I’m reading In Search of Lost Time with a reading group from Book Oblivion. It’s supposed to be a really difficult and punishing read at over 4,000 pages. Sentences are frequently massive and sometimes over 100 words long. The sentences are more convoluted than anything I’ve read. It’s a study in difficult to read writing.
I deeply respect the work of Proust. He has deep insights that aren’t frequently explored to this depth. My tastes just systematically oppose the purposes of this book. I have extensively studied how I remember stuff for years. My memory is highly selective, and changing its focus is extremely difficult in practice. I feel I share a lot of things with Proust as most heavy readers do. Add to the fact my life has basically lent itself to me becoming a writer. And the book is about Proust becoming a writer.
Proust’s masterwork is basically a biography/memoir of his life. That was something special around the time it was written. Today, we have memoirs and things much closer to what Proust is trying to do. I have previously sworn off memoirs. I read Eat, Pray, Love out of my pretentious ideas. I will simply read and like something because a great number of others have liked it. I would rather discover things about life from other sources. Meditation is my preference. I have learned meditation without the aid of a meditation teacher. I learned writing in the same way. Garnering insights from others feels a little like cheating. Insights from the art of meditation has a much bigger impact for me. Those insights don’t fade as easily and give a bigger impact for me. Experiencing a trip around the world isn’t the same as reading about someone doing the same.
That raises the question of why I’m still reading this 4,000-word tome. The length of the sentences fills up my head as few books have. The main reason I like reading is it occupies my head space so thoroughly, I can’t succumb to my anxiety and physical issues. Those long sentences needed a slight switch in the way I read. When reading, the brain assemblies the entire sentence from the words you’ve read so far at periods. Long sentences make this reading process doubly difficult if not more. My first day of reading Proust, a new realization struck through my head. There was a trick to make Proust just one tick more difficult than the average read, instead of the three ticks it had been. Think Shakespeare instead of Beowulf in old English. The easy system of partially reconstituting everything read at semi-colons then it became after each comma. Sometimes this doesn’t work. One example so far. I need to figure a way to un-flip the switch of doing it that way.
Reading something difficult makes reading everything else go faster. Reading speed changes with how much you’ve read and how difficult it was to read. I also want to understand what made this book last beyond its publication generation. And I need to figure out how to be social in the setting of a book club.
At the beginning, I was tempted to read it full blast. If I really tried, I could be done in 14 weeks. The schedule the club is on goes for two and a half years. That’s five percent of each volume a week. I have done independent study before and the results were mixed. Sometimes I’m ahead, and sometimes I’m behind. I decided to read when I got sufficient sleep the night before. That’s another thing that readers of this blog should know. Classics put me to sleep effectively. Without enough sleep, I’ll never get through. I’m five weeks behind and finally got back to reading. I should catch up in 14 days. Not too bad.
I feel so inadequate in the book club. Everyone else has an English degree of some sort or the other. I just have a public school education up to a high school diploma. And two AP English classes along the way that are supposed to be equivalent to college level classes. I am trying to fit in with partial success. I’ll learn from the others and will eventually fit in. I’m learning a lot, and it’s fun.
Sometimes I feel we’re over analyzing the book. Maybe the walking route his family goes on isn’t symbolic. Maybe we’re digging too deep. But another spot in the book made me think it was symbolic. I’m too new to this to really know. I’ll watch and observe. That should help to figure this out.
“Easy reading is hard writing,” ― Ernest Hemingway
Sometimes I get annoyed at the overly complicated sentences and the extensive detail to mundane things. I find confusing sentences lazy. But I’m new to this whole writing thing. Maybe those sentences add something I’ve yet to discover. I feel like I’m missing something huge. By the time I finish In Search of Lost Time, I might have this head scratcher figured out.
And I think the book’s theme is time is never lost if you remember what you were doing or learned from the experience.
Title photo credit: Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash. Enhancement by Graham Kar.