Reading Proust in Book Club

Reading Proust in Book Club

My book club, like most book clubs, has shifted its membership over the years. When I was invited to join, there were at least a dozen members. Now we are six. Several folks moved away, and a couple passed away. We made a declaration to keep going.

During one of our most doubtful periods, and at the loss of another member, someone asked: Has anyone read Proust? These are really bright people. We do have one man in the group, so I cannot say “bright women,” but these are not readers of best sellers or pop fiction. We are serious readers. And yet, not one of us had ever read Proust.

So, we agreed to read one volume of Proust every other month. In between, we would read something else, to be determined, but something not so dense. And so, we began, not without some trepidation, to undertake this venture.

Not for lightweights

A stack of Proust books in the author’s library (PHOTO BY AUTHOR)

We have discovered that reading Proust takes wherewithal. As you can see in the photo above, if one wants to read Proust and gain a bit more from it, there are many books and articles written about Proust, about reading Proust, about sections of Proust, about history in Proust, about what is fact and what is fiction in Proust, about how he blends real figures in history together to form one character, paintings in Proust…and on and on. Just “Google” Proust at your leisure for the fun of it, and you will see what I mean. This is not reading for lightweights. I’m sure it’s not reading for some heavyweights as well. For someone like me, who can admit to bingeing on Netflix, this is a real time commitment.

Just prior to the first meeting, emails went back and forth: I don’t know if I can finish in time. I have 200 more pages to go. Don’t worry, I haven’t finished either. Well, the day came, and if memory serves me right, we all arrived with somewhat smug satisfaction. We had done it!

A tight little enclave

Django and Proust (PHOTO BY AUTHOR)

We are now belted in for Volume IV. There are seven volumes in total. They run, on the average, from 700 to 800 pages. We had to tone it down to meeting about every six weeks instead of four to allot enough time for everyone to finish. Would I have done this on my own? Probably not. More than likely not.

Even though my husband has quite the library, and all seven volumes were sitting on my shelf. And although I do consider myself to be fairly well-read, a group of readers is needed to do it well. Reading Wilfred Bion on psychoanalysis took six and one half years in my psychoanalytic seminar. I imagine we will get through the remaining Proust volumes within another year. I think each one of us will consider this quite the accomplishment.

The great thing about this club is how close our little enclave has become. We have dedicated ourselves to this, and we are treading along this journey together. Even in the times when I feel I have had enough Proust for a while (after Volume III—which was a challenge), I am grateful to this amazing little group of readers who test me and help me to exercise an ever-shrinking brain. I’ve been in a number of book clubs, but this one is most definitely the best. Many thanks to all of you!!

And when we meet at my house, Django invariably joins us.

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