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.

Advertisements

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

White Teeth and Contemporary Fundamentalism

In an effort to somehow equalize the glaring disparity of male/female novel reviews on The Book Guy Review, I give you Zadie Smith’s uproariously comic and true-to-life ode to cultural fundamentalism that is White Teeth.

Set between 1970-1999 London, White Teeth is a farcical meditation on the extent to which fundamentalism (in all aspects of society) extends its grip into contemporary culture. Smith wields a multitude of discourses stretching from Anglo-Pakistani enunciatory tendency to the Carribean-centric post-colonial Jamaican drawl (that’s been bastardized by modern culture into something inherently stoned) into a glorious foray into the world of the contemporarily diverse culture.

The book itself is something of a marvel. A London native herself, Smith’s voice at the same time fresh and reminiscent of the English masters (Greene, Conrad, Lawrence, et. al.). Her prose is flawless and lyrical, oftentimes poetic in a zany John-Irving-esque variety.

The best part though, is that Smith takes no cheap shots. Utilizing a wide array of characters stretching from the emotionally defunct Englishman resurrected through former Jamaican Later-Day-Saint wife to Pakistani émigré and even Raggastani gang members–Smith tells the tale of modern London and society’s reluctance to acquiesce to cultural change and evolution like you’ve never read before.

In a story that is heart-felt and honest, laughable and riotous, Smith delves into the fact that we’re a mongrel, hodge-podge species with blended blood, and try as we might, there’s no escaping the fact that we’re all in this together. And (because I have to), underlying it all is the truth that we’ve all, in our possession, a set of pearly White Teeth–poised at the ready for whatever needs be.

Her characters are notorious and morally confused in the same sense that society today is morally confused. She tells the story of fundamentalism of familial values, the (non)importance of religious devotion, one’s duty to uphold the fundamentals of what it means to be a citizen of a greater nation, and the fundamentalism behind what it means to be a citizen of Earth.

My first foray into the world of Zadie Smith was a smashing success, and I absolutely cannot wait to read more from this hopefully literary superstar.

Stars = 5/5

5 Reasons Why Everyone Should Love Mad Men

It’s remarkable how with the astounding amount of TV available, anything at all achieves any semblance of recognition. For those in the relative know, Mad Men is one of winningest shows out now weighing in with 4 Best Drama Emmys and a colossal 17 nominations (most ever).

And yet, it’s also one of the most strangely repellent shows out there–to the extent that the question of “Have you seen Mad Men?” is most often met with a ubiquitous “Boring.”

That being said, ignore the pleas for the melodramatic. Most dismissers discontent rises out of a failure to understand that Mad Men is not your everyday dramatic thriller. It’s something much greater.

  1. Tensity: For the doubters out there, Mad Men is not a thriller, so dispel that notion at the door. It’s a slow burn. Like the bars and clientele the show portrays in its pristine settings and side-cuts, Mad Men moves with the casual saunter of a man approaching a bar for a whiskey. It’s not a tour-de-force. Not a rocket blast. Not 24. And yet, it’s hard to disagree that there’s something there. Some distinctly poignant glimpse into a life that is both honest and accurate, and yet delightfully exaggerated.
  2. Characters: There’s no denying that the show’s protagonist Don Draper exhaustively shifts on the love/hate spectrum. And he’s just a small representation of a cast that’s as lifelike and realistic as a trip to the store for a carton of milk. They scream reality, which any writer will tell you is a serious feat for dramatic television.
  3. Writing: The dialogue shimmers with innuendo, cut-cheek jabs, and off-the-cuff dialogue that surprises and delights. Predictability being the bane of a program’s success, Mad Men never steers the course for the traditional and instead relies on the duplicitous personas driven by its characters for its plot.
  4. Verisimilitude: This being the lifelike quality of the show itself. Mad Men has this uncanny ability to render the slow undulations of life, the steady rhythmic lulls and flourishes of conversation, the turn of the cheek at the approach of an unwanted kiss. It’s is one of those shows that somehow reminds and educates us about a time in history in which the world was exceptionally different and similar at the same time.
  5. Consistency: This is something that most programs fail to recognize as vital to a show’s success. Just like Seinfeld’s ability to smash-cut between multiple plot lines and jokes, and Lost‘s ability to baffle and astound with consistently melodramatic shock-and-awe, Mad Men moves through it’s pre-established paces of bar-top banter and cut-throat business dealings, every week at the same pace without fail–which in and of itself is part of the magic.

So the next time you’re perusing the B-League Netflix stacks of Watch Instantly and casually gloss over the glory that is the world of Mad Men, remind yourself that its not about boredom or excitement. Great programming is more than just the gun-battle and explosion variety. Good drama and good stories are often those that play it close to the chest. Those that make us think and make us inquire into a world of the past that’s otherness from the world of today is so staggering it might as well be set on Mars.

And for that–watch Mad Men. You won’t be disappointed.

Blind Positivity: On Making It Through

With summer drawing to a close it’s a reluctant adios to my blissfully sedentary days of reading and writing for god-only-knows how long. It’s a sad change, yet leisure time, albeit well-spent leisure time still leads to a slush of days in which my gut seems to expand with every page I take down.

As most of you know (see about) I’m a teacher. I love my job. It’s satisfying like nothing else could be. Regardless, there’s always a sadness and a relative anxiety about going back to school, working with hundreds of children, pushing classics I love, and instructing them on how to write a proper paper.

Let’s just put it this way, I’m not exactly happy about returning back to school, but it’s a living, and at the end of the day, I can smile my way through anything. Sometimes the only way to get through the tough times is to remind yourself that life, deep down is good, and things are never as dark as they seem.

I’m not trying to be take on some woe-is-me mentality and really my job is fantastic. I love working where I do, but after a two month break from anything returning back any job would be difficult. And thus I recommend my own personal coping strategy. Be positive: no. matter. what.

Minor fender bender? Don’t sweat it. Tick off the boss? Exhale out the bad and breathe in the good. Forget your lunch? Go find a granola bar and get over it. And after it all, when someone asks you that unbelievably vacuous question: “How are you?” you smile and respond with an equally nauseating: “So great!”

You’ll find that however synthetically sugary-sweet the response, it’s met laughter. The artifice of responding with such positivity is the point. It leads to genuine laughter and smiling, which’ll never fail in bringing out the best in people.

220_1

Maniacally deranged? Forced? Completely artificial? You bet! And that’s the point.

Sometimes all that’s required to turn the horror of yet another work day into something tolerable, something maybe even fun, is the simple reminder that the little snags and strifes that life tosses your way are not as significant as they seem.

So the next time you experience one of the inexplicably difficult days, tilt your chin up, pull those shoulders back, breathe, and know that things really are so great. At least, eventually, they will be.

The First Bad Man: Idiosyncrasy Incarnate

Filmmaker, artist, and now most impressively novelist, Miranda July’s debut The First Bad Man is a stunning original with a cringe-worthy amount of idiosyncratic voice and self-delusion. In a brief 200 pages, July exemplifies what it means to be not just a woman in the 21st century, but a human being.

The book itself is about the life and times of Cheryl Glickman, a holistic seeking pseudo-naturalist (?) who works as an office manager taking notes for board meetings at Open Palm. She is the embodiment of the facade of order–everything has its place, books are meant to stand on shelves–not to be taken off of shelves. Cups and dishes are for company only–why not eat out of the pan itself? She undergoes chromotherapy (literally, color therapy) and refuses to wash her pans after cooking because it “builds flavor.”

For her, life is a staunch opposition to decrepitude and disorder. And then comes Clee. At the behest of her boss, Cheryl must open her doors and life to his daughter. Order meets chaos in the form of a young blonde bombshell whose feet stink, never seems to shower, parties, and sleeps around. Her general volatility serves as the perfect foil for Cheryl’s fetishized fantasies of personal sexual gratification–and the two unwind perfectly. They even end up raising a child and what follows is one of the most brilliantly original and truly remarkable books of the year.

The First Bad Man is hyper-modern. There’s a sheen and order to the prose that is so refreshingly grounded in both reality and fantasy.

But the beauty of the novel really comes through the dialogue. It’s hilarious. Characters converse in dead-pan interchanges no more than a few words in length like a Wes Anderson script–but the humor is more than just coarse conversation. It’s truth. The lines and fantasies are initially hysterical, but become strangely intimate as how actually real they are. Every page reflects a society in mental upheaval. We identify with idiosyncrasy and uniqueness, but hide it for fear of ridicule. Well, hide no more, Cheryl Glickman is the new poster-child for eccentric quirkiness.

Needless to say, July has crafted something here exceptional and original. This will be a cult classic–if not a true classic in it’s own right, and I can’t wait for more to come from this phenomenal debut author.

Stars = 5/5

Escapism: A Discussion

As an avid reader, escapism seems to be the name of the game. I read for a number of hours a day without fail, without remorse, without reservation. I long for the experiences of others. I long for thoughts and actions of the greatest minds of our kind so that I might be able to make some sort of sense out of my own.

To some extent, books are the instruction manuals for how to live a life–for better or worse.

But as much as I try, I can’t get past the thought that inherent in the act of reading is the act of escapism. That in order to experience the lives and actions of others we must break outside our own present–which to me strikes a harsh chord against the idea of “presence” in life.

The sad (maybe?) part of it all is the truth that we’re all escapists.

No matter what our poison, be it books, movies, television, music, we’re all longing for that clean, well-lit place that Hemingway so beautifully penned in the 1930’s and people like Tolkien and Lewis made fantastical for even further gratification.

We’re all longing for a sense of home in the things we experience, when for most of us, the very act of sitting down to consume whatever media we’ve got is the essence of home. Our media (books included) has become a perverse sort of hearth we gather around for our own sense of appeasement.

But is this a good thing? As hard as this is to admit: what’s the difference between escaping into the pages of a book vs. the pixelated glow of a screen? Obviously one is more linguistically advanced than the other, but the idea is the still the same. Regardless of media or format, we’re still diverging from the present for the seemingly greener pastures of the other.

Is escapism a good thing or a bad thing? What are your thoughts?