Friday, March 20, 2009


I might get up a review of the Bourne trilogy of films today, but since I've been slugging it out with Proust for about two months now, I haven't actually read much that I could talk about.

Plus, I've read everything but the last page of this 4500 page behemoth, Remembrance of Things Past. So here's where things stand:

And the reason I'm stopping here is because when I started, I needed some kind of goal, a target, something to strive against. Since The Littlest Critic's birthday was coming up (six years old! with wobbly teeth! crazy...), I told her I'd finish the book before she turned six.

And so it became a race against the clock. Now, according to The Wife, this is bad form. A.) I'm teaching our daughter that to rush through things and to hurry is a good way to read and B.) I've been taunting TLC that it's "a race." Only TLC can't do anything to win. She can't turn six any faster. I can read faster, I can read slower, sixty seconds is still only one minute, sixty minutes is still only one hour, etc. etc.

Granted, I have taunted. I've been childish. I've teased. In my defense, TLC has fought back admirably, hiding my book in a number of clever places as a way of slowing me down. The kid's got spirit.

And I've budgeted my time, knowing that if I was going to make my deadline, I'd have to read fifty pages a day for so many days and so on and so on. I've been like Rocky in that scene when he's in Russia running through the snow with a log strapped to his back or something. I've been training to complete this book all my life. That time I slogged through Schopenhauer's boring as hell World and Will as Representation? Yeah, that was me high stepping it in Siberia.

So now, here I am, at the pinnacle, at the peak of this mountain of Proust, and I pause. I pause with maybe 500 words to go out of hundred and hundreds of thousands.


Because I'm waiting for TLC to turn six. And then I will read the last page or so of the seventh novel Time Regained.

I can't say I've enjoyed Proust much. Oh yes, sometimes he's amazingly beautiful in his prose, sometimes his philosophical insights are remarkable, and sometimes the events he depicts are interesting, engaging, and dramatic. (I am especially fond of all the novels of The Captive which is all about Marcel's paranoia and obsessiveness with his girlfriend/fiancee's supposed lesbianism to the point where he convinces her to move in with him and then he essentially denies her requests to go out anywhere at all. Ever. That sounds a lot, lot sexier than it is, actually.)

But to get to these points...oh, to get to the goods you have to suffer through so much digression and so much over-explication and so much fine-hair splitting of this social strata versus that social strata and how this particular salon hostess daren't even think of not inviting this one particular obscure baron because it might upset the delicate balance of her social circle with this and that obscure minor aristocracy. An enormous amount of high-hat nonsense that I didn't even find remotely enjoyable or entertaining or pleasurable to read.

The Wife loves to read novels and watch films about people who are different from her. If there's some documentary about Mormon cults or the unknown practices of the Amish, she could watch for hours. I to a great degree also like stories about things foreign to my experience, like shivving a guy in the prison workout yard. So, a little of this salon hothouse atmosphere is interesting, but then we go off on an extended four page single paragraph tear about why Mme. Verdurin didn't care for one particular seaside resort town because of what the fuck ever and really, Marcel, wrap it up. Get back to your point because now I've lost the thread.

Years ago, fresh out of college, I read Swann's Way, the first novel and having made it through one, I began the second novel, frequently translated as Within a Budding Grove (though more recently translated into the far sexier and far more accurate In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower). Despite this topical sexiness, I never made it more than a quarter of the way through that second novel.

I rarely give up on a book. But I just could not stay awake while reading that and if I did manage to stay awake, my mind would drift horribly and I'd have no idea what I had just read. So I gave up. Fine and dandy.

It's always rankled me somewhat, though. The not having finished. The idea that this is a classic of world literature without which your reading life is incomplete. Go to or any book nerd site and just sample the accolades people routinely toss upon this pile of pages. "Best book ever written," "the only book you will ever need," and similar tripe of this sort. I read some jackass claim that you could throw away all literature before and all literature after which is Certified Prime, Grade A asshole chatter.

But I like a challenge, so I had to go back and try again. And this time I succeeded. Almost. I'm done for now. In one more week, I will finish this monster, as long as I don't get hit by a bus.

Was it worth it? If only for the bragging rights. Could I have gotten more pleasure out of selected quotations and the Cliff Notes version. Probably. Maybe I'm just bitter because two months have gone by and all I have is this accomplishment on my plate. An accomplishment that doesn't have a lot of associated joys. Oh well. Cross one off my Great Books list. Now on to War and Peace.

Your mileage, as always, will very but you know what? Meh.


Citizen Carrie said...

Congratulations on a couple of things, first on almost completing Remembrance, and second on teaching TLC how to dish it out with the best of them.

Just imagine how you'll now become the center of attention at cocktail parties as you start talking at length about Proust. And society matrons will get into catfights trying to get seated next to you at the dinner table.

One question, do you think you've gained any special insights, or do you feel you'll look at life any differently, after you've finished reading the book? (Or, you're a better person after reading the book, etc.) Or can we look forward to hearing your answer in a post some time after TLC's birthday?

Abbi Crutchfield said...

My mountain: Hard Times by Charles Dickens. They give this story to sophomores assuming they'll enjoy it because it has a plot, protagonist, villains, imagery, dialogue, etc. Not too much philosophical blathering, and yet I COULD NOT FINISH IT. I bought the book on tape to help me get through, and I fell asleep. Eleven years this has haunted me.

PS: Why is The Wife not The Curviest Critic? Maybe there's a better adjective out there. I'm still in Mae West mode.

Sarah said...

Oh well, we can't all love Proust. I also only watch movies where nothing happens and listen to music that is essentially the same note played for 1/2 hour.

Congratulations anyway :)

The Critic said...



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