How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Advice from the Top of the Timeline

As some of you may have noticed from Goodreads, I’ve been plowing through Don Quixote for two months -- yikes, a long time, but it was not uninterrupted, I protest! But I am a slow reader and like to savor words, thoughts, episodes, and books in the way that it’s best to eat a sumptuous dinner, like the one-dish marinated chicken, roast potatoes, spicy gravy, sautéed onions, and delectable green beans that my mom makes. Provided the book is comparable to a sumptuous dinner, of course -- certain books are merely popcorn or worse: something that isn’t yummy at all.

Part I of Don Quixote dragged for me, I will admit. If I had loved it, it probably would have still taken the same amount of time to read, but I wouldn’t have noted the days as they stretched on and on -- “time flies when you’re having fun.” I would have been too busy savoring. Part II, which Miguel de Cervantes wrote ten years later, is proceeding according to the latter fashion -- I’m enjoying it, savoring it, and not noticing how long it’s taking me.

                                                       Don Quixote

I’m really excited for The Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote de la Mancha to become a part of my literary repertoire. Hopefully I’ll be able to write a review of some kind, though the book is so vast it will be hard to know what exactly to say about it. But in the meantime, I’ve found a couple of gems to share with you from the “first modern novelist.” I consider him and his work the top of the timeline, as far as novels and novelists are concerned. He was cutting a path for all of us who follow him. I especially like what he has to say about writing and literature in the course of Don Quixote’s conversations with various characters:

“For in works of fiction there should be a mating between the plot and the reader’s intelligence. They should be so written that the impossible is made to appear possible, things hard to believe being smoothed over and the mind held in suspense in such a manner as to create surprise and astonishment while at the same time they divert and entertain so that admiration and pleasure go hand in hand. But these are things which he cannot accomplish who flees verisimilitude and the imitation of nature, qualities that go to constitute perfection in the art of writing.” (Chapter 47, Part I -- a paragraph from the Canon’s debate with Don Quixote about books of chivalry)

“All of this is very true, Senor Don Quixote,” replied Carrasco, “but, all the same, I could wish that these self-appointed censors were a bit more forbearing and less hypercritical; I wish they would pay a little less attention to the spots on the bright sun of the work that occasions their fault-finding. For if aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus (worthy Homer sometimes nods), let them consider how much of his time he spent awake, shedding the light of his genius with a minimum of shade. It well may be that what to them seems a flaw is but one of those moles which sometimes add to the beauty of a face. In any event, I insist that he who has a book printed runs a very great risk, inasmuch as it is an utter impossibility to write it in such a manner that it will please all who read it.” (Chapter 3, Part II)

“God knows, Senor Don Lorenzo, I should like to have taken you along with me, in order to teach you how to spare the humble and trample the proud under foot, these being virtues that go with my profession; but since neither your youth nor your praiseworthy pursuits will admit of this, I shall content myself with advising your Grace that you may become a famous poet provided you are guided more by the opinion of others than by your own; for there is no father or mother whose children look ugly to them, and this illusion is even more common with respect to the children of our brain.” (Chapter 18, Part II)

If you’ve read Don Quixote, please share some of your thoughts about this iconic book!

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