The wisdom of Marcel Proust
When I was young, and benefited not only from a fresh and eagerly absorptive mind but also from a strong belief that an eternity of life stretched in front of me, I loved to read big books, books of immense length. I read Charles Dickens – Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, to mention just three of his monsters. I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina. I read Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain. I read James Joyce’s Ulysses. I hardly remember any details of these massive works of the literary art though I like to think that their insights and truth-perceptions became over time inextricably part of how I, in brain and heart, react to life and people.
Now that I am old, and suffer not only from a weary mind but also from an acute awareness that life certainly does not stretch into infinity, I no longer read big books. In fact I quite strictly limit myself to books which are under 300 pages long and much prefer those under 200 pages. Exceptions I have made are Robert Skidelsky’s magisterial biography of John Maynard Keynes and Edmund Morris’s equally magnificent biography of Theodore Roosevelt, 1600 pages long in two volumes. It will tell you how marvellous I consider these books to be when I say that they were worth every single unit of time, by far the most valuable of all currencies, which I spent reading them.
I did not mention by far the biggest of all the big books I ever read. This was Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. The complete modern edition of this masterpiece is 13 volumes, 4,000 pages, long. Proust began …..To continue reading, login or subscribe now.