5 over 500 Book 3: Infectious Madness

892 pages and over 36 listening hours later, I have conquered Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

Why would I do such a thing?

  1. I only let a book intimidate me for so long before I tackle it.  Admittedly, Don Quixote has been longer on my audible list without being downloaded and the hefty Barnes and Noble classics reissue has been on my shelf probably since I tried unsuccessfully to revive my college romance right after graduate school, taunting me from the shelf with its sheer girth and laughing about my not really being committed to knowing the iconic pieces of literature in my culture.  I decided I would be bullied no longer!  It does not hurt one bit that reading challenges from this year and last have encouraged me even more to read what I consider intimidating. It was not that I thought this book would be difficult to understand but boring.  I do better with female protagonists.  Often, I don’t care what the men do with their limitless possibilities.
  2. I have to read the iconic stuff.  I remember so many Don Quixote references in Looney Tunes cartoons as a kid and references to fighting windmills and the idea of the comic relief, the foil.  I had to know what the original was about.  And, since it was considered the first modern novel, the first book having been published in 1605, it was the template from which my favorite art form, the novel, derives.
  3. I am trying to beat my page count from 2012, and I am at about 25%, right on target, at the end of March.  I don’t know how effective my policy of at least five books over 500 pages this year to help make my page goals is going to be.  I had to take a break from this book between volumes and I don’t know if I would have conquered the same amount of pages faster in smaller works.  I do lag sometimes between books if I don’t time the overlap just right. Fortunately I am nursing two other books right now so this time, I managed the feeling of abandonment before it came.

Okay, so what did I actually think of all these pages and hours of my life?

I gave it three stars on Goodreads.

The most prominent feature of the narrative, to my opinion, is how people handled madness back in Spain in the 1600’s from a person with means.  I don’t know when real “hospitals” started up, but a man with the leisure and means to participate in an elaborate and years long delusion that he is a knight of chivalry will be left to do just so.  There are some meager attempts to put him on house arrest but no one really can overpower him so when he wants to take off on adventures, he does.  And these meager attempts are not by overpowering him and telling him how it is, it is tricking him into going along with an elaborate made up story. The other characters in this book comment that he is mad and are agreed on that point and they either attempt to apprehend him and send him home or they do things to tease and foil and abuse him for their own entertainment (mostly the upper class, which I read was Cervantes’ commentary on how the rich treated the poor in those days).  And then some of the reportedly sane people in the book, especially in the first book, act mad themselves, by falling madly in love with people they hardly know and taking to desperate measures when they cannot be with this person they so ardently and illogically desire.  Don Quixote might be mad but no more sane than the others around him, often, and usually a lot more kind.  And as for Sancho, especially in the first book, he in turns criticizes Don’s madness and then participates in it, becomes confused, does not always know who to believe, even when he is told of what the others are up to against his master. He participates in the madness of both parties, often multiple times in the same narrative.

Book Two was better.  At the opening of book one, and by the way I would not suggest this book as a way into starting to read classics, it was repetitive where he would decide something is a threat that is not and then be defeated.  He could not be talked out of his battle and would end up getting hurt.  I wondered if this was going to approach a thousand pages of repeated delusions and then ass beatings.  Thankfully it did not, characters came in to abuse and care about him, and there were side stories shared, mostly lustful two dimensional love tales that present women who only have value in their beauty and nothing else to contribute to society (hence why I prefer female protagonists, so I don’t read pages about women who are only valued for beauty or virginity or both) and men who promise to marry women to get sex out of them and then disappear or the women are betrothed at the behest of the man responsible for her to someone else.

Book two saw more varied adventures and more character development from both madmen.  They continued their circular and fruitless arguments, like how Sancho wants to be paid but won’t leave when Don Quixote doesn’t pay him and how Sancho uses too many proverbs and Don Quixote uses a whole bunch in his arguments to Sancho, but they both grow.  Don becomes more cautious in his madness, especially in the encounter with the lions, and Sancho stands up for himself and shows some intelligence in his dealings that was not there before.  He is less of a confused fool, even though he continues to be a fool.   So the men grow more as people, there are fewer ridiculous love stories, the pranks played on them become more elaborate instead of just ways to trick him to get him to come home.  Women don’t prove themselves to be more than paper dolls, but there are plenty of other books for that.

Reading this book also taught me what is most helpful for getting through a long and at times arduous classic.  It is an entertaining story for the most part and I could get through the longer commentary intended on discussing world and times of Spain in the late 1500s, trying to take the drier points in stride as my modern history lesson.  My essential points for tackling such a book will be made in a future post.

Do I really only have 1200 words to discuss almost as many pages?

Comments/shares/likes are all appreciated.  Has anyone reading this loved this book?

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