In these inspiring essays about why we read, Proust explores all the pleasures and trials that we take from books, as well as explaining the beauty of Ruskin and his work, and the joys of losing yourself in literature as a child.
Part of the challenge with Proust is finding plenty of time in which to become intimately involved with his approach to writing. This is my first reading experience of P. and his style is impressively immersive and made me feel nostalgic for places and a time I have never experienced.
Plenty of essays ramble on but P. prefers clear concise language whilst being able to digress at will, yet each meandering discovery the reader makes always – eventually – comes back to the original point but makes one feel richer for the detour.
It’s a joy to read, although it is understandable that Proust splits readers due to his technique. This reader had to change his mindset and learn to soak up the ambience of the prose, rather than feeling I was getting somewhere with plot or idea like I usually would. In that regard the first few pages were a grind but realising that the author was going to take his time puts the reader either resigns the reader to a long haul or to the appreciation of a slow meditation of life.
The book opens with an essay on John Ruskin’s contribution to the understanding and appreciation of art and architecture, especially inspired by Christianity. How art in general echoes its greatness (when it is) through the centuries and reaches to us emotionally, each example studied is a communing with antiquity. It’s a study of us as well as a celebration of what we can achieve through our own creativity.
The essays on childhood memories and in particular of reading books when the mind is still open to the most innocent wonder and imagination is gloriously evocative writing. Proust appreciates how rereading books brings forth a tangible memory of his formative years, he mirrors the echoing of art down the ages with thoughts, of ideas from our past that define modern life; not to mention timeless characters, books and the universal joy for all seasons and people.
For as long as reading is for us the instigator whose magic keys have opened the door to those dwelling places deep within us that we would not have known how to enter, its role in our lives is salutary.
Although apt to digress and with a sentence structure more eclectic but less confused than some of Dickens’ choicest pieces, so why make time for Proust when it is already in short supply with and book recommendations become more numerous by the day? The cogitation the reader is immersed in, is a vicarious living through the author and as an experience, it was something I hadn’t experienced to such a thorough level before. The above quote I have given speaks for itself in terms of quality and was one of many that I could have chosen to more than adequately illustrate the point.
Like all of the Penguin Great Ideas series it offers no introduction or notes(other than those written by the author, already included in the text), it is a cheap taster of some simply wonderful writing and although Proust won’t be to everyone’s taste, this short introduction won’t set you back much and will give you an insight into the kind of mind you will hopefully take the pleasure of exploring more thoroughly in the future.