Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605 and 1615, 940 pages, translated by Edith Grossman, 2002)
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1547 to 1616) is the most influential novel ever written. Harold Bloom in his introduction says it is the greatest novel ever written. I have never read a book I enjoyed more than this or one that moved me more deeply. On the covers of the paperback edition there are quotes from great writers of the modern era like Mann and Nabokov suggesting all novels since DQ was published are its descendants.
When I started The Reading Life in July 2009 I planned to make it mainly about literary works that focus on the lives of people who lead reading, in part at least, centered lives. I had a list of fifty books in mind. I got distracted and the rest is history but with Don Quixote I am happy to return to my origins. There is no better novel about the reading life than this one and there just might not be a better one period.
The "big question" is what does the quest of Don Quixote mean? Everyone will have their own answer but it is a question that cannot be avoided by anyone with a real interest in world culture or the history of the novel. It is one of the cornerstones of world culture, not just the Spanish speaking world.
I am having a hard time articulating why I love this book so much. To be interested in the novel and not reading Don Quixote is pretty much like being interested in English drama and never having read Shakespeare. (He and Cervantes both died on the same day.)
To me there is something profoundly amazing about reading a book started in prison more than four centuries ago and seeing it relate directly to your own life. When I told my wife I was reading a famous book about a man driven crazy by reading too much it was all she could do not to say, "Oh, just like you".
To my readers, I would say read DQ as young as you can so you can read it over and over as you age and advance in your reading.
There is magic in this book, powerful old magic and magic as new as it comes.
I will restrain from saying the first modern novel, is the best one ever written but it is for sure the most influential one. It is also just great fun to read. Some people do not like the numerous stories within a story Cervantes uses, Clifton Fadiman, who listed the book in his A Lifetime Reading Plan, says to skip these stories. OK some are a bit longish but do not skip them.
I do not know if Grossman's translation is a good one, the experts say it is a great, but I know the prose in this work is marvelous. I also like her footnotes, they are at the bottom on the page and give us just the information you need. DQ is also a great account of Spain in the early 1600s. I read a bit of another new translation (in the edition by John Rutherford from Penguin Books) and it felt musty and that is one of the very last words I would use to describe the book. I disliked that translation so much (somehow I ended up with two different translations on my book shelves for the last several years) that I left it in a public place with a note saying "free book". I will keep the Grossman translation forever.
I will say I prefer as a general rule reading on my IPAD to reading books but in the case of Don Quixote I am glad to have read it in book format and I like seeing it on the shelves. I hope to read it again a year from now.
Do not let any notions of not letting "the canon" being crammed down your reading throat keep you from experiencing this book. I could see it being read 1000 years from now in other galaxies as the best of the human race's literature.This is not a staid, boring literature majors only book. It is not a "hard book".
Ok enough ranting. I love this book and I hope you will try it. One of many the wonderful things about DQ is how the conversations between Don Quixote and Sancho change them.
Please share your experience with Don Quixote with us. If you do not want to read it, tell us why.