I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
I finally finished Don Quixote by reading it in short bits during my lunch breaks at work. The short chapters and episodic plot structure were well-suited to this kind of piecemeal reading, and the story provided an escape from the work day into a lighthearted, faraway fictional world.
I didn’t love the book, but I did enjoy it. The silly antics of don Quixote and Sancho Panza kept me entertained, while the wisdom they both tend to ironically spout and the larger situation of don Quixote’s having lost his grip on the line between fiction and reality kept me provided with opportunities for reflection. I also enjoyed the author’s playful commentaries and, according to the translator’s introduction and notes throughout, his intentional errors that served to satirize the older chivalric romances of his day.
Besides the general lack of suspense due to the plot’s episodic nature, the only real problem I had with the story was with the characters who interacted with don Quixote and Sancho: they all conveniently happen to be jokesters who want to take advantage of don Quixote’s craziness and Sancho’s gullibility for their own entertainment. This struck me as both cruel and unlikely, so I had to consciously suspend my distaste and disbelief about this in order to read the story.
I mentioned that don Quixote and Sancho tend to spout wisdom and insights, amid their foolish antics. One topic that don Quixote speaks on a lot is writing and literature. Here are a few of these gems for you, each followed by short remarks from me.
On writing in general:
“The pen is the tongue of the soul.”
– p. 622 (Part II, Chapter XVI)
Lovely and true! The eyes are the soul’s windows, and the pen is the soul’s tongue.
“Fictional stories are good and delightful only insofar as they approach the truth, or the semblance of truth, and the true ones are better the truer they are.”
– p. 967 (Part II, Chapter LXII)
This reminds me of another quote I love: “It is the writer’s job to fashion truth out of fact.” – Jincy Willet, The Writing Class
“And the worst thing is that he might become a poet, which—they say—is an incurable disease and is contagious.”
– p. 56 (Part I, Chapter VI)
On considering one’s readers/audience:
“You need to try to make sure that your writing is plain, clear, and witty, using pure and well put-together words charged with meaning. Declare your thoughts without complications and without muddling them. Try also to make the melancholy person who reads your history laugh; and the mirthful to laugh even more; and be sure you don’t vex the simpleton. Move the wise person to marvel at your invention, the grave not to scorn it, and the prudent not to cease in their praise of it.”
– p. 9 (Part I, Prologue)
These are lofty goals, but worthy.
“Because after they see an artistic and well put-together play, the audience will be delighted with its jokes, instructed with its truths, thoughtful about its issues, sharpened by its turns of phrase, made more aware by its ironies, wiser through its examples, angered by vice, and appreciative of virtue—for all these things will be awakened in the souls of the listener, no matter how rustic and slow he might be. Of all impossibilities, the greatest is that the play that has all of these characteristics cannot fail to entertain, satisfy, and gratify, much more than the play that lacks them.”
– p. 461 (Part I, Chapter XLVIII)
Again, this is a tall order, but why not aim high?
“The person who decides to publish a book puts himself at great risk, since it’s impossible to write one in such a way that will satisfy and please everyone who reads it.”
– p. 536 (Part II, Chapter III)
Now this is more realistic—and something I need to remember all the time!