Once, long ago, I decided that I would one day read Proust. I had some vague notion that doing so would mean one was truly “well-read,” and being considered well-read was one of those things that seemed important. (“Not being a pompous ass,” a somewhat more vague notion, was apparently less so.) Marcel Proust went on my literary bucket list.
Around a year ago, one of my very good friends came for a visit and told me he’d started “Swann’s Way.” That was reason enough for me to tick “read Proust” off my “to do” list. Lo these many months later, any time LOOG chum Jaybird asks “what are you reading?” it’s always the same for me. Proust. I’m finally within spitting distance of the end of “Within a Budding Grove,” and then I will finally take a break.
It’s not that the books aren’t enjoyable. Parts are drily hilarious. His social observations and insights are impeccably detailed and show an amazing understanding of human psychology. I am often astounded by some amazing passage that expresses something true about people, and in a gorgeous way.
And then there are the pages and pages and pages of exquisite, finely-wrought musings on the position of a mirror, or the afternoon light in a seaside hotel room, or a bunch of hawthorns. Those passages make me want to shoot myself in the face. My eyes glaze over and I have to shake myself awake, then remind myself that he’s rhapsodizing about, say, a chair. On and on and on about it. And on and on and on. The wonderful parts, about the way a beautiful woman walks down an avenue or makes jokes at a party, are wonderful enough to make the tedious parts worthwhile, but only just barely.
So this week’s question is actually sincere — what have you read or done that you knew was edifying, and that you enjoyed on some level, but was also tedious or laborious? It has to be something voluntary, that you stuck with through your own choosing.