I have been wanting to do this for some time. Read Don Quixote and blog about it to invite others to read and converse.
I’m always trying to convert people to the books and authors I love, specially to Don Quixote. I want these series of posts to be informal, but I’m committed to them. My desire is to be a reading companion for those willing to read this immensely rewarding book, and maybe tip the scales in favor of reading it for those in doubt.
There’s another honest goal I have in mind. If you hate, dislike, can’t stomach the book, please, I’d love to hear your criticism and bashing. I do. You won’t be judged, I assure you. I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m not going to convince you, but I’m very interested in listening and understanding where the book failed you, or what’s that you dislike. I once disliked Jane Austen with a passion. There’s many books I didn’t like in my first reading that I’ve come to love, or simply appreciate more. Others, I still loathe.
Where can I start? Don Quixote is Spain’s baby giant.
En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme,
“Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember,
Everybody knows that line. It’s the eternal subject of parodies and jokes. Much like Austen’s opening line for Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
This is a map of Spain. The red part is Castilla – La Mancha. My dad is from Ciudad Real, a city in La Mancha. La Mancha means the stain in Spanish. It’s a region with many cities. One of them is El Toboso, Dulcinea, -Don Quixote’s dame-, was from there, thus she’s called Dulcinea del Toboso.
Ever since little, the book and its phenomena are everywhere for us, Spaniards. I’ve received different book adaptations as birthday presents, and in my youth, there were different and popular screen adaptations, one with actors, another cartoons.
We were asked to read it repeatedly growing up. I’m sure this is the book most people profess to have read but haven’t. At one time, I may have said that myself. (No Spaniard wants to admit to not have read Don Quixote). But it’s also probably the number one favorite for many known and unknown people. It was a favorite of Dostoevsky, William Faulkner, and Spanish author Ana Maria Matute, who ranked it number one, and placed Brothers Karamazov in the list as well.
Everybody knows about it. What’s about. It’s part of our culture. The adjective quixotic is part of our language. There’s many words and idioms that are now part of the English language which came from the book. I’ll be sprinkling these posts with some trivia, but I don’t want it to be a course on Cervantes or his novel. This is just a reader sharing her thoughts and the joy of her visiting or revisiting this inexhaustible classic.
I read this book for the first time when I was seventeen. In high school, we were asked to read it once more. Moved by habit and propelled by boredom, I cracked my copy open one afternoon while sitting in bed. Soon I was laughing hard. I’m not sure if I read until the last page, or if I just honed into some chapters, but some of the antipathy for the book started to evaporate.
Eighteen years or so had to pass to see me attempting this book again. It was while reading Elizabeth Gouge’s The Rosemary Tree, that a character’s mention of the book and the friendship between Don Quixote and Sancho, provoked me to it. This was the time that sealed my forever love for this classic.
At the time, I also found this audio in Spanish. It’s a pleasure to listen to that narrator. I see there’s at least these two audios in English, this one narrates Ormsby’s translation, the narrator is Roy McMillan. John Ormsby (1829–1895) is well known for his translation, which is published by Heritage Press in a great and over sized edition. That translation can be found in the public domain. A second audio is this one narrated by George Guidall from the more recent Edith Grossman’s translation. Edith Grossman was born in 1936, and she’s translated Cervantes, Márquez, Vargas Llosa, etc.
This takes me to the issue of which translation. The one which works for you. Once immersed in a translation, you’ll get used to it, and it will be you and the book. If that doesn’t happen, and the language of the translator is an obstacle to your enjoyment, pick a different one, maybe a more recent one, or an audio version.
As the long novel that it is, it merits some time to get immersed in its universe, to become familiar with the rhythm of the language, the characters, etc. I’m trying to read seven chapters per week, and to post once a week. But life happens, and these goals may vary a bit.
If you are not laughing from the beginning, something is not going well. I don’t think one has to belabor their reading of this or any classic. It has to be a pleasure since the first pages, however, give it some time, or leave a comment here or at any other post, and I’d be happy to identify why the book is failing you, -if you wish. You may very well want to throw it in the fire!
Let me know too if you’d like me to link to your blog, Goodreads, or any place where you are discussing the book. I’d gladly add that to the page with the rest of the resources, so that others and myself can read your thoughts on the book.
Before saying goodbye for now, I’d like to add that Cervantes is one of the few authors I have in great esteem not just for his work, but as a person. I do believe I would have enjoyed knowing him. He shows tremendous empathy, compassion, and tenderness along with such a peculiar sense of humor. He knows the true meaning of friendship, and he presents us with his biases and the ones of those around him, instead of covering them under a moralizing pen. (Note: there’s a lot on morality, religion, social conflicts, but I don’t find a particular belief is imposed on us, readers). Nobody comes out unscathed, regardless of their rank or place in society. But maybe the quality I admire most, would be his lack of pomp, the fact he wears his heart in his sleeve. He was 57 the summer of 1604 when he submitted the first part for publication. He died in 1616. The second part he wrote in 1615. Cervantes didn’t profit from the novel, even though it was a bestseller from the beginning. Before we start volume II, I’ll tell you more about what happened.
He lived in poverty much of his life, and he suffered, he fought in the Battle of Lepanto, and as a consequence of a shot, got crippled on one hand. (Aren’t you glad it wasn’t the hand he used for writing?) He wrote the first part in prison. He died a few days before Shakespeare, and the world would not be the same without any of these two writers.
(I’ll be updating it frequently. Add anything you want to share in the comments here or at the page, thanks).