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Proust Is the Bottom Line for Everyone

I’ve been under an unusual amount of pressure lately, and when that happens, I like to take refuge in an enjoyable and not especially challenging book. Last week, when the various trials were bearing down on me with particular emphasis, I thought I knew just the book to hide away with: J. K. Rowling’s first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy. I had pre-ordered a copy from Amazon, and at the appointed time it showed up on my Kindle. But there was a problem: the text was unreadable. Frustrated, I browsed through the books on my Kindle, looking for some appropriate substitute. And then something odd happened. I started reading Proust.

I had read Swann’s Way, the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, in graduate school, and then again a few years later, but I had never made it any further. This has long been a source of relatively mild professional embarrassment for me: embarrassment, because my academic field is 20th century literature; relatively mild, because I’m a British literature. But the embarrassment wasn’t enough to get me through he remaining 3000 or so pages — gulp — of the whole thing.

And embarrassment had nothing to do with last week’s decision, which really wasn’t a decision at all, more a momentary and unreflective impulse. I started reading at the beginning of Swann’s Way, and found myself caught up in the voice, the flow of the thing, the long murmuring sentences. I kept reading. The book seemed very different than it had when I read it all those years ago. I finished Swann and immediately started Within a Budding Grove. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think I’m going to keep going. Which means that there may be some Proust-blogging around here in the coming weeks.

And if that doesn’t drive away every last reader of this blog I don’t know what will.

(post title courtesy of Paul Simon)

about the author

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.

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