DQ is more than a frothy dessert

Freed from jury duty, she dithers on...

I was feeling a little bogged down in Don Quixote. I really love the novel; it's as bawdy and fun as a funhouse carnival ride. But, at some point, you want to get out of the funhouse and take a spin on the carousel.

Examining this frustration, I wisely decided to visit the Tilting at Windmills reading blog.

Lo and behold, here's a post by the insightful Imani, who admits she fluctuates in her opinion of DQ. Imani, we salute you!

Here is the passage she quoted, from a lecture by Natsume Soseki on Eighteenth-Century English Literature:

What…is the secret of making long stories appear short? It is what we call interest, composed of three things in fiction: character, incident, and scene. And the closer the second draws to the first, the more intense the degree of necessity; and the closer the second swings to the third, the more importance is given to chance. Most novels, being complex, contain all three in varying amounts. But all successful novels must achieve unity. And this unity of the three kinds of “interest” can be achieved through acceleration, development, and change. Out of this unity emerges the theme of a work.

I am not a seeker in the quest for the Absolute Truth on What Makes Novels Work. But I do like my brain to be prodded and poked by original thinkers who struggle to answer the eternal question.

From the spritely comments of the fellow Windmill-Tilters, I gleaned the name of Mikhail Bakhtin, whereupon I Google'd with abandon to find this (in addition to several pop-up windows promising to show me how to make quick money. But that's another story.): From The Problem of Cervantes in Bakhtin's Poetics by Walter L. Reed:

Don Quixote figures significantly as well in this essay in Bakhtin's attempt to develop a more intrinsic poetics of the novel. Cervantes' text becomes the epitome of the “Second Stylistic Line” of the novel's development, a line that is more radically dialogic or heteroglossial than the First Stylistic Line, which opens dialogic possibilities only to foreclose them. The contrast between these two stylistic lines is a more sophisticated version of the traditional distinction between novel and romance. Furthermore, within the Second Stylistic Line, Don Quixote turns out to embody both of the two basic types of testing that purely literary discourse is subjected to: the testing that centers on a hero trying to live according to the books he has read and the testing that centers on an author trying to live by writing a book of his own. “Both these types of testing literary discourse [are] blended into one . . . as early as Don Quixote,” Bakhtin says, noting the importance of Cide Hamete as well as of Quixote himself (p. 413).

Okay, I have to agree with most of you that this sort of bloodless dissection of a juicy novel renders the living patient to a corpse. Not to mention makes me feel really stupid. However, the gist of what they are saying corresponds neatly with my impressions of this novel. It's fun, it's complex, I suspect we are being set up for a change in the second book at which time the pain, much like childbirth, will have been worth it -- yet, the reading of it is a messy, arduous process.

I am not cross-posting this at Tilting, because I am cowed by the collective Reading IQs of the celebrated panel. In case you were wondering. There. I feel much better now. Back to the messy, sprawling DQ -- areba! areba! undele!


Odds & Ends Tuesday

The New Yorker Fiction Issue had a great line-up this year, featuring the likes of Denis Johnson, Jeffrey Euginedes, Gary Shteyngart, and Charles D'Ambrosio. If you want more or if you missed out, check out the writers' real-life summer memories.


Here's a nice piece on Stephen Dixon, from the John Hopkins Magazine. This article, as the excerpt below shows, will either be a spirit boost or buster for writers everywhere:

Dixon has never had a bestseller, never earned a large royalty check. If he gets $3,000 as an advance for a new novel, that counts as a big payday. When Frog was shortlisted for the National Book Award, its hardcover edition had already gone out of print. There were copies on the shelves of stores, but the book's publisher had distributed its entire first press run and had no intention of printing more, award or no award. Dixon wouldn't say no to a prestigious prize or sudden commercial success. But at age 70 he still types every day for what seems the least complicated of reasons: He likes to tell stories, and there is always another one percolating through his mind. Besides 15 novels, he has published more than 500 short stories.


Salon is in its third of a four-part series on Summer Reads. Parts 1 and 2, on thrillers and chick-lit respectively, didn't interest this kitten; however, Part 3 discusses travel memoirs. Anthony Doerr (whose collection of short stories, The Shell Collector, blew me away) is releasing one about his sojourns in Rome as a recent parent to twin boys. Here is a tidbit, from Publishers Weekly:

Acclaimed novelist and short story writer Doerr turns out a well-observed chronicle of his family's year in Rome, when he was a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Doerr is a precise, lyrical writer who, dividing his book into seasons, captures in equal measures the wonder of the Italian countryside, the mind-boggling history of the Eternal City and the measured joys and trials of parenting twin baby boys. Upon their autumn arrival, it is the boys who most connect Doerr and his wife to their new city: "Grown men in suits stop and crouch over the stroller and croon. Older men in particular. Che carini. Che belli. What cuties. What beauties." In Spring, Doerr captures well the color and emotionof the vigil for the dying Pope John Paul II, providing insight into the man and his death: "More than three miles of artwork hang in the Vatican Museum and the pope could have any of it brought in front of him...Instead, he wants only to hear something read from the Bible in Polish."


I'm not quite ready to embark on The Dud Avocado . I need to plow through some more of Don Quixote. Plus, I foolishly (well, I'm just placating my pocketbook here) purchased 3 non-fiction books ("Buy 2, get 3rd free!") from the evil empire of Barnes & Noble, one of which -- the book on Lincoln's melancholy and depression -- I simply had to crack open.


What is wrong with me? I woke up this morning with a great short story idea, about a woman driving her toddler to daycare when an intruder forces himself into the car and drives them away. I had it all worked out in my head. And I just let...the ball............drop. I have been doing that lately. To me, it is a form of self-denial. But I cannot figure out why, why, why? I know, I know: Just write, just write. This year, writing has been a monumental struggle, more than ever before in my life....


DeLillo on novel writing

Bloody hell this is a good quote. From Don DeLillo (via James Tata):

I was a semiconscious writer in the beginning," he writes. "Just sat and wrote something, or read the newspaper, or went to the movies. Over time I began to understand, one, that I was lucky to be doing this work, and, two, that the only way I'd get better at it was to be more serious, to understand the rigors of novel-writing and to make it central to my life, not a variation on some related career choice, like sportswriting or playwriting. The novel is different...We die indoors, and alone, and I don't mean to sound overdramatic but you know what I'm talking about. Anyway, all of this happened over time, until eventually discipline no longer seemed something outside me that urged the reluctant body into the room. At this point discipline is inseparable from what I do. It's not even definable as discipline. It has no name. I never think about it. But there's no trick of meditation or self-mastery that brought it about. I got older, that's all. I was not a born novelist (if anyone is). I had to grow into novelhood.