“We are cruel enough without meaning to be.”
—John Updike, Rabbit is Rich
After the profane event that occurred Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the subsequent media frenzy, I was ready by the weekend to unplug from society. I was sick of being confronted with the face and ravings of an ignorant, hateful subhuman (while the stories of those he killed went largely ignored); I was tired of the politically motivated shouting match over guns and flags (the televised opinions of spiteful, inflammatory blowhards does not a national discourse make).
So I took advantage of the first sunny, hot, lazy days of summer to indulge in a book. As we all learned from Oprah, summer is the time to engage in some nice, escapist reading by literary creampuffs like John Steinbeck, Leo Tolstoy and William Faulkner.
My choice this summer is book II of the still-vibrant, still-very-long Don Quixote (allow me to recommend Edith Grossman’s lively 2003 translation). I finished the first volume last year, then took a break to read alternately inspiring and anger-inducing books like Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus, George Monbiot’s Feral and other nonfiction tomes that examine what egocentric, self-defeating numbskulls are human beings. In search of lighter literary fare, I turned to something literally heavier: the remaining 400-plus pages of the adventures of that hapless hidalgo and his sarcastic squire.
In the solace of our tree-lined backyard, I basked in the prodigal sun and followed Don Quixote and Sancho Panzo as they plunged into the Cave of Montesinos, encountered Master Pedro and the soothsaying monkey, floated up the Ebro River in the not-so-enchanted boat, and partook in other worthwhile events. The dogs alternated between the warm, stone patio and the cool, lush grass. Between chapters, I glanced up to see rabbits casually traversing the lawn or leisurely munching weeds while the dogs, shaming their wolf ancestry, lolled like vacationing beach-goers entranced in schmaltzy paperbacks.
After enduring what seemed a month or more of cloudy days and stormy nights, the dogs and rabbits alike savored the bright, balmy respite. Live and let live.
As the weekend winds to a close and I face reconnecting with reality, I cling to Don Quixote’s naïve yet idealistic notion: “All these squalls to which we have been subjected are signs that the weather will soon improve and things will go well for us, because it is not possible for the bad or the good to endure forever; from this it follows that since the bad has lasted so long a time, the good is close at hand.”