Don Quixote and the Master Protagonist

It’s the story of hidalgo Don Quixote née Alonso Quijano or Quesada or Quijada as he embarks on a life of knight-errantry–galavanting across the Spanish countryside in search of adventures with his beloved squire Sancho Panza.

That in and of itself is the story that comprises the roughly 980 page tome of a novel originally published in 1547. Though within its girthy spine is also housed tales of fellow travelers, wanderers, and nomads ranging the borders from Northern Africa, Turkey, and the surrounding African-European landscape.

In essence, this is the story of a man’s life. As Dostoevsky put it: “The last great utterance of the human mind.” It’s a metaphorical tale of the pursuit of passion and indulgence into the depths of dream and ambition. Don Quixote as a man is at once the most ambitious, the most passionate, the most zealous of spirits and throughout his journey evolves from mad knight-errant to one of the ultimate symbols for the importance of obsession, ardor, and mania.

If original fiction is archetype than Don Quixote is the master of them all. He’s the ethereal stelae guarding the grounds of eternal vigor set against the realism of Panza–his squat squire always there to bring his lofty ambition back to the Earth.

What astounds me most about the novel is its episodic structure. No chapter is longer ten pages in length. The second a story lags, Cervantes is quick with a comical interjection from either his own preludes and prologues (hysterical commentary prior to every chapter) that breaks up what could easily be one of the most monotonous reads of all time.

For something written in the 16th century, there’s an indescribable readability unlike anything else out there. It’s dense, but only for those unable to grasp the light-heartedness of the action. There’s weight to every page, and yet it reads like a thriller, always moving and progressing, and never allowing itself to lie stagnant under the burden of it’s own physical encumbrance.

Needless to say, this is that rare life-changer. A classic that we all dread out of some fear of failing to read. Needless to say, don’t leave yourself tilting at windmills and slay this beast. It will not leave you disappointed.

Rumi and Ethereal Emptiness

This is for all the poets out there. Go read Rumi.

A 13th century Persian poet, Islamic scholar, and theologian, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, now simply known as Rumi, might just be what our society needs more than anything.

I had the pleasure of reading his work while traveling through the Turkish interior and I couldn’t have been happier with the pairing of local poetry and countryside. It’s not as though his work references specific landmarks or geographical features, but what it does do is capture the spirit of a people known for their revelation of the human spirit, which Rumi does in every verse.

His message and language is simple. Love each other and ironically be empty. initially paradoxical, it’s a refreshing message for the American stuffed to the gills with nearly everything. As a society we seem to have reached the pinnacle of indulgence. Between the Ashley-Madison scandal and Donald Trump self-righteously screaming for excess in the face of American politics it seems as though we could all use a nice reminder of the fact that emptiness is a feeling in and of itself and it’s not necessarily a bad one.

Though Rumi calls more for a metaphorical emptiness–that it is in our state of true abstinence and withdrawal/restraint from the pleasures of this world where we’re able to allow our own bodies to take on the glorious ethereal qualities of beyond–ultimately so we can slowly allow our minds to drift upwards to God and seek something more than satiety.

The message is a good one, and the poetry that presents the message is some of the most strikingly poignant and beautiful available. Drunken revelry and night-time spectacle. Ecstatic dervish-whirled frenzy and the elevation of the spirit are only some of the highlights that grace his poetry.

For the aesthete in need of a shock to the soul, go out and pick up Rumi.

The Shadow of the Wind and Forgotten Books

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s 2001 caper The Shadow of the Wind is a story of forbidden love and exile stretching between the Spanish Civil War to 1960’s Barcelona. Utilizing a pastiche of styles and techniques, Zafón demonstrates an immense respect for the stately opulence of Gothic Victorianism mixed with the elaborately plotted whodunnits and mysteries of the hard-case crime files from the 1950’s.

The story is of young Daniel Sempere the son of a local bookseller who happens to come into possession of a novel by increasingly obscure Spanish author Julián Carax.

Falling in love with the book immediately, young Daniel quickly searches out more from the enigmatically absent author only to discover that his books are being systematically removed and destroyed from bookstores and libraries.

What follows is a torrent of murder, mystery, love, lust, and the excavation of a past that has struggled to be buried for decades–all of which set beneath the glow of a Barcelonian winter.

I’m in awe of Zafón’s prose. The intricacy and originality of the story is astounding, and his style is a beautiful combination of the mathematical-calculatory mystery of Borges mixed with the playful magic of García Márquez.

Linguistically speaking, Zafón is the perfect amalgam of complex prosaic Victorianism with a dash of the contemporary thriller.

The Shadow of the Wind is a masterpiece. Go out and get it now. It won’t disappoint.

Stars = 5/5

5 Tips to Alleviate the Dense

There are those tomes that try as we might to read with some semblance of speed and agility, our progress remains nearly stationary when set against the larger page count. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of finishing a thousand plus page book in a society that’s becoming known for an attention span of less-than-30-second vine clips makes me cringe.

That said, is it futile to push on? Never. Set your goals for reading the bigger books high, and live up to those expectations, for the worth in finishing the dense books that many have tried and few have conquered can become some of the most meaningful experiences of your life. Here are a few tips to get you going:

1. Set a Schedule: This is by far the most important element in succeeding whenever reading a book that could easily suffice as a car seat for a toddler. Set a specific page goal for the day and stick to it. Through thick and thin it’s most often when we’re in the throes of the monstrous–wallowing away four hundred pages into a book and not even being halfway–that we tend to toss in the towel fifteen-twenty pages too soon. On days when I don’t work, I mandate one-hundred pages from myself. On work days–50. Whatever yours may be, set it and stick to it.

2. Read Summaries: This is an aspect of reading a large, difficult book that many people deem cheating. But, if you’re like me and pride yourself in tackling those books others shy away from because of difficulty and length, reading summaries alongside some of the more difficult chapters of a dense Dostoevsky or Dumas novel will alleviate some of the stresses of gleaning plot from antiquated and nuanced language. Certainly every word has its place, but grasping a loose understanding of the plot either before or after reading a section of a larger novel can be an essential tool necessary to pull you through to the end.

3. Find Your Quiet Space: I’m a bit of a hermit when it comes to reading, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I value my peace and quiet–to the point that the faint hum of the refrigerator can sometimes be distracting. Thus, I read on my couch, away from distraction, screens and computers, the accoutrements of a culture hell-bent on switching attention every thirty seconds. I need silence to read, and thus I seek it out wherever I can get it–I suggest you do the same.

4. Persevere: Common sense has never been so simple. In order to wrestle your way through the Don Quixote‘s in the world one must be willing to stomach the boring, the passive, the antiquated, and the frustrating in order to extract those bits of truth we hungrily vie for whenever we set our sights on one of the denser classics.

5. Self-talk: This might just be me, but often when reading something particularly difficult and dense, there’s always that moment when the world sort of screams for you to quit. That little voice can be the bane of trudging through the marshy waters of dense literature, and thus, I need to personally remind myself that I can read thisIt’s worth it. Just like long-distance running, the prize is often awaiting you at the very end. The exhaustion and clear-headedness of finishing something others deem too difficult is reward in and of itself.

So the next time you set your sights high and feel your diligence and perseverance wavering under the pressure of the dense, remember the above strategies for making it through those books that are worth it–and, believe me, they are.

“It Follows” and the Tepid State of the Modern Horror Film

Any horror fan out there can attest to the staples of the late-70’s early 80’s tenants of horror. Be it the slow sprawl loaf of Michael Meyers in Carpenter’s 78′ original Halloween or the supreme gore that was Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre revered to the point that it’s inspired seven subsequent sequels and reboots, we can all agree that there’s an indistinguishable feel and atmosphere that made the golden age of horror such a spectacle–and an alluring one at that.

The “classic” horror movie is a slow burn. It’s the build-up alongside nuanced development that rises to some tumultuous and over-revealing climax, harnessing elements we as a society fear. It’s panic, dread, alarm, and outrage at events and instances well-outside the norm, and it’s glorious.

However, it’s clear with the critically-outstanding reception of David Robert Mitchell’s 2015 It Follows that the horror industry is in the midst of creative deadlock–a stalemate that needs more than the regurgitation of classic horror tropes for salvation.

The story is about Jay Height (Maika Monroe), as she contracts the dangers associated with “It” following her. What’s “it”? “It” is a slow-walking manifestation of some sort of supernatural force whose only purpose is to destroy its victim. “It” manifests itself throughout the film as a number of individuals all of which slowly walk in pursuit, deranged in their lope, and comical in their speed.

I can’t knock the film entirely. Where Mitchell’s concept strikes a chord is the fact that “It” is literally everything and appears slowly and surely. It encompasses a sort of universality and omnipotent appeal to the fact deep down we’re all scared of being chased–regardless of however slow said chase might be.

That being said, the story moves with the rapidity of its villains (that is to say, not at all). Jay’s fears of “It” although slightly spooky when it actually surfaces and shows its face, is about as terrifying as a barking dog revealed as a maltese.

Everything from the pace of the film to the sonorous synth lines that pierce and strike in calculated intervals throughout the picture’s entirety seems to be lifted from the world of the 80’s horror classics. The synths evoke Barker’s 1987 Hellraiser in their orchestrated cacophony, and the shots are grandiose and sweeping a la Kubrick’s (love it or hate it) 1980 The Shining.

Getting to the point, I’m tired of rehashed clichés and thematic tropes being recycled year after year. It seems as though the latest horror resurgence is nothing more than the recycled surety of directors who were once original.

It’s not the film that disappointed me so much as its reviews. It seems as though between the ivory-tower that has become the Cannes festival panels, Rolling Stone, and mainstream audiences everywhere It Follows is believed it to be some smash-hit original–groundbreaking in its inception and cinematographic brilliance.

On closer inspection–beneath the “originality” that critics praised so dutifully are the tenants of a genre long-since out to pasture. My only hope is that someone manages to bring it back.

Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings and the Minimalist Comic

Adrian Tomine’s 2007 full-length collection Shortcomings is realism at its finest.

Initially released in 2004, the serial quickly gained momentum with the media when it was named by Entertainment Weekly as “What not to miss” in regards to yearly publications. They weren’t wrong.

Shortcomings explores the psychological ramifications of dating in a world fraught with insecurity, doubt, emotional duplicity, and deception. The collection follows Ben Tanaka, a Japanese cinema owner from California inherently disinterested in dating members of the same ethnicity, thus illustrating a sort of self-hatred and malaise toward both cultural/Asian stereotypes.

There are two things that astound me about the comic: its realism and by proxy–it’s minimalism. The dialogue is seamless, poignant, and powerfully grounded in actuality. Every panel is dramatic, but never does Tomine take the easy way out and carry his comic down the easier-to-control/astound melodramatic path. His world is intricately intertwined with our own.

Tomine’s illustrations are as plain as they get. The book is done in black and white, and the action in the story is entirely verbal. There are dinner parties, lunches, small get-togethers between men and women, in essence reality. There are no fight scenes, no elaborate splash pages, no color–rather, Tomine demonstrates a welcome sense of restraint and delicacy in handling a subject as difficult to take on as the cultural norms as they pertain to dating.

Initially, I was indifferent to the book as a whole, but on closer inspection, it’s clear Tomine wields a deft hand in comics. I only wish he’d give me more.

Stars = 4/5

To Be An Expert

I recently read that in order to become an expert in a particular field or subject one must practice/engage/hone a specific skill for a minimum of 10,000 hours (the equivalent of 1,250 8-hour work days)–which brings me to a subject that seems to become increasingly more important as I get older–that of expertise.

I think a necessary aspect of humanity is that of drive, which is nothing more than the abstract representation of a desire for expertise.

We all long to be the best. Be it an athlete, mathematician, writer, scientist, competitive eater, no matter what the field our passion to be the greatest is the very essence that gets us up in the morning. It’s that which keeps us in the gym after work and the lights on well-past quitting time.

Personally, I aspire to be a writer. This isn’t a secret, nor is it something I hide from my friends, family, fiancé. They all know it, and encourage, and I’m thankful for their encouragement. With that said, based on the above it’ll be a staggering number of years before I’m ever able to consider myself an “expert” in writing. I can teach the craft to high-school students until my lips turn blue, and for some reason that edge toward expertise will never be reached–the carrot perpetually dangled but never fully grasped.

Philosophically, I wonder if anyone ever truly considers themselves “experts” in their field. The examples of humility from the greats are too many to count. Haruki Murakami didn’t start writing until his early 40’s and yet, despite global success as an author, he still exhibits the puerile sense of language that borders on the jejune. He’s an adolescent trapped in an elderly man’s body that consistently turns out some of the most intriguing prose today.

Take sushi chef Jiro Ono who has literally devoted his entire life to making the world’s best sushi (see Jiro Dreams of Sushi). Here’s a man who slaves over literally every intricacy of his food, his craft, his livlihood in order to make it supremely “perfect.” Expert? Absolutely. Although, I would wager to bet that were Jiro Ono asked about his own expertise, he’d claim he’s still learning. He’s still growing. He’s still honing his skills to somehow, someway, get better.

But such dedication is necessary toward pursuing that which makes us whole, and growth is always at the forefront of experience. I just wonder if expertise is the intangible equivalent of finance–the idea that there’s never enough money in the bank to satiate our limitless desires.

Expertise itself seems to be the spawn of what makes Buddhism such a universally satisfying ideology in that it professes relinquishment of the very thing that drives us–it professes the need to rid ourselves of want, of desire, of hunger itself.

But the point still stands. We all have an innate sense of thirst or hunger for the need to be an expert.

What’s your expertise?