volume two, chapter one
The long days of summer have arrived. And with it the sweet pleasure of turning the pages of a book, your fingers staining the thin paper with just-eaten fish and chips, the sun high and tide low and lazy.
Afternoons stretch out in front of you like a picnic and the words that have waited all year to find you do — lying on a sea-soaked towel or swaying gently in a hammock, you surrender to idleness, in your own world where you are finally alone with your summer read.
Below, you will find five writers from the UBC Creative Writing program who take us back to a summer in their past and the book that made an impression on them. Read and listen as they take you back in time and don’t miss their recommendations for what should be on your summer reading list this year.
by Timothy Taylor
The J.M.Cohen translation of Don Quixote was my summer read in 2009, when I walked across Spain with an old college friend. We were following one of the northern camino pilgrimage routes through Basque country, then over the mountains from Oviedo to Lugo and on to Santiago de Compostella. I’m pretty sure other pilgrims thought I was crazy for lugging a 940 page book with me. But I took a lot of comfort from having it. And I read it at the end of almost every day, in cafes and bars. I spilled coffee and wine on it, bocadillo crumbs, Fortuna ashes, etc. Some of the pages fell out.
I’m not really sure what I was originally thinking, choosing that particular book. But it ended up embedding itself in the journey in ways I only discovered as I walked. Don Quixote frequently conjures the frustration, even futility, of noble quests. And pilgrims tend to make parallel discoveries about the arbitrary nature of what they’re doing. Crossing the distance, those thousands of individual steps, is in some ways beside the point. You wait for other things to happen, to reveal themselves, amid the blisters and the wrong turns, the closed hotels and the places where there’s a bull in the pasture and no other way around.
I remember reading “The Tale of Foolish Curiosity” lying in my hotel in Oviedo, high over the busy Calle de Jovellanos. Anselmo marries Camilla, in the story, then gets his best friend, Lothario, to try and seduce her to test her faithfulness. Everything turns out badly, as you might expect. It seems that many people really hate the story. J.M.Cohen himself suggested readers skip it entirely. But I actually think the story is near the heart of the book in that it reveals to us what Cervantes thinks about human desire: that we are endlessly inspired in what we desire, and often unhappily so, by those around us. Don Quixote models himself on the fictional Amadis of Gaul, and ends up bruised and battered for his efforts. So too are Anselmo and Lothario models for one another. What Anselmo has, he needs Lothario to crave in order for it to have value. What Lothario did not previously desire, he discovers — through the example of Anselmo — is the one possession without which he cannot live.
We may not like this mimetic depiction of desire, but it seems to me in contemporary society we are beset on all sides by models bidding us to desire what they have. And the most spectacular moments of the pilgrimage — on a ridgeline dropping into Polla Allende, passing through the hamlet of Montefurado where a huge St. Bernard stood guard, or climbing a seemingly vertical rocky trail just out of Couto — were the moments when I found myself free of any desire at all. Marooned happily in the instant, wanting nothing more. The whole trip was worth it for those alone. And in one particular hotel room, at a very particular stage of the journey, Cervantes provided an illustration of what is so profoundly valuable about such moments, making them endlessly worthy of recapture.
Recommended Summer Reads
Marooned happily in the instant, wanting nothing more.
Thank you to our co-creators who generously took time away from their teaching and writing to contribute to this story: Alison Acheson, Amber Dawn, Kevin Chong, Susan Musgrave and Timothy Taylor.
A distinct and special thank you to Annabel Lyon who helped make this story possible and Steven Galloway for letting us film in his office and turn off his fish tank for short periods of time while doing so.
More information on the UBC Creative Writing department and its programs.
Photo credit: Photo of Timothy Taylor photo by Dave Middleton
Story team: UBC Communications and Marketing — Margaret Doyle, Digital Storyteller; Michael Kam, Web Developer/Coordinator; Lina Kang, Web Coordinator; Justin Lee, Video Production Assistant; Adrian Liem, Senior Web Coordinator; Jamil Rhajiak, Communications Coordinator, Digital Information Channels; Aida Viziru, Web Interaction Designer.
Published: July 2015