as I don’t compare, reading is wonderful. This year it has been a great year, I’ve enjoyed sharing and also reading about what others read. I like reading about what my friends are up to. I’m very grateful to those of you who have read Galdós and Cervantes because of my recommendation, to those who have read books along with me, and those who have recommended me titles I have enjoyed as well.
Don’t worry about all the books, some, a few, one or two. Just pick up and read, but give some consideration to WHAT, not how much/how little, or how much or how little others read. If you treat reading as another possible process for your self-learning, (the only true learning, according to Charlotte Mason), and put some care to choosing the title(s), and finding the help for you to be successful with those goals, you’ll be better off for that every time, every book.