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15 Things You Might Not Know About Don Quixote

Even if you have never picked up a copy of Miguel de Cervantes’s novel The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha, you’re doubtlessly familiar with the story: one of delusional noblemen, portly squires, and windmill monsters. Nevertheless, there could be a few little-known facts you haven’t heard about the two-volume 17th-century masterpiece. 

1. DON QUIXOTE IS CONSIDERED THE FIRST MODERN NOVEL.

Such esteemed thinkers as award-winning literary critic Harold Bloom and decorated novelist and essayist Carlos Fuentes have declared that Don Quixote is the very first true example of the modern novel. Bloom identifies the arcs of change bracing the story’s titular character and his companion Sancho Panza as the primary marker that distinguishes it as the first of its breed, and Fuentes suggested that the nuance in the dialogue and characterization is chief in separating Don Quixote from all preceding texts. 

2. CERVANTES CAME UP WITH THE STORY WHILE HE WAS IN JAIL. 

Though he’d eventually go on to pen one of the most famous novels in world history, a young Miguel de Cervantes suffered from a plight familiar to any aspiring writer: working a day job to pay the bills. Among the varied gigs Cervantes kept in the years before his literary breakout was a job as a tax collector for the Spanish government. However, frequent “mathematic irregularities” landed Cervantes in the Crown Jail of Seville twice between 1597 and 1602. It was during this time in the slammer that Cervantes is believed to have first thought up the story that would become Don Quixote

3. CERVANTES NAMED THE MAIN CHARACTER AFTER HIS WIFE’S UNCLE. 

Near the conclusion of the second volume of Don Quixote, Cervantes reveals the real name of his hero to be Alonso Quixano (alternatively spelled “Quijano”). He borrowed this name from Alonso de Quesada y Salazar, the great uncle of Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, whom Cervantes married in 1584. Alonso is believed to have inspired not only the name but also the general characterization of the novel’s hero. And, the name Quixote came from the word for "thigh armor." 

4. CERVANTES PLUGGED DON QUIXOTE: PART II IN THE FOREWORD OF ANOTHER STORY. 

Cervantes released the 12-part novella collection Novelas ejemplares in 1613 after having penned the series incrementally over the eight-year span that followed the publication of the original volume of Don Quixote. A foreword to the collection not only introduced the new work, but also promised readers that Cervantes was planning a continuation of the incomplete Gentleman of La Mancha fable. (His advertisement for an upcoming book ahead of an entirely independent work could be seen as an ancestor to the modern day movie trailer.) This second volume was published two years later, in 1615.

5. A PHONY PART II WAS PUBLISHED AS A HOAX. 

Just one year after Cervantes’ Novelas ejemplares foreword plug, however, a volume of mysterious origin wormed its way into the Don Quixote canon. Written by an author who used the pseudonym Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, the unofficial sequel was infamous for the feeble quality of writing and the numerous potshots it took at Cervantes and the source material.

6. THIS FAKE SEQUEL IS THOUGHT TO HAVE CONVINCED CERVANTES TO FINISH HIS OWN. 

Although Cervantes had already gone on record about intending to wrap up the story of Don Quixote in a second text, it is generally believed that the Avellaneda debacle was the straw that broke the camel’s back and motivated the author to transfer his intentions to the page. Cervantes was so enraged by the hoax that he wrote the existence of Avellaneda’s novel into his own Part II, maligning it for poor quality and misunderstanding of his original characters and story. 

7. DON QUIXOTE HELPED ESTABLISH THE MODERN SPANISH LANGUAGE. 

The variant of the Spanish language in which Cervantes penned his novel was actually a rather new development at the turn of the 17th century and would be much more familiar to contemporary Spanish speakers than the colloquial tongue of the era. The popularity of Don Quixote cemented the modern Spanish that is now the second most commonly spoken language in the world, behind Mandarin. 

8. CERVANTES DREW FROM HIS EXPERIENCES AS A SLAVE TO WRITE THE NOVEL. 

A particularly empathetic sequence in the novel sees the hero and Sancho Panza freeing a group of galley slaves from captivity. Cervantes’ special sensitivity to these recipients of Don Quixote’s chivalry likely stems from his own experiences in servitude in the 1570s. Cervantes spent five years as a slave in Algiers, attempting escape on more than one occasion. 

9. THE NOVEL IS CREDITED FOR THE SPREAD OF A POPULAR IDIOM. 

Today, the proverb “the proof is in the pudding” is a regular fixture in the vernacular. The phrase is in fact a corruption of the somewhat more readily coherent—albeit admittedly less euphonic—variant, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” While the latter traces roots to a 14th century-born Middle English predecessor (“Jt is ywrite that euery thing Hymself sheweth in the tastyng”) and would appear in various similar forms for the next few hundred years, the modern phrasing is in fact believed to have debuted in an 18th century English-language translation of Don Quixote. The phrase was introduced by translator Pierre Antoine Motteux in lieu of Cervantes’ original maxim: “al freír de los huevos lo verá,” or “you will see when the eggs are fried.” 

10. THE FIRST TRANSLATION OF DON QUIXOTE WAS TOO LITERAL. 

The very first translation of Don Quixote was Dublin-born author Thomas Shelton’s English take on the text, published in 1608. Shelton didn’t exemplify quite the same degree of linguistic creativity as his successor Motteux. The former’s rigid adherence to Cervantes’ diction, in fact, was his publication’s greatest downfall. For instance, where an English speaker would substitute the word “inches” at Cervantes’ idiomatic mention of “dedos,” Shelton applied the literal translation: “fingers.” 

11. A FAMOUS AUTHOR CITED DON QUIXOTE AS HIS FAVORITE LITERARY CHARACTER. 

Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky committed his admiration for Don Quixote to print on numerous occasions. In a letter to his niece Sophia Ivanova, Dostoevsky heralded Cervantes’ protagonist as the superlative literary hero: “Of all the beautiful individuals in Christian literature, one stands out as the most perfect, Don Quixote,” adding, “but he is beautiful only because he is ridiculous.” 

12. ONE ORGANIZATION DEEMED THE BOOK THE GREATEST PIECE OF LITERATURE EVER WRITTEN.

In 2002, the Norwegian Book Club polled esteemed writers across 54 countries to construct a list of the 100 greatest books ever published, naming the project the Bokklubben World Library. The official stance of the list, which covers literature as old as the Epic of Gilgamesh and as recent as José Saramago’s 1995 novel Blindness, is that all represented titles enjoy equal footing. That is, with the one exception: Don Quixote, which the Bokklubben World Library distinguishes as “the best literary work ever written.”

13. THE BOOK HAS BEEN TRANSLATED INTO AT LEAST 50 LANGUAGES. 

Today, Don Quixote boasts prints in Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Basque, Latin, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Romanian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Hindi, Irish, Gaelic, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Hungarian, Polish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Greek, Turkish, Serbian, Albanian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Slovenian, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Georgian, Esperanto, Yiddish, and Braille. 

14. CERVANTES DID NOT PROFIT OFF OF THE SUCCESS OF DON QUIXOTE. 

Despite the near-immediate popularity of the original 1605 novel, Cervantes barely made a dime off its publication, since it was common in the 17th century for a writer to be denied royalties on his or her published works. The ramifications of this setup could be seen as especially harsh in the case of Don Quixote, considering the fact that… 

15. DON QUIXOTE MIGHT BE THE BEST-SELLING NOVEL OF ALL TIME. 

While the age of the novel makes it hard to fully estimate the scope of its distribution, many scholars estimate that it has reached a readership of 500 million. This figure would make it the best selling novel in world history by far, topping Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities’ 200 million count and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy’s 150 million count.

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Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Reading Aloud to Your Kids Can Promote Good Behavior and Sharpen Their Attention
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Some benefits of reading aloud to children are easy to see. It allows parents to introduce kids to books that they're not quite ready to read on their own, thus improving their literacy skills. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the simple act of reading to your kids can also influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

Participants in VIP visited a pediatric clinic where they were videotaped playing and reading with their children, ranging in age from infants to toddlers, for about five minutes. Following the sessions, videos were played back for parents so they could see how their kids responded to the positive interactions.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn't receive the same intervention.

Reading to kids isn't just a way to get them excited about books at a young age—it's also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development. The study authors write, "Such programs [as VIP] can result in clinically important differences on long-term educational outcomes, given the central role of behavior for child learning."

Being read to is something that can benefit all kids, but for low-income parents working long hours and unable to afford childcare, finding the time for it is often a struggle. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 34 percent of children under 5 in families below the poverty line were read to every day, compared with 60 percent of children from wealthier families. One way to narrow this divide is by teaching new parents about the benefits of reading to their children, possibly when they visit the pediatrician during the crucial first months of their child's life.

[h/t The New York Times]

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