books,  in detail,  learning

Slow-Reading with Proust

I’ve been reading Swann’s Way this month, part one of Proust’s epic seven volume series, “Remembrance of Things Past.” Not sure why I’m torturing myself this way. It’s similar to how I drink cold black coffee even though I hate cold black coffee. With Proust, it’s all about parsing sentences you’d never find on Twitter (length) but which when finally understood (on the fifth reading) produce a slight dopamine surge. Cold black coffee still gives you a caffeine jolt, after all, maybe even more so because of the unpleasant mode of ingestion. Maybe it’s the memory invoked by the cold black coffee that I enjoy. Something about sitting in an apartment waiting for movers. And how I felt when I drank that coffee in that apartment waiting for those movers, how it reminded me of a phone call I had had the night before while brewing the beans and how I bent over to inhale the aroma, which had sidetracked the conversation in a nice way. Such as it is with Swann’s Way. Details are departure points.

Lydia Davis translated this novel in 2003, an update to the 1922 Moncrieff version (that I even know this proves how clever I have become in inventing ways not to read the novel itself). I would like to report that “hers is better” or some such dribble, but I have not (and will not) compared the two. I read the Davis Madame Bovary two years ago and again, without comparison to other versions, liked it on the basis that it read well, not because it trumped another translator’s efforts.

Where am I going with this? Social media-era attention span at work here. Oh yes, the writing. Proust, when he’s not submerging you in a hundred miles of descriptive text, will often throw up his hands and point to a work of art. Of Swann’s driver, Remi, the reader is simply referred to the following painting, to whom, he says, Remi bears a resemblance. Naturally, I knew this painting already–could have drawn it freehand using only my imagination. But for you dear reader, I post the image via one I found on the internets.



Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan by Giovanni Bellini
Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan by Giovanni Bellini

Words? Here’s a thousand. It does sum up a character nicely though.

If you wish to track my progress, I’m keeping it updated on Goodreads:




One Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: