In some village in La Mancha, whose name I do not care to recall, there dwelt not so long ago a gentleman of the type wont to keep an unused lance, an old shield, a skinny old horse, and a greyhound for racing. –Miguel de Cervantes
Today’s blog is a little different from what you’ve been reading so far. It is not about the places I’m going, nor the people I’m meeting, nor the adventures I’m having. It’s about the book I’m reading.
You may have noticed that at the bottom of this blog, just below the definition of the word dareful, there is a list of the books I have read in Thailand. It’s a list I intend to make much longer over the next few months.
Last week I finished reading Jon Krakauer’s ‘Eiger Dreams,’ for the second time. It’s a book my incomparable sister gave to me for Christmas in 2014. Her inscription, “I hope this book inspires many adventures after you graduate,” was part of the reason why I decided to move to Thailand for a year. After finishing it the second time, I was certain that I wanted to travel for a few weeks before returning home next year, so I decided to apply to volunteer with All Hands in their earthquake relief efforts in Kathmandu, Nepal (a city that features prominently in “Eiger Dreams” and Krakauer’s other literature) in March 2016.
Anyways, the main purpose of this blog is not to discuss “Eiger Dreams” but Don Miguel de Cervantes’ classic book “Don Quixote,” often considered the first modern novel, which is the book that I am reading now.
Many years ago, at an Indepence Day party near Harper’s Ferry, my paternal grandfather told me about his favorite book, “Don Quixote.” He spoke about it with so much passion and fervor that I was astounded. I was young enough that I misheard the title as “Donkey Hotay” and assumed the book was about a donkey named Hotay. Nonetheless, listening to him talk about “Don Quixote” remains my favorite memory of him. Less than a year later, when he passed away, I secretly vowed to one day read my grandfather’s favorite book.
Several years later I was a freshman at Binghamton University in New York. I was on stage crew for a musical I had never heard of, something called “Man of La Mancha.” On the first day of tech week the cast performed the entire play, minus set changes, for the stage crew. The play began with drums—heavy, intense drums. Then five soldiers dragged a skinny, dirty man from a high platform into the depths of what would eventually become a prison. Then the man began to sing, and the words that struck me most were these: “I am I, Don Quixote, the lord of La Mancha!”
I instantly connected those words to “Donkey Hotay,” that book my grandfather told me about long before. This must be the musical adaptation of that same book! Coming home from rehearsal that night, I researched the musical online and finally corrected my error. I should have starting reading “Don Quixote” that night, but I was reading something else at the time (probably “The Wheel of Time”).
Soon after that first rehearsal I discovered that “Man of La Mancha” is my mother’s father’s favorite musical. He is a particular fan of the song Impossible Dream. It is a song about following one’s ambition and seeing it through, no matter how challenging. Earlier this year my mother played that song on the piano for his birthday. So this story, in its many forms, has in a way followed me for many years.
So far I am enjoying the book a lot! Its language is sometimes archaic, but the story is fascinating and I’ve actually laughed out loud reading it. No book has made me laugh out loud since the last time I read Dave Barry…and let that say about me whatever it will.
My one complaint about “Don Quixote” is that I have to read it on my computer’s Kindle application, since I do not have a paper copy (I am reading Edith Grossman’s translation from Harper Collins).
But that is a small complaint. Whether e-book or print, at last I am reading the book my grandfather told me about. The last advice he gave me was to read it. This is for you, Grandpa.
More on everything to come!