So, a few days ago, I asked people on Facebook if they’d be willing to join with me in my annual tackling of the classics and a few of you seemed like you hate yourselves enough to join in, so here we are.
Just some background: for the past few years, I’ve been going back and reading/re-reading some classic books that I pretend I’ve read, but never actually have gotten through. So far, I’ve conquered The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Mis, Great Expectations, Middlemarch (this was a reread) and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I was thinking of reading Moby Dick, but I guess no one has that much self-loathing. (Whatever, you are all just prolonging my misery. I will read about white men and their large, beastly, hungry, phallic symbols and you can’t stop me.)
A lot of you wanted Jane Eyre (like I believe you haven’t read it before, please, it’s your Bible, I know you!). My friend Matt, who has known me since I was in 6th grade, so he knows my weaknesses, suggested instead we read Don Quixote and I was intrigued (Low blow, Matt!). It’s a low blow, because Milan Kundera is one of my favorite authors. In his book The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, he wrote, “When Don Quixote went out into the world, that world turned into a mystery before his eyes. That is the legacy of the first European novel to the entire subsequent history of the novel. The novel teaches us to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude.”
He calls Cervantes the writer that all novelists must grapple with. In an essay titled “The Depreciated Legacy of Cervantes,” Kundera argues that the landscape of the novel is turning from adventure inward to the adventure of the soul. Which is kind of a dick thing to complain about. Especially since, I think this is a complaint leveled against traditionally “female” novels and “female” themes. That they are involved in “small worlds.” I think when we fold inward we find a universe entire of itself, just as rich and complicated as the adventures of Don Quixote. But it wouldn’t be fair to delineate that entire essay into that one point, because his bigger fight is against the kitsch of easy answers and easy morals.
He wrote in the essay: “The novel’s spirit is the spirit of complexity. Every novel says to the reader: ‘Things are not as simple as you think.’ That is the novel’s eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off. In the spirit of our time, it’s either Anna or Karenin who is right, and the ancient wisdom of Cervantes, telling us about the difficulty of knowing and the elusiveness of truth, seems cumbersome and useless. ”
This is true. Despite all of Kundera’s old-man haranguing about the death of the novel (which he does a lot in that essay), he is right in that we often grasp the low-hanging fruit of easy answers instead of wallowing in mystery. If you’ve shared an Upworthy video, you are part of the problem. (Don’t worry, I’m not throwing stones. I live that glass house too.)
So, all of this in one complex novel. And I’ve never read DQ, and I imagine many of you haven’t either.
So, let’s start reading DQ on Monday, October 6. That gives you enough time to get it from the library where it is no doubt moldering on the shelves. I’ll start every week by posting an update about DQ, and leave the comments open for us to complain about semicolons or the fact that The Wire is more interesting. I don’t care. Maybe if you say more interesting things than me, I’ll turn the reins over to someone else for a post or two (I can’t pay but in coffee gift cards, maybe that’s enough?) Maybe we can chat on Twitter about it, should we feel so compelled. How about let’s use the hashtag #tomeclub? Because I think I’m going to call it Tome Club. This is why I was fired from my marketing job.
Now, let’s take a moment and revel in the fact that I just made up a hashtag for something three people on the internet are going to do. Is that narcissism or am I just a victim of my delusions of grandeur, like Don Quixote? DO YOU SEE HOW I DID THAT?