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I have one major resolution for 2016, and that is to read In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. Why haven't I read it already? I started a couple of times, back in the Nineties, but always stalled out. Now I'm about a hundred pages into Swann's Way and it's completely intoxicating, in the now-established tradition of books I put off reading for years because of intimidating cultural osmosis.

[Cut for unsolicited personal anecdote]
Why was I intimidated? Well, it's hella long, but that shouldn't matter. The real reason is much pettier: back in the Ancient Days, Proust was particularly beloved of some self-consciously intellectual hipsters whose company invariably left me feeling hopelessly stupid (fear of people realizing that I was stupid was the dominant vice of my teens and 20s, which isn't to say there weren't others) but whom I was convinced were "good for me" because otherwise I would go around not feeling stupid, which was a lie! Anyway, I didn't want to read Proust because then I would be expected to talk about Proust, and if I had to talk about Proust, all my painfully ignorant philistine opinions would be exposed for good, and I would no longer be worthy to hang out with the people who made me feel stupid.

I used to waste an unconscionable amount of time on things like that. I don't anymore, or at least when I do I catch myself and stop. Proust was the very last hold-out among the hundreds of things I was afraid that I would love the wrong way or not at all, so this year I'm storming that fortress. But quietly, so I don't wake all the maiden aunts.

So far I love this book a lot. The narrator was a child once, but is no longer a child (we don't know yet what he's been doing in the meantime) but his childhood is always beside and in front of him -- at least for now, until he forgets again. I don't even know his name yet -- Marcel, maybe? -- he's just "the boy." Swann's Way is full of the garbled and poetic misunderstandings of childhood, like the narrator's early love of theatre:

"At this date I was a lover of the theatre: a Platonic lover, since my parents had not yet allowed me to enter one, and so inaccurate was the picture I had formed in my mind's eye of the pleasures to be enjoyed there that I almost believed that each of the spectators looked,as through a stereoscope, at a scene that existed for himself alone, though similar to the thousand other scenes presented to the rest of the audience individually."

This leads to a discussion of the pleasures of categorization, how the narrator and his friends used to rank actors and the thrill he got when a new acquaintance challenged his ranking, and then to a story about the narrator's uncle that is melancholy and funny and suddenly terribly sad and unjust. This is a book of memories, made so far entirely of memories, and it captures the feeling of remembering beautifully, with its viney sentences that are like daydreams. It's been extremely difficult to stick to the daily page limit I set for myself -- an attempt to keep myself from getting overwhelmed that I might have to abandon. It carries you away quietly and very far, like time itself will if you don't find some way to stick a pin in it.

So I don't have much to say yet and I don't know if I will have much to say, except: this book is great and I'm sorry I've put off reading it for so long. Maybe at some point I'll feel bogged down by all the digression, but right now it's the opposite of a bog.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 14th, 2016 10:22 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I think this is a marvelous idea! I've never read Proust so I may not have anything to say about these posts, but I will look forward to them nonetheless.

And I think it's fairly common for children to latch onto the idea of something - like Proust and the theater - without having any real experience of it. I was horse-mad right up until I met an actual horse, at which point I felt quite alarmed and dwarfed.

Maybe when I start my War & Peace read, I should set aside a day each week just to post about that.
Jan. 18th, 2016 02:16 pm (UTC)
Horses are gigantic! :O Especially if you are small.

I've been trying to think of an example all weekend, because this is definitely something that feels familiar to me -- I mean, latching onto something I have no experience of and getting really into it without any actual experience, but I'm having trouble. A lot of old movies, in the days when old movies were much harder to come by and my only source was stills from Life Goes to the Movies. Probably several other things I can't think of.

Proust is really good about all those little weirdnesses.

Maybe when I start my War & Peace read, I should set aside a day each week just to post about that.

I hope you do! :D

Jan. 15th, 2016 01:29 am (UTC)
I feel you on the books I am still too intimidated to read. There are a great deal of books to get to. (Plus I keep getting sidetracked by new books coming out.)
Jan. 18th, 2016 02:27 pm (UTC)
I wish I were a little more easily sidetracked by new books! I keep missing the party. But then, I like my old books, and the nice thing about writing having been invented is that the party is never really over.

I think I've gotten a little less alarmed in general, as I sidle up to middle age, about the tremendous number of books I'll never get to. But my reaction when I read a really good book is still, "Why didn't I read this ten years ago? What's been wrong with me all this time?"

Are you planning to read something that intimidates you this year?
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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