I’ll admit it. I haven’t been getting along with that gracious knight from La Mancha, Don Quixote. Despite all the wonderful discussion going on, and the headway being made by the rest of the crew at Tilting at Windmills, I’ve been lagging terribly behind. If I’d been following the agreed schedule – 50 pages a week – I’d be past the mid-way point by now and into Part 2 of the novel; I’d surely know what all the fuss was about.
But, last Saturday, by the end of week 6 of the project, I was still dawdling around page 120. Why? Possibly, because I was reading it too slowly and only one or two days a week; possibly because the book is so heavy and I didn’t want to carry it around. But also because, yes, I was a little disappointed in it – dare I say, bored? The story began well, with the naming of Rocciante, the production of the tin-pot armour and the recruitment of Sancho Panza, and it moved swiftly in the first 50 or so pages with the iconic windmill scene and the conflagration of the books of Chivalry. Before long, however, I felt like Cervantes was settling into a somewhat predictable pattern: Don Quixote encounters an ordinary circumstance, re-envisions it as cause for chivalry, takes some ridiculous action, before ending with a broken head and wounded pride. This kind of repetition doesn’t seem to stand slow-reading; I felt as though I were re-reading the same 20 pages everytime I picked up the book!
Finally, this weekend in a fit of frustration, I took action. I was going to visit my parents and decided that Don Quixote would be my sole companion for the train journey and for all my reading through Saturday and Sunday, evening and morning. (This sounds truly terrifying to me now, but was actually only a return to the mono-reading of my pre-blog years.) By Sunday I’d rip-roared my way through to page 266, despite a hectic social schedule and a (very fruitful) birthday shopping trip with my mum. And I’d discovered something essential about DQ – you have to eat him up. Reading for an hour at a stretch, rather than for two minutes snatched here and there, I began to realise that Cervantes’ writing is best taken in plentiful spoonfuls, if not shovelfuls. He is so discursive, so genial, so…relaxed a writer that, imbibed sparingly, DQ seems positively snail-paced; but given adequate time and space to breath, it becomes something else entirely. Expansive, deprecating, knowing. I feel like a blessed convert. Thank goodness since I have nigh on 750 pages to go and I’m determined to finish!
Now it may be that I’ve just reached a bit of the book that takes my fancy – DQ has been making his false penance in the mountains and we’ve just met the Jekyll/Hyde-esque Cardenio and the wonderfully feisty Dorotea (the second woman in the novel to catch my fancy after Marcela and methinks Cervantes does an excellent line in determined female characters) – but then again, I think not. Rather, it seems to me that just by spending more time with Don Quixote, and coming to terms with it as a novel and as a narrative, rather than as an education-project in progress, I’ve come to know, appreciate and understand it better. I also feel like I’m starting to see the logic (or rather, the non-logic) of our hero – its about saying, not seeing! – and beginning to comprehend the book’s context and implications. More on all this another time though. I was wondering, instead: did anyone else feel apathetic in the beginning? Or weighed down by the repetitiveness? Or squished under the pressure of reading a novel to a schedule? Tell me I’m not alone!
(Cross-posted at Tilting at Windmills)