First Lines: Don Quixote

It’s official: I give up. I’ve waded through the first part of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, but after a few chapters of the second part I gave up. I just can’t do this any more. It’s too tedious. You have that hidalgo Don Quixote, who has gone so raving mad from reading too many romances of chivalry, that he is convinced that he is a member of the lost and honorable order of knights-errant. So he goes out righting wrongs, setting free captured innocents, rescuing fair maidens and slaying giants. (This last episode, the famous one with the windmills, comes early on and lasts all of a page and a half.) Except that there is an awful lot of talking, and repetition, and asides, and references to other romances of chivalry, and blah blah blah.

I’m very sure that it is a very important book and all that, but it’s apparently not for me. (Given that the second part was published ten years or so after the first one, I think I deserve a pass.)

Book read
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra — The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha (Fourth-Centenary Translation. Translated and with notes by Tom Lathorp)
First line
In a village in La Mancha, which I won’t name, there lived not long ago an hidalgo of the kind that have a lance in the lance rack, an old shield, a lean nag, and a fleet greyhound.

Seen Live: a balladeer @ De Vereeniging

Marinus’ slightly over an hour long, slightly more upbeat that usual solo set on the lovely terrace of De Vereeniging was the 22nd time I saw him (with or without band) perform. So, ehm, did I say his new record A Wolf at the Door is ace? No? Well, it is ace. Here’s the final track, “Therefore”, which at the moment is probably my favorite:

There will be a full band tour in September, and I’m quite looking forward to that as well.

Seen live
a balladeer (solo) at Terras De Vereeniging, Amersfoort on July 21st, 2016
Set list
A Little Rain Has Never Hurt No One / A Wolf at the Door / Summer / Therefore / Superman Can’t Move His Legs / Plan B / Nightmare on Elm Street / Swim with Sam / Oh California / Incompatible / Trust Fall / 10 Things To Win You Over // Jolene (Dolly Parton cover) / Mary Had a Secret

First Lines: Inferno

Inferno, or, “How Renowned Symbologist Robert Langdon Dutifully Rushes Through Another Improbable Plot” is the fourth of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon novels, and the third one to be turned into a massive blockbuster. Years ago, I read the first two in the series (The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, the later of which is still my favorite) as well as the stand alone novel Digital Fortress in quick succession, which completely turned me off of Dan Brown. After reading three of his books, I could not help but conclude that he is a one trick pony. Every book was basically the same paint by numbers story, with only the colors changed.

So I wasn’t completely shocked to find that Inferno was cut from the same cloth: Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with no memory of how he got there. Then, there’s someone after him and he has spend a day running and solving clues hidden in artwork (Dante! Boticelli!) and picturesque historic locations (Florence! Venice! Istanbul!). All this accompanied by a pretty, smart young girl.

I think that this time around, I found what irked me about Dan Brown’s books.

It’s not the fact that he isn’t the greatest writer around. His style is clunky, his sentences are needlessly detailed and overwrought, his characters are as flat as the paper they don’t develop on, the plots with their twists and turns and role reversals and all the other tropes thrown in for good measure are pretty dumb — but — he knows how to keep you entertained. Short chapters, cliffhanger upon cliffhanger, one-liners and quippy comebacks that would make CSI Maimi’s Horatio Cane blush — “Sienna went pale. ‘Don’t tell me we’re in the wrong museum.’ ‘Sienna,’ Langdon whispered, feeling ill. ‘We’re in the wrong country.’” YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHH.* — rapid pacing: he knows ho to write a book that’s crying out to be a movie.

Inferno fits this mold: it’s dumb, it’s bad, but in a harmlessly fun way.

No, it’s probably that I now fully realized that Dan Brown is a writer of badly written Dan Brown fanfiction.

Robert Langdon is the man Dan Brown wishes he could be: a handsomely charming famous renowned professor, well-versed in art history, symbology and the conspiracy theories, author of well-received books, traveling the world and seeing the sights alongside pretty young females. The go-to-guy when a mad scientists will doom (doom! I say!) half of humankind and the only clue is hidden with obscure art references, and that guy from National Treasure turns out to be Nicholas Cage. Which is good and fine when you write it in the comfort of your own home and don’t bother the rest of the world with it. But when your bad fanfiction goes on to sell millions of copies for real world money, well…

But fuck it. Taken in light doses every few years or so, it’s awesomely craptacular entertainment.

Book read
Dan Brown — Inferno
First line
I am the Shade.

* Hat-tip to this excellent review for helping me find the right words in this one.

First Lines: Held van beroep (reread)

Upon finishing The Count of Monte Cristo I needed something light to get ready for the next big read I had planned. Adriaan Jaeggi’s Held van beroep was perfect for that.

Ten years ago, I picked up this book because I was becoming fairly obsessed with a balladeer. Their song Swim with Sam was a bit of a hit, and based on this book.

So if someone wants to know
And asks you where I am
You say you saw me go for a swim with Sam

Held van beroep a story about family. Sam’s family. Sam is fifteen, likes to swim, but doesn’t really have an idea what to do with his life. So he goes swimming, to clear his head, to make sense of things, and to deal with whatever life throws at him.

The first part of the book is hilarious funny. It’s filled with sharp observations, and clever bits, like the one about how Edgar Rice Burroughs and Edgar Reisbureaus are one the same, on account of English and Dutch being two languages, which means that things that sound the same aren’t necessarily the same thing.

But in the second half, after Sam’s mother dies, the book seems to switch gears. It’s not nearly as clever and funny, and Sam, understandably, mopes around a lot. Don’t get me wrong, its still a cracking good read, but there seems to be something there that I’m not quite grasping. Maybe I should do another reread sometime down the line.

Book read
Adriaan Jaeggi — Held van Beroep
Book read
Laten we vooral dankbaar zijn dat onze voorouders van grote gezinnen hielden, anders waren we allang uitgestorven.

First Lines: The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is an epic story, in many senses of the word. It’s a adventurous tale — but not a poem, natch — of a legendary figure, in the heroic manner. Also, reading it might seem like an exceptionally long and arduous task or activity, given its length: the edition of the anonymous 1846 translation I read came in at 1462 pages.

The tale is, first and foremost, one of revenge. Young Edmond Dantès spends 14 years in the dungeons on some bogus charges, and vows to take revenge on the people who put him there. Once he gets out, and helped by an enormous fortune, he does. Of course, there’s more to it, but getting back, that’s where the entire story is focused on.

I admit I dreaded tackling this book, mostly because of its size. But as it turned out to be very readable. Sure, it’s a ridiculous story, with a load of characters that mostly aren’t very interesting, rife with coincidences and oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-they-fell-for-that moments, but in a good, soap opera way. It’s a novel that seems to bask gloriously in its grandioseness. It’s large and meandering and yet oddly focused and to the point.

I’m sure I’m gonna read it again, someday.

Book read
Alexandre Dumas — The Count of Monte Cristo (Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, anonymous 1846 translation)
First line
On the 24th of February, 1815, the look-out at Notre–Dame de la Garde signalled the three-master, the Pharaon, from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.