This past week, I finished one of the novels that’s been on my to-read list for a long time: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. For those not familiar with the plot, Don Quixote tells the story of Alonso Quixano, a huge fan of tales about knights errant. He decides to cosplay a knight errant and convinces his tenant Sancho Panza to cosplay his squire and the two sally forth only to discover that no one has invented comic cons much less any other safe space to cosplay in seventeenth century Spain.
Two things prompted me to pick up Don Quixote when I did. First of all, I learned that we just passed the novel’s 400th anniversary and I felt this was a milestone that should be celebrated. What’s more, Don Quixote is very much a novel of a man reaching his 50s, facing mortality, and asking if he’s made everything he could of his life. As someone who has just reached his 50s, it seemed apropos.
For the most part, this novel, which is contemporary with Shakespeare’s plays, holds up remarkably well. Much or the humor still works, though occasionally it seems a little too cruel for my taste. I read the Penguin Classics translation by John Rutherford, which I found very readable.
The novel’s thematic arc reminds me a bit of the “Tooter Turtle” cartoons of the 1960s in which Mr. Wizard would send the titular turtle to another time and place to try on a new, more exciting life only to discover he wasn’t cut out for it after all and beg to come home. I have to admit, those cartoons always annoyed me a bit. Even as a kid, I recognized that one of the great things about life was the opportunity to experience new things and to challenge oneself. Yeah, sometimes things don’t work out so well, but other times you succeed splendidly.
Fortunately, Cervantes’s presentation is more nuanced than a Tooter Turtle cartoon. Cervantes himself was a veteran of the Battle of Lepanto (which, by the way, appears in my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order). Afterwards, Cervantes was captured by pirates and sold as a slave. He finally returned to Spain five years later when he was ransomed by his parents. He tried his hand at writing plays and though they were produced, received little notice. He also worked as a tax collector and was jailed multiple times for irregularities in his accounts. Cervantes knew what it was to try and fail, then try again. The upshot is that Don Quixote is more cautionary about going into situations with open eyes and being careful about being overly nostalgic about the past.
A figure I’ve seen repeated quite a bit lately is that there are 4500 new books being published every day. In that environment, being a writer can feel like a quixotic exercise in its own right. However, even Don Quixote found an audience in the duke and duchess who took him in for a time. I hope you’ll take a moment to browse my selection of books and perhaps bring one home to entertain you for a few nights.