‘Missed connections’ of a book lover

Image By: By Angel Lee

It’s like this: Proust was walking one way up the street and I was walking one way down the street. We’ve got plans, each of us, busy schedules. But our eyes meet. We recognize each other. I say “Hi.” He doffs his hat—he doffs something, at least—but I stop him. I’ve got a terrible habit of this, sometimes.

I’m acquainted with this guy, I wanna get to know him better, but I chose the wrong time, the wrong venue. And poor Proust here is checking his pocketwatch or arranging his handkerchief or retwirling that impeccable moustache of his. I finally realize it’s to our detriment, standing in the street like this, trying to strike up a momentous conversation. So it trails off.

But Proust—gracious Proust!—he wants me later. He says we’ll meet at a cafe sometime. Or grab some drinks. Until then, adieu, adieu. And he turns the corner.

That was the week before spring break started, adapted from the classic life of Sean Reichard. Okay, it’s not Academy caliber, but I work with what I got, and baby, I got… something.

Anyway, sidelining the sidetrack, not finishing books! I’ve written about it before—and I just know you’ve all experienced it before. But this, I feel, is a particular facet of that experience worth exploring.

The gist of that opening story was this: I decided, against my better judgment, to start reading Marcel Proust in the middle of the semester, which is less a flight of fancy and more an intellectual triathlon. And let me tell you, I didn’t have the cleats for it. Sports, amirite?

To give you some perspective, Marcel Proust’s big thing is his seven volume novel “In Search of Lost Time” or “A la recherche du temps perdu,” for you Francophiles in the audience—instead of clapping, be sure to rattle your brie and Camus—and with each volume measuring up somewhere around 600-800 pages a pop, it’s a lot to just pick up all at once.

Well, I picked it up. And effectively threw out my back. It took me a week to get through half of “Swann’s Way,” and it probably would’ve been another week (at the most) to finish it. So, two weeks a volume x seven volumes in all = way too long to be spent reading Proust fitfully.

It was like an awkward tete-a-tete in the street, salvaged only by the realization that, unlike photons, books don’t whiz off randomly when you aren’t paying attention to them. They probably don’t move at all, for that matter; the land speed record of any given book evens out somewhere around a neat zero miles per hour. But what of flight speed record? That’s a column for another day.

I was wholly unprepared to be reading Proust alongside all the other stuff I need to do for school (read, fret, rinse, and repeat) and work (ibid) and The Daily Cardinal (ibid). Maybe I’m just a person susceptible to such phenomena, but I certainly chose to read Proust at the wrong time.

But can this sort of thing happen to anyone? Of course it can. Did you ever try picking up some book in middle or high school in an attempt to look intelligent (I’m lookin’ at you, pseudo Randophiles, oh that sounds dirty)? Did you pick up some precious, hoarded chestnut you’d been saving for your next long weekend or family vacation, only to find that you weren’t in the right frame of mind to be reading? Did you, ‘gasp,’ enroll in a class here at UW that’s having you read something so heinously difficult or boring that you’re considering dropping that English major like a hot potato and entering the exciting world of selling frozen yogurt from a cardboard box and softly weeping? Hey, it’s either that or applying to the Business School.

In short, books can come to you at the wrong time, when you’re too busy with stuff and it can suck. It can be a major bummer. The only advice I can give, really, is to keep your chin up. It’s not the end of the world.

Did this column rattle your Camus? Be sure and tell Sean at sreichard@wisc.edu

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