I am deeply fascinated by the choices on the Great American Read list. Some of my favorite books are listed. There are books on this list that I genuinely believe to be among the greatest novels of all time. Books that hold a deep personal relevance for me. Books that I've never read. And a few that I never thought I would! As I read through the list, I knew I would want to challenge myself this summer to conquer a few of my personal unread books. There were a lot of options (especially some of those chunksters that seem to intimidate us all!); do I finally give a go at War and Peace? After all, I love Anna Karenina and recommend it often, frequently citing that it is less intimidating than it seems! Do I go for Dune or Moby Dick? Those are big gaps in my reading life! Should I finally surrender to Fifty Shades of Grey? Probably not, I'm an insufferable prude. Then it hit me. There are two novels on this list that are perfectly situated for me!
I've read A Confederacy of Dunces a few times now. This novel speaks to the flavor of South Louisiana culture in my mind. I frequently recommend it to tourists in our area as a perfect remembrance of their trip to our state. I was excited to see it make the list and if there were only to be one book from Louisiana on this list, I am happy it is this one! And it happens to have a perfect partner on the list that has been glaring hole in my catalog.
I've had Don Quixote bumping around on my to-read list for years due to...Terry Gilliam. Seeing Lost in La Mancha, a documentary about Gilliam's failed adaptation of the novel, and realizing the power of a 400 year old novel to impassion someone to dedicate so much to the story meant I would get to this novel eventually.
Ignatius J. Reilly of A Confederacy of Dunces is often referred to as a modern Don Quixote; both men living fantastical interior lives that do not necessarily jive with the world around them. In talking about the list here at the store I realized that Don Quixote was a priority for several of us and a summer reading challenge was born!
For Sophie, the story of Don Quixote has fascinated her since she was a kid. She enjoys the sense of sadness intertwined with adventure and purpose found within the story.
Matthieu was piqued by this novel because it is essential to the western canon. Don Quixote is a foundational work within the canon and acquainting yourself with such an influential text serves careful readers well.
John, like me, is interested to see how comparisons between Dunces and Don Quixote play out for himself. And like Sophie, he is inspired by the hopeful yearning that Don Quixote espouses. That kind of idealism that led to the term 'quixotic' is often close to John's own relentless positivity and idealistic thinking.
Peggy, like Matthieu, is interested in Don Quixote as a foundational text within the western canon. She looks forward to approaching the novel with the same rigor applied to most of her reading life. With every new work she asks how to judge a character's inner motivations and moral imperatives against their external expression in actions and interactions with others.
Katherine is also excited about the novel's place in history. It is outside of her typical reading life but she is excited to engage with the work especially noting its place as the first modern novel.
All summer long we will be reading these novels and sharing our thoughts here on the website as well as across our social media and in the store. We would love for you to join along! Read with us, chat with us, share your stories! We will be using #DonIgnatius as well as the general Great American Read tag, #GreatReadPBS. We thrilled that our local PBS affliate, LPB, will be reading right along with us! Follow them @lpb_org on Instagram, @lpborg on Twitter, and Louisiana Public Broadcasting on Facebook.
Below you will find a copy of our reading schedule; at this pace we will work our way through both novels before voting on the Great American Read closes on October 16th. Remember, you can vote for your favorite book everyday until then - hopefully, by the end of the summer we will all have two new favorites for which to cast votes!
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read
Edith Grossman's definitive English translation of the Spanish masterpiece, in an expanded P.S. edition
A Confederacy of Dunces is an American comic masterpiece. John Kennedy Toole's hero, one Ignatius J. Reilly, is "huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter.