This year I’ve done what I hope is not a foolish thing: I have joined a Goodreads group called “The Year of Reading Proust.” There are some 800 of us led by a well-organized and devoted Proustian who online goes by the wonderful sobriquet Proustitute. The group formed late last year and, once the best English and French editions were identified and a year-long schedule devised, we began with ancillary readings to enhance the understanding of In Search of Lost Time: lectures by John Ruskin on architecture and art, books about the paintings and music in Proust, biographies of Proust, other books by Proust.
But now we are reading the masterpiece itself. I’ve read Swann’s Way before, back in the day when the entire work was mistranslated into English as Remembrance of Things Past, a title Proust apparently disliked. Tomorrow we must be through the first section, which is some 64 pages describing the narrator’s childhood memory of going to bed.
There is a hypnotic, almost dreamlike specificity to Proust’s writing. Long, entwining sentences full of refined sensations and thoughts. Re-reading Swann’s Way, which culminates in Swann’s crushing realizations about obsession and love, teases me with my own notions of time and memory (a bright fall day in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sitting in an armchair in the living room of my parents’ house, the musty scent from the yellowed paper of an old edition tickling my nose), notions that only reinforce the essence of Proust’s theme. Reading him again is like dipping a madeleine in tea.
But, seven volumes, over 4000 pages, a full year of devotion! It’s quite the New Year’s resolution. When will I eat, when will I blog, when will I write? Can I go a year, or whatever it takes to finish, so single-mindedly devoted? Is the journey worth it?
Doubts already creep in, and it’s only January. Proust’s last volume is titled Time Regained, but that only happens in fiction, right?