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Monday, September 7, 2009

essay, poetry, first modern novel

I adventured into a classic this past month, the first modern novel. My travels were to discover why it is called this precisely and also if it was worthy of the title. I had little time to read anything else besides a spattering of poetry and also selections from literary magazines I read (usually while waiting for my FarmVille Farm to load...) I read an excellent essay in Agni 69, "Still, Sky, Girl, and Marriage" by Emily C. Watson. Its evaluation of artwork let me into the brain of someone creative, smart, interesting and also a fantastic writer. I was quite pleased to read something brilliant and kept reading even after whatever page I was waiting to load loaded.

As for the books I completed, there are two. Read forth.

books read August

Poemland by Chelsey Minnis

I must, unfortunately, refrain from saying too much about this interesting book of poetry published by Wave Books because I will be reviewing it in the upcoming issue 1.2 of Gigantic Sequins. I would be pleased if you read my review of it there.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

I approached this novel with a certain level of fear, having already failed once to make it all the way thru: it was one of two (I am pretty sure this number is accurate) books assigned that I failed to read in high school (the other being Wuthering Heights [is that the one where everyone is named Catherine?]) However, I was determined to complete it, and when I finished, I can assure you it was worth every page turned. The problem with this book is that most everyone knows the basic story: brain-addled Quixote, muddled by reading too many books on chivalry, sets out to become the first modern knight errant, taking along with him his neighbor, the less-but-maybe-more? crazy Sancho Panza. He thinks the windmills are giants. ... But you don't know much more, right? Unless you've made it through and remember this classic, you must wonder how Cervantes fills 940 pages. The translation that I read by Edith Grossman was excellent and supplied with excellent footnotes. What made the novel, to me, so entertaining, besides the wit and humor braided into the story, besides the realization of the misplaced stigma of insanity, besides the seemingly unending adventures gone awry that in many cases do turn out to be adventures, is the story of the book outside the book that also takes place inside the book. Cervantes originally published the first part of the book seperate from the second, and as he was writing the second, a "false" Quixote novel popped up. During the second part, before the chapter where Grossman notes that Cervantes learned of the crude "false" Quixote, Don Quixote encounters people who have already read the first part of his adventures. The second part of the book is aware of the first part of the book. Cervantes acknowleges the feedback that the first part has received and it is the publication of the first part that gives the character Don Quixote pride and courage during the second. For the first modern novel, this is sounding a bit self-aware, don't you think? It gets better. Towards the very end of the novel, Cervantes acknowleges the publication of the "false" Quixote and admonishes it throughout the rest of the novel. Don Quixote encounters people who have read the "false" Quixote and proves to them that those tales of his adventuring are indeed false. I had waited patiently the entire book for this to occur, unsure of if and where it would be woven into the story, but in the end I was deeply impressed by Cervantes. So early in literary history, and in both the first and second parts of the book, he discusses literary themes and conundrums and debates that readers and scholars still discuss today. He also wrote the first post-modern, if you will, novel ever written, and before people even knew of literary schools of thought. Like I said. This book was worth every page. I suggest you read it someday.

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