Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Category: 800s

863: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

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863.3: Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote of the Mancha. Translated by Thomas Shelton. New York: P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1969. 516 pp.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature and Rhetoric
  • 860: Spanish and Portuguese literatures
  • 863: Spanish fiction
  • 863.3: Golden Age, 1516—1699

Cervantes’s Don Quixote is one of the granddaddies of Western literature. First published in 1605, it follows the whimsical adventures of Alonso Quixano and his friend Sancho Panza as they travel across the Spanish countryside looking for adventure and knightly acclaim. The main conceit of the novel is that Quixano has become addled by age and has read way too many novels about chivalry and knights-errant. Slowly but surely, he convinces himself that he is also a great man worthy of the adulations of those in his novels. He styles himself Don Quixote de la Mancha and strong arms a local farmer Sancho Panza into going out and righting the many wrongs he sees.

In addition to deluding himself, he also re-imagines the world around him through the lens of chivalry. Regular windmills become frightful giants, herds of sheep become warring sides of classic knights, lowly inns become great castles, and so on. The adventures are both humorous and sad. At each turn, our two heroes are beaten and bruised, or at the very least, made fools of. I admired Sancho’s resolve to stick by his hidalgo even though he could have fled at almost every moment and left Don Quixote to fend for himself. In trying to show the ridiculousness of the old ways, the book shows that some of them are worth preserving.

The chapters are episodic, so the story moves along at a predictable pace, but there is no real story here—just a string of tales to regale the reader. That being said, there is a lot to unpack in this novel. It predates almost everything else, so many of the tricks of the trade find their home here, including modern pastiche, metafiction, and social critique. My translation was just a lightly edited version of the original 1620 Thomas Shelton work, so the writing for me was very stilted. I have looked at a few pages of other translations, and if you can get the Edith Grossman or the Tom Lathrop, you will have a better time than I had. All in all, it is a tremendous work worthy of the time required.

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856: Letters, 1941-1985 by Italo Calvino

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856.914: Calvino, Italo. Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985. Translated by Martin McLaughlin. NJ: Princeton, University Press, 2013. 534 pp. ISBN 978-0-691-13945-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature and Rhetoric
  • 850: Literatures of Italian, Sardinian, Dalmatian, Romanian, and Rheato-Romanic languages
  • 856: Italian letters
  • 856.9: 1900—
  • 856.91: 1900—1999
  • 856.914: 1945—1999

Italo Calvino was a man of many opinions. From his days in the Italian Communist Party after World War II to his tenure in the Oulipo writing group, Calvino had a lot to say and used his many friends, agents, and even enemies around Europe to say it. The letters translated here by Martin McLaughlin represent the tapestry of threads he wove throughout his life.

The first impression one gets of Calvino is that of a man who needs the company of friends to enrich his life. He constantly wants his pen pals to visit him wherever he is, or send books and articles, or recount news of local politics. But beyond that, there is a hunger. He relishes in all the philosophical complexities of literary fiction, even going so far as to dissect his own work.

Calvino is at times belligerent, compassionate, churlish, and joyous, but never boring. That being said, it helps to be acquainted with at least some of Calvino’s writing before diving into the 600 letters in this book. All in all, however, this was an entertaining albeit lengthy read.

854: How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays by Umberto Eco

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854.912: Eco, Umberto. How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays. Translated by William Weaver. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Inc., 1994. 252 pp. ISBN 978-0-15-600125-0.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature and Rhetoric
  • 850: Literatures of Italian, Sardinian, Dalmatian, Romanian, and Rheato-Romanic languages
  • 854: Italian essays
  • 9: 1900—
  • 91: 1900—1999
  • 912: 1900—1945

Umberto Eco’s How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays is quite an apropos book to have with you while on vacation. He singles out particular occurrences in both American and Italian culture for close, humorous inspection. Eco dissects traveling by train in the US, getting a new driver’s license in Italy, writing an introduction to art books, and much more. There are times when the Eco’s annoyance is just pedantic, but others are universal situations.

The humor here is a bit stilted, but that may be the translation. It is definitely better than your standard American hyperbole and so becomes more like good satire than simple pastiche, almost as if it was the source material for the TV show Frasier. In any case, many of the essays are chuckle-worthy and it makes for a good bathroom or bedtime reader. A light and entertaining book.

834: If the War Goes On by Hermann Hesse

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834.912: Hesse, Hermann. If the War Goes On…: Reflections on War and Politics. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973. 186 pp.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 830: Literatures of Germanic languages
  • 834: German essays
  • 834.9: 1900 to present
  • 834.91: 1900 to 1990
  • 834.912: 1900 to 1945

The two World Wars of the 20th century were unfathomably polarizing. There were those who believed war was necessary to defeat either national or global enemies, and those who believed acts of aggression and war were counter to our enlightened place in history. Hermann Hesse, in If the War Goes On, is vehemently against war. In this collection of 27 essays, Hesse explores his own feelings about war and also the experiences of living through both great calamities.

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802: Literature Lover’s Book of Lists by Judie L. H. Strouf

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802: Strouf, Judie L.H. Literature Lover’s Book of Lists: Serious Trivia for the Bibliophile. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall Press, 1998. 391 pp. ISBN 0-7352-0121-8.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 802: Miscellany

Judie Strouf’s Literature Lover’s Book of Lists is a simple exercise that gather a lot of information. It bills itself as a “compendium of useful, whimsical, and necessary information for people…who love to read.” The 198 compiled lists try to order, categorize, and codify the entirety of literature for those crave such information. It has every Pulitzer Prize winner and their works, poem types and literary devices with examples, landmark books and speeches from every major Western period, lists of literary genres, and so on and so on.

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894: Snow by Orhan Pamuk

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894.3533: Pamuk, Orhan. Snow. Translated by Maureen Freely. New York: Vintage International, 2005. 426 pp. ISBN 0-375-70686-0.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 890: Other literatures
  • 894: Literatures of Altaic, Uralic, Hyperborean, Dravidian languages; literatures of miscellaneous languages of south Asia
  • 894.3: Turkic literatures
  • 894.35: Turkish literature
  • 894.353: Turkish fiction
  • 894.3533: Authors born between 1850 and 1999

In Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, a man comes home. As always, the context is excruciatingly important. Ka, a Turkish poet, who has lived for a while in Germany, returns to his home country to investigate a series of young suicides in the town of Kars. It’s a small town, and religious tensions run high. Ka doesn’t write much poetry any more, but the folks in Kars, when not dodging political subterfuge or looking for angles, give him more credit than he deserves for his writing. In the town of Kars lives Ipek, a woman recently separated from her political candidate husband, a woman who reminds Ka of better days, a woman who he thinks can save him and his poetry. In the dead of winter, Ka soon learns, however, just how heavy and silent the snow can be.

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878: Plutarch’s Lives by Plutarch

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878: Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives. Translated by John Dryden and revised by Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1969. 389 pp.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 870: Literature of Italic and Latin languages
  • 878: Latin miscellaneous writings

Note: This edition of Plutarch’s Lives, published as part of the Harvard Classics, is not the complete set written by Plutarch. The original collection consisted of 23 pairs of biographies, each containing a Greek and Roman figure, and four unpaired biographies. My version covers Themistocles, Pericles, Aristides, Alcibiades, Coriolanus, Demosthenes, Cicero, Julius Caesar, and Antony. Alcibiades and Coriolanus are paired together as well as Demosthenes and Cicero.

If you want a pretty decent picture of both the everyday lives of Greeks and Roman as well as an overview of ancient, you’d be hard pressed to do better than Plutarch. Writing in the late 1st century, Plutarch is about as close to a contemporary source as one could want. In the Harvard Classics collection of Plutarch’s Lives, we get a cross section of historical figures:

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