335567Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, translated by Walter Starkie
Published by Signet Classics on October 1, 1965 (first published January 16, 1605)
Genres: historical fiction, classics
Pages: 1056
Format: Paperback
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Rating: ★★★★

I’m not sure how accurate my rating of this book is for several reasons. Firstly, I read this book a year ago, which means it’s been a while since I’ve revisited what I’ve read. Secondly, this book was very, very long (the longest book I’ve ever read), and so some of my reactions while reading it will likely fall through the cracks of my poor little brain. (What can I say? Reading 50 pages of small, small type every day for 11 days just to get through this sucker will change a person.)

Thirdly, I’m pretty sure I read this incorrectly.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s no one “right way” to read a book. Every reader, just like every book, is different, and no two people will interpret the same book the same way. But I tend to begin classics expecting them to have a clear, linear plot progression and to follow the same clipped, standard formula so many modern books do today.

Yet I’m realizing now that’s not very realistic. These formulas probably didn’t exist in the seventeenth century, and I think what makes classics so timeless is that they’re more about their messages and what their stories symbolize than the stories themselves.

So, long story short, I need to change my perception and my expectations when I read classics, because they offer more than what they seem to give at first glance.

Don Quixote is about a normal guy in seventeenth-century Spain who starts reading so many books about knights, he believes he is one. Gifted with this new “revelation,” he sets off from his home to restore order and justice to the world–all while inadvertently adding to his own fame, unaware that his adventures are all make-believe.

This story is long. It rambles; many of the characters (Quixote included) wax poetic musings about love and loss and the glory of knighthood. In addition, there are many additional stories featured in this novel; if Don Quixote or Sancho Panza is being told a story, you’d better believe the readers will be hearing the unabridged version of that story, even if it has no relevance to the plot.

But maybe, one of my friends has suggested to me, that’s the thing: maybe all those deviations from Don Quixote’s tale are intentional. Because this isn’t really about Don Quixote’s “knighthood adventures.” It’s more about the people he meets and the lives he inspires with his contagious idealism and his thirst for justice (in a more abstract, romantic sense of the word). His behavior is quixotic (and yes, that word was actually inspired by this book), true, but he’s hopeful, and it transforms and brings joy to so many people.

I didn’t read it that way initially, and so I’ll admit that this was one of those books I appreciated more fully only after I finished it. It’s a long haul. But if you want to laugh about poor Sancho Panza and his attempts to please his “master,” Don Quixote; if you want a traditional, romantic hero who is truly pure of heart (sometimes to his extreme detriment, heheh); if you want damsels who aren’t actually in too much distress and stories about shepherds who fall dangerously (and seemingly pointlessly) in love, this is your book. But in order to appreciate it fully, you’ll have to commit to its length first.


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