My favorite novel of all time, hands down, is Don Quixote. First because just getting through the behemoth of a book is an accomplishment worthy of the copious encomiums that embellish its pages (and if you can't make sense of that sentence, read what is widely considered the father of the modern novel and by its end you shall; just, you know, keep a dictionary close by). After all DQ does exceed 900 pages in length. (For the non-readers, several movies have been made since the book's 1615 publication. I recommend Man of la Mancha (1972) starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren.) And it is so imaginative! Reading Cervantes' classic, which appears on many great books lists, often as number one, gave rise to the desire to write books myself. I have since authored six novels of my own. None of them have ever sold. Oh well. Like the protagonist, I dream big, but the results don't always match. Now I write a blog nobody reads and I'm fine with that. And Cervantes was 68 when DQ was published, so at 42 I still have time. Call me an idealist. That I am. And by the end of this, so shall be you.
The protagonist is the eponymous Don Quixote. He is a gentleman verging on fifty, "of tough constitution, lean-bodied, thin-faced, a great early riser," who filling his brain with tales of adventure (knight errantry books were en vogue at the time the novel was written) decides to leave the comfort of his hereditary estate to right the wrongs of the world. See, dream big is what I'm talking about.
Setting out on his quest with his squire Sancho Panza, Quixote views life through rose-colored glasses. The women he encounters, many of them harlots for hire, are fair damsels in need of assistance, ordinary windmills become great beasts to be slayed, the tedium of daily life turn into great adventures, and so on.
Seizing life by the horns, and dedicating his great feats of glory to the woman who has ravished his heart, the beauteous Dulcinea (who in "real" life is a mere peasant girl who does not even know he exists) Don Quixote receives more than his fair share of throttlings, but always comes out okay.
The reader gets the feeling that it is his outlook that saves him. And indeed the word quixotic was inspired by the man, and means "exceedingly idealistic." Not a bad perspective to add to one's repertoire.
In one of my favorite passages, the valorous Don soliloquizes as he so often does: "Happy the age and happy the times on which the ancients bestowed the name of golden," he says, "not because gold, which in this iron age of ours is rated so highly, was attainable without labor in those fortunate times, but rather because the people of those days did not know those two words thine and mine. In that blessed age all things were held in common. No man, to gain his common sustenance, needed to make any greater effort than to reach up his hand and pluck it from the strong oaks, which literally invited him to taste their sweet and savory fruit. Clear springs and running rivers offered him their sweet and limpid water in glorious abundance. All was peace then, all amity, all concord.
"In those days the soul's amorous fancies were clothed simply and plainly, exactly as they were conceived, without any search for artificial elaborations to enhance them. Nor had fraud, deceit, or malice mingled with truth and sincerity. Justice pursued her own proper purposes, undisturbed and unassailed by favor and interest. The law did not then depend on the judge's nice interpretations, for there were none to judge or to be judged."
A peaceful, amicable world without malice or deceit needs no bearer of arms to police it. Sounds like a pipe dream. But, my good friend, (these are my words, not the Don's), there are those who believe a new golden age has arrived, that utopia is upon us and that there are those living today, scattered amid the general populace, going about their daily lives in quiet anonymity, who are here to inaugurate heaven on earth. Does that mean you and me? Sounds like a fun part to play. Life is after all a stage.
Be the change you wish to see. Live simply with a kind heart and generous spirit. Wax quixotic in your dealings with your fellow men and women. Your life is a work of art. Let it be a symphony. Make our old valorous knight proud. Long-winded monologues are optional, of course, as are battles with windmills.