Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How to Enjoy Climbing the Mountain

School! Started! Yesterday! Everything seems cool. Cool enough that I was too keyed up to get to sleep and this post was largely written around midnight. But ask me again in a month.

Also, I finished the first draft of the dreadful story on Friday. Yay! (I think I'll just keep calling it that, because calling it the Medjugorje story, while more accurate, is cumbersome.) I have another one in mind on which I'm hoping to get started this week, if the roofers stay over on that other part of the building and school doesn't swallow me up too quickly. Meanwhile, I'm plugging cautiously at the secret project, willing to give it up at any time if the spirit stops moving me.

I'm also about 200 pages from the end of the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past. I told Matt last night that I don't want it to be over. I've read 800 pages and I don't want it to be over. That there is a good book. Everything I try to say about why I'm enjoying it sounds very stupid, like I'm stoned or 15 years old or both. "It's...like...it's like reading life." But it is.

Matt always helps me to see my reading habits in new and interesting ways. After someone we know deemed me "well-read," a couple years back, I told him I felt uncomfortable with that term being applied to me. In an obscure 80s movie I like a lot, Theresa Russell says "Rich is hard. You never figure you're quite there." That's how I feel about well-read. I haven't read Tolstoy or Rushdie or Bill Bryson. It doesn't really matter whom I have read; all I'll ever see are the holes that keep me from being a complete reader. So Matt gave me a different term that I think is far more fair: experienced. I'm an experienced reader. Much better.

Last night he did it again. I was trying to figure out why I often like books I don't understand, when so many people don't, and he said that I don't read books in order to conquer. Some people read a book, especially a famous or hard book, in order to conquer the mountain, he said, but...then what? Did they see anything on the way up? He said that instead I climb the mountain to see the view on the way up. (This idea is apparently indebted to Robert Pirsig.) But I preferred his first sentence: I do not read to conquer. Sometimes, I told him, the books conquer me, in the best way. Those are the books I've loved most in the last few years - the ones that had totally overwhelmed me by the final page.

Just to derail this post back almost to where we began, I don't know who chooses the Proust quotes that are going to get framed and prettified like the above, but man are they ever not the same quotes I would choose. This is a sentence from Swann's Way about a snotty butler: 
"But the harshness of his steely glare was compensated by the softness of his cotton gloves, so effectively that, as he approached Swann, he seemed to be exhibiting at once an utter contempt for his person and the most tender regard for his hat." 
^ This Proust never gets enough attention. He is wickedly funny, and it's not a once-in-a-while thing. 

I won't have time for the second volume until December. I know I won't. But I will be so sorry to leave this world behind for a few months, even though I'm going to be hanging out with some pretty amazing literary company between now and then. Still. It's not the same mountain. Not the same view. 


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I didn't comment on this before, because it is such a thoughtful explanation of a way of reading, and a useful one.

That Proust quote, by the way, makes me want to rush off and read Dorothy Sayers again.

You may eventually convince me to read Proust.

Katharine Coldiron said...

Your life is so busy, though. Maybe you could quit your job and read Proust instead?

Also, credit Matt, not me, for the worthy philosophy in this post. :)