Thursday, January 06, 2005

And Roland begat insecurity

As my book is still on the other side of the Cascades (I've been tracking its progress online), I went once again to Borders to knock out a few chapters. I may be a little ahead of most of you, so I don't mean to give spoilers here, but during the part where Don Quixote's friends and housekeeper are going through his inventory of book titles I had varying reactions.

The first, as each title is given and footnoted, was to skim over them as one does all the "begats" in Genesis. As in, "Yeah, yeah - a bunch of books. Whatever." I had a change of heart when I came across the title Chanson de Roland. As a French major, I have vivid memories of long, long days spent sitting on my bed trying to will myself to care one iota about this epic poem written in antiquated French. These are not good memories. I never did understand it much beyond your basic "knight stuff."

So now I felt myself thinking with a sinking heart that if I'd only tried harder with good old Roland all those years ago that I'd be in on some secret with this part of Don Quixote. I wondered if each one of these titles somehow held some in-joke, and briefly - very briefly! - considered looking up each one of these old chivalrous tales and reading them, thereby unlocking the secret nuances. (Luckily there's an ADD book in the same order which is winging its way over the Cascades to me as I write this.)

And the footnotes! How they gently tell me that this and that is meant to be humorous, or ironic, or some other adjective which I would never have picked up on. That's the thing about classics. They expose to me how badly-read I am. Don't even get me started on Lolita and how I loved the story but always felt that the literary references and allusions were flying over my head with every sentence.

Anyway. How's everyone doing out there? I am expecting my book to arrive tomorrow, and look forward to reading it in the quiet of my house without cheesy music and pages over the intercom to the cafe...


Blogger Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

I admire you, Diana.


Already a Don Quixote moment.

Alas, I will be forever Sancho Panza (I know my limitations).

6:20 PM  
Blogger Isabella said...

I just realized I don't need to go to the bookstore! Don Quixote is widely available online.

So I skipped ahead to chapter 6, cuz lists like this fascinate me. I'm convinced they hold clues. (I bet if you knew nothing of me but the contents of my bookshelves you'd still come up with a decent approximation of my history, my character, my vices.)

I googled a couple titles just to see. One of these resulted only in quotations of the text — it may not be documented anywhere, or it may be fictional. Another came back with a 2-sentence biography, noted as a contemporary of Cervantes.

And there are notes and study guides online too!

Cliff Notes address the library:
How familiar these volumes are to everyone who has the ability to read. The curate and the barber, speaking of the merits of each book, show themselves to be almost as extravagant as Don Quixote. They take the literature very seriously in order to accuse books as being the cause of the Don's madness in the first place.

Elsewhere it's noted that "Cervantes's first book, La Galatea (1684), is one of the few books in Don Quixote's library to escape the fire. The work is a pastoral novel."

They are jokes! And clues and references. Maybe even shoulder-rubbing name-dropping.

(You have me thinking I should read Lolita again. Uh-oh.)

6:58 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

S, C & A: It's early in the game here, but right now Sancho Panzo is looking more like someone I'd want to identify with, anyway. At least he's... sane? Oh, and I laughed out loud at how quickly he assented to not rush into the fray where his master and "another knight" were involved. Yeah, sure. I'd "fight my instincts" and stay out of it, too.

Isabella: I'm stunned. It's like you climbed into my head and did what I had been tempted to do but frankly, too lazy and also too scared to further uncover and expose things I didn't know. And I'm embarrassed to realize that I hadn't thought of Googling those titles. Please, please keep up the proscrastinating on your deadlines!

7:09 PM  
Blogger Zee said...

Well, my book is in transit as well, arriving sometime next week, but I'll be headed to B&N tomorrow to get my fix of Don Quixote along with a White Mocha. ;o)

7:40 PM  
Blogger christina said...

Well,my book hasn't arrived yet - ordered it used at Amazon, but I did find an online translation which I'll start reading pronto. I sat down to *really* read something last night (not a classic but a wilderness almanac dealing with an area Of British Columbia close to where I grew up) and I realized how difficult it is for me these days to concentrate on anything at all for more than a few minutes (also have an ADD book on the way!). I was doing all right for a while and then suddenly noticed I had "read" an entire page while thinking about something vastly different. I think reading DQ will be an excellent exercise in concentration for me.

5:44 AM  
Blogger Isabella said...

It turns out I know someone who wrote a thesis on Don Quixote. She writes:
Cervantes is making fun of a whole genre we don't even read anymore (well, unless we're medievalists) -- the romance of chivalry -- and his audience would have been able to recognize specific references that we need a good annotated text to spot.I think that means there's lots of jokes we can't hope to get.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Isabel said...


I was only half-heartedly searching for some semblance of a literary discussion, and tonight to my delight I find this, the very book and book list I'm attempting! Wow, I repeat.

There is a site called which has a number of classics, segments of which can be emailed to you every day (or weekday, or 3x a week). I have been doing DQ but the segments are quite short and at this rate, it'll be well over a year before I finish. One can request additional segments sent immediately, but I get the feeling I'll go back to the book (which I much prefer anyway). Still, it enables you to read while waiting for your book to show up.

4:38 PM  

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