Proust 101

For the next week, October 1st-7th 2009, the folks who brought you Patrick Alexander’s guide to Marcel Proust, Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time will host a series of 140-character “lectures” about Proust’s oeuvre on Twitter. The course will repeat on the week of the 8th. The press release includes the following grading component:

Picture 1We’re pretty sure the grading plan is fairly tongue in cheek, but the lectures might be fun, and perhaps might contain something a bit more substantial than the average, uh, tweet (ugh). More at Proust Guide. There’s also a chance to win free Proust stuff for those who participate in the Proust Questionnaire on Facebook, so check that out too. In the meantime, we got a kick out of this “Shocking Things You Didn’t Know about Marcel Proust” flier that came with the press release:


Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time — Patrick Alexander

Marcel Proust

In his introduction to his reader’s guide to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Patrick Alexander observes that “Except for those fortunate enough to spend several years confined to a hospital bed, a federal prison, or to be stranded on a desert island with their preselected library, few modern readers have the time to tackle a novel with more than three thousand pages, a million and a half words, and more than four hundred individual characters.” Alexander goes on to point out that “Proust’s novel is increasingly read only by professional academics,” a trend he describes as a “great pity.” Alexander wants you to be able to access all the philosophical insight and rich humor of Proust, and his book Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time makes a great starting point for doing so.

The first of the three sections that comprise Alexander’s book, “What Happens in Proust,” summarizes the seven novels that form Proust’s great work In Search of Lost Time (sometimes translated as Remembrance of Things Past). This is easily the largest section of the book. Alexander summarizes the novels, and contextualizes their themes against their historical and social milieu. Alexander’s second section, “Who’s Who in Proust,” will likely be most useful for readers trying to keep track of the many (many, many) characters in this opus. The final section, “The World of Proust,” situates Proust’s place in Paris, French history, and modern literature. As Alexander points out himself, the book will appeal to three types of readers: those who want to read Proust but are daunted, those who are currently reading Proust and wish for a guide to keep track of all the places and names, and those who wish to return to Proust.

Alexander’s project is ambitious, and guidebooks are always an iffy business of course. I found Harry Blamires’s The New Bloomsday Book, probably the most famous guide for James Joyce’s Ulysses, to be an interminable bore, whereas Joseph Campbell’s lectures on the same subject are indispensable. There’s really a fine balance to be achieved I suppose. I’m currently making my way through another big book (okay, not as big as Proust’s), William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, and so far,Steven Moore’s A Reader’s Guide to William Gaddis’s The Recognitions has proven to be a valuable resource when I need it. It manages to provide analytical insights and explications of all the many (many, many) allusions in Gaddis’s massive tome without ever being intrusive. Similarly, Alexander understands that a guide should never step on toes. His clean, lucid style is both humorous and realistic, and he’s never overly-reverential of Proust, but respectful at all times toward both his favorite author and his readers. Alexander’s real goal is not to paraphrase Proust, but, like all good critics, to try to get you to read the material. I never got past the first forty pages of Swann’s Way, the first book of Lost Time, but Alexander’s book makes me want to go back and give it another shot.

Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time by Patrick Alexander is available from Vintage books on September 22nd, 2009.

Back To School

I think I did a similar post two years ago. I teach, I gotta go back to school, the fall, the kids, blah, blah, blah. Anyway. I’ll try to get one proper book review out per week. I’ve got seven or eight really choice looking promo copies and galleys stacked up here, including new trade paperback editions of Marilynne Robinson’s Home and Per Petterson’s To Siberia. Vintage also has a really cool original by Patrick Alexander coming out in September; it’s called Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time and its subtitle, A Reader’s Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past pretty much sums it up. I’ve read the first 100 pages and it’s really great, and let’s face it, unless some kinda windfall happens where I can just read books all day, I’m never gonna get around to Proust, so, yeah, this’ll have to do. Proper reviews forthcoming, blah, blah, blah. (Even though William Gaddis’s The Recognitions ain’t gettin’ no shorter).

Waltz Rulz
Waltz Rulz

While I’m doing lazy reviews, let me just say that Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds is a glorious bastard of a mixed-up masterpiece. Christoph Waltz steals the show as SS Col. Hans Landa, but the real star, as usual, is Tarantino’s sense of cinema (whatever that means; c’mon, I was upfront, this is lazy reviewing). Plenty of folks have kinda sorta hated on (or outright hated on) this film, but I loved it. A revenge film about cinema posing as a Western faking as a WWII flick. Great stuff.


The last time I did one of these hacky “Back To School” posts, I brought up William Gibson for some reason–which gives me a good transition to this excellent steampunk photoset. While Gibson’s novel The Difference Engine (with co-author Bruce Sterling) is often cited as a progenitor of steampunk, many of the images in the set correspond to ideas Gibson put forth in his “Bridge Trilogy” — he envisioned a future of “organic” computers that some of these folks have gone out and made. I’d like one. Jeez, this is really bad writing, but, hey, back to school right. Like that Deftone’s song (yeah, I know the Deftones aren’t cool or hip or whatever, and I’ve never heard one of their albums, but M2 used to play that video all the time when I was in college 10 years ago and I thought it was pretty great).Cheers.