Why we long for long novels.
Today's guest blogger is my well-read and thoughtful friend, Gene Downs.
Bill Cosby once appeared in a magazine advertisement for a self-taught speed-reading course. The ad included a photo of the comedian sitting in a wingback chair and weeping elaborately into a handkerchief as he read War and Peace.
For many people, Tolstoy’s tome is the ultimate literary challenge. Dense, deeply philosophical, Russian and — most of all — really long (nearly 1,300 pages in the highly praised new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which is on my wish list for Santa), War and Peace looms large and disappears into the clouds of our imagination, as beguiling and unattainable as the peak of Everest.
But there’s something about big, fat books that can be very appealing, especially during winter. That is what drew me to read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in 2003. It was, admittedly, a challenge. Adapting the 100-pages-a-week plan that once served me well in tackling Tolstoy, I resolved to read eight pages of the C.K. Scott-Moncrieff translation of the Proust each day, starting on January 1 and finishing on October 11.
It is not the type of plan that lends itself to attentive reading. There were late nights when I literally propped my eyes open with my fingers and slogged blindly through the requisite eight pages. There were days when I would reach the end of the eighth page and find that the sentence carried over to the next page and the next and the next, with no end in sight.
All in all, however, it got me through, conquered my fear and paved the way for another, more thoughtful reading tentatively scheduled for 2010.