Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It was with eager anticipation that I intrepidly opened the cover to Marcel Proust's Swann's Way last summer, the first volume of seven that comprises his life's masterwork, In Search of Lost Time. Though 3,000 pages divided evenly into seven chunks seems like a manageable feat, it is proving to have an effect on my reading schedule similar to that of an El Tarasco's burrito on my sensitive digestive track; for though I thoroughly enjoy the novel and am already benefiting from the portion of it I have read, its unwieldy size has thrown my strict reading regiment off its tracks, and therefore the rest of my carefully intertwined life with it.

It is not the actual text that is the problem- on the contrary, I find his prose to be both fluid and constantly amusing. My trouble, unfortunately, is with the binding. My original plan was to read the entire novel before the end of 2006, in what was just under a span of six months. This schedule appeared, at first, to be far too generous as after the first two volumes I was on a pace to wrap it up in a matter of weeks. Reading this novel was no chore--on every page was some truth that seemed so self-evident; something I had always known but simply not thought until M. Proust brought it to my attention. One could say that, despite its tremendous heft, this book was far easier to pick up than to put down. Unfortunately (my reading speed being inversely proportional to the size of the typeface on the page) I opted, for the third part, to go with a larger print edition. Just like a boxer who performs only as well as his opponent, I made my way through it with the casual attitude of the average glaucomic septuagenarian.

The unfortunate result of this, besides a case of buyer's remorse, was that I spent an unjustifiable time on this one book and had held up the line of those waiting to be read. It did not seem wise to give one author such an exclusive monopoly over my reading for such a long period so I made a decision to put his book on hold while I flirted with less garrulous writers. I'm sure many broken relationships can attest to the unrealistic scenario this is and, just as the two who decide to 'see other people for a while' are just wussing out on declaring a break-up, my decision was very close to an admittance of defeat.

It was after several months of Dostoevsky and film theory that I began to miss the warm humor and wisdom of Proust. By this time I was back at school and had a tough time fitting in all the reading that was required for my classes. But every evening or so, as I sat at my desk to revue my thesis budget or skim a chapter from my American Religion textbook, I'd catch of glimpse of the next, unread volume and get distracted by what revelations were contained within. If only I could manage both! Eventually, this desire got the better of me and, to the detriment of my midterm grades, I indulged in a few hundred more pages.

Christmas came, and with it a massive tome containing the remaining three volumes between one set of covers. It is a beautiful thing the behold--in fact I recommend taking a peak the next time you stop by your local Barnes or Borders. Printed with a tasteful art-deco design, the cover has a silvery lacquer that, when held up in from of my face, gives back the reflection of what it is really about. It is a triumph of affordable, trade-paperback publishing--a work of art in itself. But this beauty is also a curse: who am I to defile such a relic by reading it? I reach ever so gently to lift its stiff cover, but am repelled by visions of it being tossed and creased in my book bag, soiled with greasy fingertips and (worst of all) stained by the penetrating splatter of a spilt cup of tea, a destiny that seems to await everything I own. And if I were to sacrifice its beauty to satisfy my word lust, what would be the cost? I am not in a position to reorganize my academic priorities--I am hanging desperately enough now as it is. The last thing I need is another thousand pages to compete with the thousands upon which my grades depend.

No amount of pleasure can be worth the pain of seeing it on my shelf, scuffed and scratched, the pages bent and the spine covered in a thick patina of dust. And yet I feel that, though already once abandoned, the initial commitment is still binding. I have purchased several scores of books since I began it, but to touch them would feel like cheating. And so here I stand, trying to protect my treasure by denying it, teasing myself with what I am forgoing, and yet incapable of facing up to the possibility of disaster. As I write this it sits in front of me and I want nothing more than to run my finger along the edge of its pages, caressing each one before I turn it in a quick and violent snap. I do not posses the gift of foresight--I know not how this quagmire will end. But I can feel the resolution coming; this tension can not last for much longer. To read or not to read.

1 Comments:

Blogger Kali Fontecchio said...

YOur carnal urges for reading is amazing. I wish I had that- maybe I'd know more like you hahah.

1:30 PM  

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