Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Reading - A Proustian summer challenge (attempt?)

I decided to read Proust. 

Except it's not morning, no, it's still midnight. Dude. C'mon.
You're not the only insomniac who has strange thoughts at night.
I read an article based entirely on a woman’s experience reading Proust on her iPhone in The Atlantic. I subscribed to The Atlantic because I decided at some point I needed some mental stimulation beyond motivational life websites.  It seemed like an experience, reading Proust. She showed such dedication! But I didn’t understand anything she was going on about in all her pages, because what is so interesting about trying to read something? And apparently, only Proust readers understand what a thing it is to read and actually finish Proust's seven volumes, which, I think, are seven books, and considering I've read all of Ely Griffith's eight Ruth Galloway mysteries, I think it's achievable.
Then I read all about how Proust can change people’s lives. It’s true. There’s actually a book all about that very subject. I then read a few randomly selected essays on why you should read Proust. The authors talk about how much of it can seem boring, but it is sooo worth it. Then I went to the Source of All Validation, Facebook,  and asked if anyone read Proust. Of course, they had. In my group of friends I count brilliant unpublished writers, published writers, artists, developers, thinkers, and over-educated wanderers ambling through life. Alright, all my friends, including the non-literary ones, are wanderers ambling through life. But of the Proust readers, only one gave a (sarcastic?) love me Proust! The others warned me away. So of course I have to read Proust now. I’m not promising I’ll finish it. But it seems reading Proust is a decent frivolous goal for the summer when all my other goals are so mundane: Finish first draft of novel. Clean up second draft of other novel. Find job. Do something with the kids (ignore them? They’re 12 after all…) Lose 20 pounds. Do something adventurous so your children can say they did something on summer vacation in the fall. You know, the usual.
I will attempt all the above, and fail at some, but Proust should be achievable. I’ll read Proust, and, I’ll blog about Proust. (It’s okay if you don’t read the Proust posts, no one will judge, except my sister, who has probably read Proust… unless she hasn’t. But of course she has, because Proust is French, and she’s been in a French phase for at least a decade, occasionally interrupted by wintry declarations of her love of all things Russian - these usually occurr mid-January. But now that I’m reading Proust, she will probably read it for sure if she hasn’t, and faster, so she can say, oh, of course I read Proust. Then again, she’s read and finished two Tolstoy books and I can’t get past the train station in Anna Karenina, so never mind her.)
It is very unlike me to read Proust. While I’ve read a lot - (A. Lot. So much that I occasionally forget books I’ve previously read.) - I've never been an avid classics reader. There’s a lot of science fiction in my reading past: classic, proper sci fi, modern sci fi, pop-culture sci-fi. Childhood’s End. I, Robot (pretty sure I finished it). Ender’s Game. Dune. Smote in God’s Eye. Ancilliary Justice.  I’ve read some great fantasy novels. Mists of Avalon. Wheel of Time. The Deverry Cycle. Game of Thrones (and killer of all your favorite characters.) Post-apocalyptic fiction and my share of Dystopian. The Road. On the Beach (one of the least-known books of all time but one of the most personally influential books I’ve ever reads.) 1984 (at least a gazillion times).  Strange non-genre novels. Clan of the Cave Bears (still not sure why, but I don’t regret it.) Ishmael. Time Traveler’s Wife. I’ve read classics, too, but they don’t hold much sway over me. Oh, Wuthering Heights of course. Heathcliff, after all. The Odyssey. The Great Gatsby. Heart of Darkness (once was enough, shudder).  Some things I’ve tried, but couldn’t finish. Mainly, anything by Tolstoy. I have started and restarted Anna Karenina so many times I finally had to watch the movie. Dante’s Inferno
Some things I’ve tried, but couldn’t finish. Mainly, anything by Tolstoy, which I mentioned. I mean, I have started and restarted Anna Karenina so many times I finally had to watch the movie. Dante’s Inferno. There are other un-finisheds, too. I started Voltaire because someone suggested it, along with Nietzsche. I attempted to read an enlightening but tiring History of God. I recommend it for insomniacs. I have yet to get through the first chapter without falling asleep, even though, I’m told, it’s quite a fabulous book. And while I completely intend to (attempt to) finish Voltaire (Candide) at some point and do more than read Nietzsche quotes online, these are perfect examples of my ability to let some things remain unfinished. It’s not so much a failure, as an acceptance. In reading, as in life, you can’t do everything you set out to do.

So Proust. My summer challenge. 
I started with the first sentence. It was easy enough for an author where essays talk about his ridiculously long sentences: For a long time, he used to go to bed early. I get it. I go to bed early, too.  I read the rest of the passage. I read it once. He falls asleep really fast only to wake up right away.  I think he enjoys waking up in the darkness because it quiets his mind. And there is a train, and he imagines a man rushing to the train station in the night filled with the hustle and bustle and excitement of leaving a new place. We are still talking about how it affects his sleep, though, and the thoughts lingering in his mind as he lays in the dark. For a moment, I thought it was morning. It is still only midnight. I'm three kindle pages in.
Well. Proust will take a while, but I'm assured by fans of Proust (who are not on my Facebook friends list) that I'll find his brilliance.

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