I must confess that I have not actually read Don Quixote — neither the original work in Spanish nor one of the bajillion English translations. I have, however, a copy of Edith Grossman’s translation on my bookshelf, and I have read the first twenty pages. I have also seen the film musical Man of La Mancha three times. So, practically I am an expert.
OK, OK, since I can offer no reader’s response, I will instead explain why I want to read Don Quixote. It has to do with dreamers. I have a soft spot for them, and Don Quixote is one whacked-out, delusional dreamer. In fact, if you were to look up “dreamer” in a thesaurus I bet you will find his name under the list of synonyms. (Actually, I know that you will because I have already checked in two thesauri.)
Being a dreamer, Don Quixote often confuses fantasy for reality. This is why he is off fighting windmills and whatnot. I can relate. Just last weekend I thought I saw a woman walking a Bengal Tiger down the sidewalk. But then I did a double take, and I realized that it was just a very large dog with a brindle-colored coat. I was awfully disappointed. And that’s the problem with reality. It can be very disappointing.
And this is why we need dreams and, by extension, books and literature. Dreams are the spark that propel us forward; they are what give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I, for one, would be a basket case if I didn’t hold out hope that one day Ben & Jerry will come to their senses and reintroduce From Russia With Buzz as an ice-cream flavor. Without this hope, I wouldn’t bother to go to work, or check in on my Mom, or figure out what a brazier is (which, incidentally, has nothing to do with a brassiere).
If dreams are the spark, then books are the kindling. In other words, I am pretty sure Don Quixote would not have been compelled to set out on his ridiculous quest had he not been a voracious reader of romances. Some might see this as a negative consequence of reading. But I think, “What a sorry excuse!” Don Quixote may have been naive and a little bit nutty, but at least he led an interesting life. Besides, it is both kinds of experiences — the good and the bad — that deepen our existence and make us better observers of the world that surrounds us. If books inspire us to take chances — well, I think that is a chance we ought to take. At least, I think that’s what I’ll think — after I finally finish reading Don Quixote.