Reading Nook: Henry Alford on Cervantes, the floor and me
For the last three months, I’ve repeatedly found myself lying on the floor of my apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village, reading “Don Quixote.” If this sounds terribly highbrow and ascetic, let me point out that “Don Quixote” is a work of broad, physical comedy that shares the same initials as one of our country’s leading purveyors of soft-serve ice cream — and also that, while reading, I am lying on a purple shag rug, under a disco ball.
My friend Sil gave me the disco ball four years ago — a response to a drunken dinner party I’d hosted after which Sil and I and our partners had all started dancing in my living room. Shortly after affixing said item to my living room’s ceiling, I realized: This glitter bomb needs a better rug under it, because the sisal ain’t cutting it. On came a lush, deep purple, 7- by 7-foot propylene rug that I bought online from Wayfair for $80. This fairly wanton newcomer to my boyfriend Greg’s and my apartment sparkled alluringly on our floor for two weeks before I realized that purple shag was precisely what had covered the floor of my childhood bedroom.
I’ve always loved to read while lying down. However, insomnia experts discourage us from reading in bed, and our couch’s slipcover has grown so threadbare as to be frayed. Thus I found myself on the floor.
As for the book selection: Greg read “DQ” when we went on vacation to Spain in 2016 and had enjoyed it so much that I think I was slightly jealous. So now it’s my turn to lord it over him. The story of a delusional nobleman who has read so many chivalric romances that he decides to become a knight errant and save the world from itself, the book is full of endearing surprises (e.g., Cervantes likes to end chapters in the middle of a sentence). It is also, at 940 pages, very, very long. When tackling such a tome, I allow myself to “cheat” with other books only if they are short stories (I zipped through Deborah Eisenberg’s “Twilight of the Superheroes” last weekend) or if they can be read in one sitting. (In Lotta Sonninen’s brilliantly funny “The Little Book of Bad Moods,” a humorous workbook, the reader is encouraged to keep a tally of things that tick them off; it’s an “ingratitude journal”).
But I keep returning to Don. And my floor.
That “Don Quixote” is episodic — not in the television sense, but in the “Here is an entire chapter about a character who you’ll never meet again” sense — making it a perfect candidate for my Eisenberg/Sonninen-style trysting. Also, Cervantically speaking (not to sound unintentionally gynecological), floor-bound seems an oddly appropriate orientation for this book. After all, Cervantes seems to be saying that all of us humans carry our own tale, a tale we must unbosom at full length regardless of others’ level of interest — a worldview whose massive proportions cause me to lie on the floor.
Alford is the author of “Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?,” “How to Live: A Search for Wisdom From Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth)” and, most recently, “And Then We Danced.” His book “Big Kiss,” an account of his attempts to become a working actor, won a Thurber Prize for American Humor.