'Don Quixote' reading extends to world outside of La Mancha

MADRID - Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas kicked off the annual two-day, non-stop reading of Miguel de Cervantes' 17th-century Spanish tale Don Quixote in Madrid Thursday.

Having won the Cervantes Prize -- the Spanish-speaking world's top literary award -- in December, the 86-year-old Rojas was given the honour of starting the two-day-long reading, which began at noon at Circulo de Bellas Artes, a fine arts centre in Madrid.

Politicians, diplomats, cultural figures, artists and members of the general public will participate in the marathon session around the world. Participants from outside of Madrid, like Mexican President Vicente Fox, will read via telephone and videoconferencing devices.

Overall, more than 3,000 people are scheduled to read excerpts from the novel, which recounts the misadventures of aging, madcap knight Don Quixote and his down-to-earth sidekick, Sancho Panza.

The reading is scheduled to end sometime early Saturday morning but the exact time "will depend on the speed of the reading and the number of people who are waiting [to take part]," said one of the organizers.

The annual reading takes place over UNESCO's World Book Day, the April 23 event established to promote literature and commemorate both Cervantes and William Shakespeare, who both died on the date in 1616.

After the Bible, Don Quixote is one of the most widely published books in the world. In a 2002 poll of 100 of the world's leading authors -- including Salman Rushdie, John le Carré, John Irving and Norman Mailer -- the Cervantes work was named the world's best work of fiction.