Dipping into Proust

51W1RQKCT9L._AC_US218_After laughing at Lisa Brown’s graphic cartoon on How to Read Proust in the Original in the New York Times Book Review, and then receiving a box of Sur la Table’s French Petite Madeleine Mix in the mail, I decided to have a “madeleine moment” reading Lydia Davis’ acclaimed translation of Swann’s Way.  

Proust is not easy to read, and Davis, a MacArthur Fellow, suggests a slow methodical pace in her introduction, letting the long sentences and heady phrases offer connections to one’s own experiences.  I remember reading the famous passage in my fourth year of high school French class, explaining the narrator’s fond recollections of his childhood days as he dips the madeleine in his teacup, but reading the entire book seemed too daunting; reading the seven volumes of Remembrance of Things Past would be unthinkable.  Better to learn the translations of Proust’s more famous phrases.

From Swann’s Way, the first book in the series, Lydia Davis offers easily understandable phrases to note – and remember:

“To get through their days, nervous natures such as mine have various “speeds” as do automobiles. There are uphill and difficult day which take an eternity to climb, and downhill days which can be quickly descended.”

Reading Proust cannot be rushed or taken in one sitting.  It could take years, if ever, but I like Davis’ easy translation, and the methodical rhythm of the prose –  better digested while eating a madeleine soaked in coffee.


The Proust Questionnaire – Adapted for Alums

Somehow they find you – no matter where you move.  Although I graduated from an ivy league some time ago, I recently received a survey in the mail from my alma mater, asking me to “share my thoughts”  and, of course, soliciting a donation.

My degree must be pretty rusty because I couldn’t come up with answers to all the questions.  Could you?

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?  (Is there a book?)
  2. What is your greatest fear?  (Why should I tell you?)
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?  (Are you kidding?)
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others? (Depends on the other.)
  5. What is your greatest extravagance? (You mean besides all the chocolate?)
  6. Which word do you most overuse? (Like…how would I know?)
  7. When and where were you happiest? (Are you fishing here for college days?)
  8. What is your most marked characteristic? (Is this for identification purposes?)
  9. What is your greatest regret? (Starting this survey…)
  10. What is your current state of mind? (Better, now that I’ve come to the end.)
I may have to reread Proust’s answers before they send the next one.

Related Information:  Proust’s Answers to Questions