Another Proust Read-Along

… as if we’re not busy enough?

Truth is, reading Proust calms me down. Maybe because I’ve to slow down, really slow down, to savor, and decipher. These two have become a fused enjoyment for me while reading Vol. 1 of In Search of Lost Time, Swann’s Way.

After finishing that, I quickly ordered the next volume Within a Budding Grove, but have since put it aside… until now, thanks to Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza, who read Vol. I with me. She’s right, of course, as she wrote on her invitation post for Vol. II:

‘No one should read Proust alone.”

So here we are, embarking on another Proust Read-Along, In Search of Lost Time Vol. II, Within A Budding Grove.

Within A Budding Grove Modern Library

Yes, this is a slow read, as always on Ripple Effects. We plan to finish and post our thoughts on November 30. I just might add in a mid-way post around end of October.

You are invited to join us for another slow and enjoyable ride.

If quantifying makes it easier to grasp, counting the days in October and November, and the 730 pages in my Modern Library Classic edition, you only need to read about 12 pages every day. A very doable plan.

Those of you who have read it all… how about a re-read now?

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First Post for Vol. II:

Half Way Through A Budding Grove

My posts on Vol. I, Swann’s Way:

Part 1: Combray (my ‘Freshly Pressed’ post)

Wrap-up: The Swann and Gatsby Foil

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Proust Read-Along: Swann’s Way Part One, Combray

Reading these first 264 pages of Proust conjures up some of my own memories…

I was sitting in a graduate class. A fellow student was doing a presentation on phenomenology. He brought into class a chocolate cake, cut it and gave each of us a piece. We were to describe this particular act of ‘Eating chocolate cake in class’.

What elicited only single words or phrases from us, Proust could have written pages. Why, from pages 60 to 64 the narrator details his experience of eating four morsels of the little cakes ‘petites madeleines’, the uplifting sensation, the taste, the action of dipping them into tea before eating, and the diminishing enjoyment after each mouthful. Above all, he relays how the very act of eating these madeleines has evoked long-buried childhood memories of Combray:

… in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the waterlilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea. (p. 64)

I don’t pretend to understand everything I read. Far from it. These first 264 pages of Proust’s seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time for me is a learning experience. I have to read through ambiguity, discard the expectations of clarity and congruity, accept incomprehension and press on. But an experience still, and surprisingly, an enjoyable one. An eye-opener too. Where have I read a sentence of 31 lines (p. 67-68) in such flowing prose, with such sensitivity and nuanced observations? And I must add, which I read at 1 a.m. I’m a quick study.

Sure, the unexamined life is not worth living. Proust must have plowed through his to the single second, and in depth too, as the madeleine-eating episode reveals. Insomnia sure has its benefits… arousing volumes of memories for the narrator.

Proust Book

From this first reading I’m surprised to find Proust’s subject matter comes from the mundane, from people and places in the village Combray where the narrator would go to stay for a period of time every year as a child. Even more a surprising delight is the loquacious way he describes the events, the people, the scenery, and the insights he can generate from the minutest observations.

A tiled roof is a tiled roof, okay, it looks more beautiful reflected on the river. But I was struck by how the narrator caught himself with speechless admiration, and ironically, articulating it with lucidity and humor:

The tiled roof cast upon the pond, translucent again in the sunlight, a dappled pink reflection which I had never observed before. And, seeing upon the water, and on the surface of the wall, a pallid smile responding to the smiling sky, I cried aloud in my enthusiasm, brandishing my furled umbrella: “Gosh, gosh, gosh, gosh!” But at the same time I felt that I was in duty bound not to content myself with these unilluminating words, but to endeavour to see more clearly into the sources of my rapture.  (p. 219)

Indeed, humor is another surprising find for me. In several places I’ve put down on the margin of the page, LOL!

So, I’ve quickly learned to go past those passages and sentences that have lost me, but soon as I come to something I can comprehend, and do resonate, I’d stop and reread, savoring the beauty of that moment.

My favourite passages include the heartbreaking accounts of the child’s longing for his mother’s goodnight kiss, the description of the church St. Hilaire where he goes to Sunday mass, the pages depicting the river Vivonne and the hawthorn trees in Swann’s park, the child’s discussions with Swann on reading and books, and his frustration with writer’s block as he strives to write poetry as a youngster.

But there is one passage I must mention. That is about the child’s Mamma caring to talk with their house maid and cook Françoise, asking her little questions about her feelings for her own family:

Francoise answered, laughing: ‘Madame knows  everything… [like] the X-rays that they brought here for Mme Octave, and which can see what’s in your heart’ — and she went off, overwhelmed that anyone should be caring about her, perhaps anxious that we should not see her in tears: Mamma was the first person who had given her the heart-warming feeling that her peasant existence, with its simple joys and sorrows, might be an object of interest, might be a source of grief or pleasure to someone other than herself (p. 73).

This, I think, is exactly what Proust has done.

Seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, the village life, the kitchen and the table, the interactions and socializing, family relations, walking the country paths, the irises and the hawthorns… Reading this first part reminds me of paintings by Pieter Bruegel, or Van Gogh… and, not far from eating chocolate cake.

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How’s your reading so far?

Janell of An Everyday Life

tuesday in silhouette

Wrap up post on Parts Two and Three: May 15.

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Let’s Spring to Proust

Here we are, almost spring. According to my 2013 Read-Along plan, it’s time for Proust: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1, Swann’s Way.

Proust Book

Before we start, check this out. An excellent intro of Proust from The Guardian:

“So, Proust. Have you made it past the first 50 pages?

I’m guessing that a healthy proportion of people who pick up the book don’t even get beyond page 51. Within a similar word count, Raymond Chandler could have got through two murders, six whiskies, half a dozen wisecracks. Raymond Carver could have described at least six suburban households descending into despair. And Hemingway had almost finished The Old Man and The Sea. Yet, in pure plot terms, pretty much all that happens in those first pages of Proust is that the young Marcel struggles to fall asleep.” 

Right. But I do urge you to finish this very helpful Guardian article on Proust.

Those who are familiar with Read-Along’s on Ripple Effects know, we go slow. Ah… go slow on Proust? Well yes, that just means you can read Chandler and Hemingway while you’re watching young Marcel struggle to sleep.

Here’s our very simple plan. You can read whatever version you like, if you’re so inclined, the original French edition will even be better. We can compare notes and thoughts. I’ll stick with the Modern Library version in the photo above, just because of the enticing cover.

Here are the dates for the two posts:

Part One, Combray (264 pages): to post April 15

Part Two, Swann In Love (278 pages) & Part Three, Places Names, The Name (61 pages): to post May 15

Two months to finish In Search of Lost Time Vol 1: Swann’s Way. I’m sure with our mutual support, we can all go past page 51 and even reach the end.

Interested? Do let me know in a comment. I’ll be sure to add and link your blog in the following list. If you’re not a blogger, you’re welcome to join in as well. Just come by on the two posting dates and share your thoughts.

So far, here are the participants who have confirmed with me:

Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza

Janell of An Everyday Life

Gavin of Page247

Tuesday of Tuesday in Silhouette

Jessica of Bluestockings.com

Alison of Chino House

Hope to see you join in.

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Previous Read-Along on Ripple Effects

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

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Anna Karenina Read-Along: 10 Pages a Day

CLICK HERE to read my Concluding Post: Parts 5 – 8 And The Curtain Falls

CLICK HERE to read my post on Parts 1 – 4 of Anna Karenina. 

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I’ve done the math. From today till the new movie adaptation’s general release (Nov.16) there are exactly three months. So that means finishing this 800 some pages novel needs reading about 10 pages a day. A doable plan.

Here’s the edition I’m using, the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. Feel free to explore others.

If you are one of the few like me who haven’t gone past that famous first line, now’s the chance to do it together. And for the majority of you who have read it, how about a reread before watching the award-aiming movie directed by Joe Wright of Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007) fame, with Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Matthew Macfadyen, Michelle Dockery, Olivia Williams…

Not that we need them to lure us into reading Tolstoy.

Or that we need TIME to tell us Anna Karenina holds the no. 1 spot on their Top Ten Greatest Books of All Time.

I’ve totally enjoyed the camaraderie of a read-along in the Midnight’s Children experience. So, short of going to see the movie together, we can read the book as a virtual book group.

Here’s the simple plan. We’ll divide the eight parts of the book in half and just do two posts in the next three months, about seven weeks apart and from now till the first post:

Post 1: Part One to Four — September 30

Post 2: Part Five to Eight — November 15

A doable plan, isn’t it? Hope you can join in. Let me know in a comment so I can link to your blog. If you’re not a blogger, you can also read-along with us. Join in our discussion with your comment on the day of the posts.

Happy reading!

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From your comments, here’s a list of those joining our Anna Karenina Read-Along:

Stefanie of So Many Books

Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza 

Loucas Raptis of The Monster of Wrangellia 

Janell of An Everyday Life

Becca of Becca’s Byline

Vanessa

oh of This Writing Life

… so far. You’re still welcome to join us. Post your thoughts on Sept. 30 and Nov. 11 and/or just hop around to our posts to join in our discussions if you’re not a blogger.

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