At home with Don Quixote

About six months ago, I undertook a foolish endeavor. I began reading Don Quixote. I don’t say this was foolish because I believe Don Quixote is an unworthy piece of literature. It was foolish because no person with multiple, young children has any business opening up any book of 900+ pages with the expectation of getting to the end while still remembering the beginning.

Nonetheless, for a few months, I made good progress for a man in my condition. That is to say, I was able to read about 10 pages most nights, in the interval between the children going to bed and falling asleep myself. On nights when I enjoyed particular vim and vigor, I might put up to 12 pages behind me.


He rides his lonely road, searching for someone who’ll read him, or at least someone willing to pay full price.

I kept up this breakneck pace until New Baby was born. At that point, I was nearly 600 pages in.

Don Quixote (the first 600 pages of it anyway) is the story of man so swept up in reading romance novels about knights-errant that he slips into the delusion of himself being one of those ancient heroes. He sets off in search of adventures and causes mischief wherever he wanders, believing he is capable of mammoth feats and that it is his duty to display his prowess to the world. Whenever reality seeps in to disrupt the narrative he has devised within his head, he explains away the discrepancy with the excuse that evil wizards have enchanted him and used their spells to belittle his grandiose visions into ordinary, everyday things.

New Baby is two months old now, and I am on page 614.

Oh, but I used to read! I used to be the Lancelot of reading, tearing through books and piling up their used bodies in book cases to the ceiling. I took on classics, even the torturous ones, with no fear, occasionally triumphing by finding one that turned out to be a classic. I was a warrior of words.

old days

A monument to those ancient days of spare time and disposable income.

You can watch TV while constantly changing the position of a crying baby in search of that one special pose that will settle him down. You can even play Farmville while rotating him. But it gets hard to read while juggling the kid from arm to arm. I’m catching up on all the TV programs I missed during my reading years. Thank goodness for reruns.

Meanwhile, Don Quixote stares down at me from the shelf. Once in a while, I notice this and I stare back at him. Every time, he looks more familiar, this man who deludes himself into thinking he can accomplish goals that are far beyond him. This man in the mirror.

My excuse is that I am enchanted. But my wizards are not evil. They are playful little goblins who vex my grand plans with a steady stream of wonderful, precious, ordinary, everyday things.


Two modern-day enchanters out for a drive.




26 comments on “At home with Don Quixote

  1. I had a student read Don Quixote on their own once and she reported to me that it only took her a weekend. When she brought in the book to show me (I was a little skeptical) it was a Wishbone version of Don Quixote. I have since referred to the novel as Dog Quixote. Good luck. I will be working on Infinite Jest again this summer…I won’t make it.

    • I looked him up on Amazon and was amazed to see how many classics that dog has written. I haven’t written any yet. Nor have I had my own TV show. Even the dogs are ahead of me in the world of arts and letters.

  2. tom w says:

    Two words for you Scott, “Cliff Notes”!

  3. sparrow says:

    I know exactly how you feel. My twins are 13 months. It took me about 10 months to even pick up a book again. House of Mirth, and now, a few months later and I’m really only half way through. I’ll make it though, I swear. Even if it’s just a page in bed at night before I fall asleep. Sigh.

  4. Reading is my ultimate luxury as a parent. When my kids were small I would stay up ridiculously late just to be alone and read. Now I don’t have to go to such extremes – your little ones WILL get bigger and more independent and Don Quixote will be waiting for you

  5. Traci says:

    The fact that you made it through 600 pages with two small children deserves a parfait. While my “kids” all officially belong to other people they call parents, I still spend 9 months out of the year rereading the stuff I’ve assigned to them. During the summer, I inhale books like marshmallows. A summer will come your way eventually, Scott, but enjoy those little guys in the car now.

    • I made my choice, and I would never change it. But there are days when you want to mix and match bits of your current life with pieces of your old one. I don’t need to wait for a summer because I already have one; it’s just a different kind of summer, and a better one at that.

  6. David says:

    Great post – I loved reading it. Thanks for sharing such an amusing (and apt) example of the everyday challenges of parenthood.

  7. pieterk515 says:

    I think, which happens sometimes, that most writers are avid readers. In my case, I’m stuck on the Odd Thomas series from Dean Koontz at the moment. But you’re right in saying that any person attempting to read a book of 900+ pages might be slightly enchanted. Or just plain cuckoo.

    Am I using the right words this time…;-) Still recovering from excepting…

    • Or they were avid readers, and hope someday to be so again. But, hey, there’s a lot of TV to be watched in the meantime. And that’s something.

      If it seemed like I was correcting you in a previous comment, it was a complete miscommunication/coincidence. I am by no means the schoolmarm of the blogosphere, and I apologize if it seemed that I was trying to be such.

  8. milosivanskistudio says:

    And this my friend is why I read a great number of books aloud to my infant son that were beyond the ken of the average (ANY) baby. He didn’t understand the words but seemed to enjoy the text orated in various soothing tones and I had the opportunity to read something other than “moo said the cow” on a regular basis!!

  9. yearstricken says:

    Don Quixote was the first book I started that I didn’t finish. I was in my 40s and had never had the courage to not finish a book (it’s my mother’s fault – she made me finish everything on my plate). Since then I have not finished several books. Don Quixote did that for me.

  10. My wife had cause for a mini-celebration yesterday: she finished a book after starting it over 2 years ago. She promptly started another book which is even longer. She is a glutton for punishment.

  11. A. van Nerel says:

    I admire people that enjoy reading. You’d think with me writing quite a lot I like reading too, but the truth is I give every book ten pages to grab my attention after which I decide it to be not my cup of tea. I’m single and have no children of my own, but I would probably never make it to page 600 of Don Quixote…

    • To me, reading is half entertainment, half the study of writing. I’ve read a lot of books that weren’t my cup of tea just to study the writing. Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to do that with most of the famous, contemporary writers. That’s probably my fatal flaw as a writer.

      • A. van Nerel says:

        Why a fatal flaw? You seem to be doing great as a writer (I’m talking quality, not being part of Oprah’s inner circle;)) I think every writer has his or her flaws, even the best ones. If this just happens to be yours, I’d settle for it;) (Though I should tell you one of my flaws as a writer is that I settle for something too easily…)

        • I don’t necessarily need to be part of the Big O circle, but it would nice to learn how to write what the people want to read ( today as opposed to during the 19th century.)
          And you should never settle for a lesser flaw; go all out for the grand ones.

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