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Marcel Proust

Thoughts on Reading Proust Again

In 1981, when a revised English translation of Remembrance of Things Past was published in hardcover in the United States, I bought a massive, three-volume set of what was said to be the greatest novel ever written. (And also the longest.) A friend of mine had been reading it in an older edition around that […]

Weekend Read: How Proust Can Change Your Life

This weekend, I’m re-reading a little book that I’ve found very enjoyable: How Proust Can Change Your Life, by Alain de Botton. De Botton is a Swiss writer who lives in the UK and writes in English; I consider him to be a “popular philosopher.” He has written books about philosophy, travel, business and work, […]

Marcel Proust in Audio

A la recherche du temps perdu, in audio, on 111 CDs (in French)

Buy from Amazon FR

I’ve long been a fan of Marcel Proust, author of A la recherche du temps perdu (or In Search of Lost Time, in English). Last year, a French publisher released a complete audio recording of this extraordinary novel, on 111 CDs, read by 6 well-known French actors. It clocks in at just over 148 hours, and I have been enjoying listening to these recordings in recent weeks. I’m not listening to it all at once, but rather one section at a time. The length and complexity of this work is part of the charm that makes this one of the pillars of French and world literature.

Since most of my readers don’t speak French, you might want to check out an English version, such as the 39-CD abridgment by Neville Jason. This is a good start, while waiting for Naxos (the publisher of this audiobook) to release a complete version in the near future.

If you’ve never read Proust, you might want to try the only part of this epic novel that is really a stand-alone section, Un Amour de Swann. In English, you could start with Swann’s Way , the first volume of the series. This is a great novel of decadence and passion, written in an inimitable style.

For some biographical information–after all, Proust’s novel was, to a large extent, about himself–you could try the excellent biography by William C. Carter, or an interesting audio biography by Neville Jason (included in the 39-CD set mentioned above). Finally, Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life is an unexpected approach to this dense work, while Roger Shattuck’s Proust’s Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time is a more conventional introduction and guide book to the novel. No matter where you begin, though, Proust is the kind of author you may end up adopting for life.

The First Read of the Year 2008: Proust’s Correspondence

Back in 2006, I wrote about the first book I read for the year, with the intention of doing so each January first. But I forget to write about this for the past two years. Let me then tell you what my first book is this year.

For starters, you should know that my TBR (to-be-read) pile contains, most of the time, about 200-300 books. So choosing what to read can be quite a conundrum. Sometimes I just take the most recent book I bought, which is at the front of the pile (which is actually a whole bunch of piles on a big, deep shelf), and sometimes I sort through my books to find something I had forgotten I had. This year, I was cleaning up a few books I had taken in my bedroom (on my auxilliary TBR pile), and found a couple of books about Proust, including a paperback edition of some of his letters (in French). I thought that would be an interesting book to begin to start the new year.

Proust is one of my favorite authors. I have written about an audio recording of A la Recherche du temps perdu, his long “novel”, which is really a seven-volume masterwork; I’ve written about Who’s Who in Proust, a guide to the many characters in this work; and I’ve reviewed a biography of Proust in French. I’ve read La Recherche three times: once in English, and twice in French, and am currently in the middle of listening to an audiobook version (one volume at a time, each one separated by a few months). I’ve read several books about Proust, including biographies and critical studies. You could say I’m a Proustian, or a fan of Marcel Proust.

But I had never read his correspondance. I very much like learning about my favorite authors, reading biographies, but especially their journals and correspondance. Not only do you learn more about their lives, but you also read the way they wrote when they weren’t writing literature. For the great writers, it’s just as much of a pleasure to read such texts. The book in question is a short paperback, containing some 100 letters, giving only a glimpse of his voluminous correspondance. I have another book, which is much larger, but even that is just a taste of his letters. The real mother-lode of his correspondance is the 21-volume set edited by Philip Kolb, an American scholar, whose final volume was published in 1993. (Hopefully, some day there will be a Pléiade edition of these books.)

It’s worth noting that there’s only one old edition of Proust’s letters published in English , aside from, perhaps, isolated letters or fragments in books about Proust. As a translator and fan of Proust, perhaps, one day, I can translate some of them. It would be a huge pleasure to translate this author who is one of my favorites, and whose style is among the most intricate and beautiful in the French language.

Book Review: Marcel Proust by Jean-Yves Tadié

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

Buy in French from Amazon.fr: Volume 1 and Volume 2.

[Note: I wrote this review back in 2000, and just stumbled on it. I haven't edited it, other than correcting a few infelicities in the writing. I read this book in French, and the review discusses the book's content, not its translation.]

I was expecting to read a real biography of one of the 20th century’s greatest authors, but it turned out to be a long book of little more than intellectual masturbation.

I find some of the pre-publication comments on the Amazon.com site quite perplexing– “critically acclaimed, best-seller in France…” Critically acclaimed, for this sort of book, means only that the author’s friends, and his publisher’s hirelings, wrote excellent reviews of the book–in France, it is all too common to see reviews written by writers who publish or act as “series editors” for the same publisher as the book they are reviewing. Unlike in the US, where reviewers are independent, at least in some periodicals, these reviews are nothing more than advertisements. And best-selling, well, that is of course relative. Having worked in a French bookstore for several years, and being involved in publishing in this country, I know that this means only that the book sold better than expected. When you read the term “best-seller” in English, you tend to think of such books as Tom Clancy or John Grisham, and I can imagine that this biography sold nowhere near one tenth, even perhaps one one-hundredth of what those books sell in France.

Book Notes: Who’s Who in Proust

Buy from the author’s web site | Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

Yes, dear reader, it’s been Proust season lately here at Kirkville. You may have spotted my article about listening to a French audiobook of Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, as well as a review of a biography of Proust. I’m a Proustian, and have read the novel several times, first in English, then in French, after I came to France. It is, for me, one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century, and deserves to be read by all. The former article has links to suggested books about Proust, both in French and in English, so if you’re a Proustian, or just curious, you should check it out.

But today I want to talk about a small book that Proustians will find invaluable: Who’s Who in Proust, a guide to 50 of the main characters that appear in Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time (or Remembrance of Things Past, the title of an earlier translation).