Bags of Bran


Time Well Wasted
May 1, 2014, 1:56 pm
Filed under: Bibliophilia, Biography

I recently read Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a long, sprawling work, but very compelling. It’s about a fellow from La Mancha whose steady intake of King Arthur-type literature has “dried up his wits,” so he decides to become a knight-errant. He interprets everything he sees in the world through the lens of his delusion, and the result is… I don’t know what the result is. But he dies at the end. It’s a big, thick book full of stories about humanity, but that’s about all I can say.

I found myself looking forward to getting some time alone to read a chapter or two, simply because I was interested in what would happen next. I can’t say that I identified with any of the characters, even if I admired them greatly, and even if I felt like I knew and loved them by the end of the book. Furthermore, I can’t pretend that I “get” the story either. It’s easy enough to understand what happened, but attaching a “why” to the “what” is not something I feel qualified to attempt. Then again, literary critics are all over the place on Don Quixote, so if I came away in awe, but speechless, I don’t feel so bad. The book is alternately hilarious, sobering, frustrating, liberating, mythical, insightful, serious, and light. But it was always compelling, especially whenever Sancho Panza began to speak.

I still don’t get it. I don’t know what grounds on which I’d recommend it to you, though I would, and heartily. It is not exactly a beautiful story about beautiful characters doing beautiful things. But neither is it tragic. It is enigmatic.

So what is the point of reading a big, time-consuming book that I can’t easily classify, analyze, and reduce to a sentence? To enlarge my imagination, that’s what! I grew up watching Sesame Street, The Dukes of Hazzard, and G.I. Joe cartoons. I come away from Don Quixote with a new appreciation for the complexity of the human condition, not to mention a couple of Sancho’s proverbial sayings, such as “by night, all cats are gray.” I suppose I could demand of my literature that it be easy to digest, but then what’s the point? If a book only tells me what I think already, do I need the book?

I found myself asking at various times while reading whether a steady diet of literature, like that ingested by Don Quixote, could really becloud the wits of an otherwise-sensible person to the extent that he’s essentially a square peg in a world of round holes. Then I thought about Crossway Books. Then I smiled quietly to myself and kept reading.

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