Part One of my April 2020 Reading blog post covered the essays of Lydia Davis and Natalia Ginzburg. Read it here.
Apart from Ana María Matute’s The Island (reviewed here) the only other book I finished in its entirety in April was, I think, Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth volume of Proust. I started reading Proust last year, as my 2019 New Year’s Resolution, but stalled after finishing the third volume on my summer holiday. By October I’d abandoned the fourth volume. (I’ve been dating the passage where I leave off each day, as well as posting notes on another Twitter account, @ProustDiary.) I picked the fourth volume back up in March of this year, and finished it in April. I am now most of the way through the fifth volume, The Prisoner.
So: I am making good progress, but in fact lockdown hasn’t given me that much more time to read than normal. It’s not just that I am working, from home, but that reading, in a busy house of five people (two adults and three teenage boys) can sometimes be a hard activity to justify. Sitting with a laptop is work. Sitting in front of the television is generally a communal activity, and one that can bring the family together outside of mealtimes in a way that board games and jigsaws, because of particular personality types, can’t always do. Reading, apart from at bedtime, is likely to get you looked at strangely – more strangely, I’m afraid to say, than looking at your phone.
I have been enjoying Proust very much in parts, and drifting through others. Indeed, I felt particularly skewered by this aside in Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature:
To a superficial reader of Proust’s work – rather a contradiction in terms, since a superficial reader will get so bored, so engulfed in his own yawns, that he will never finish the book – to an inexperienced reader, let us say…
So let’s call me an inexperienced reader. Certainly, there have been plenty of bits where I have been bored, and irritated. Irritated by the fascination with the workings of society, and bored by the endless unfoldings, like a piece of eternal fractal origami, of the intricate inner imbrications of sometimes mundane psychological impulses. More on this later. Continue reading
It was as I was listening to BBC Radio 4’s 1993 ‘dramatisation’ of Ulysses last week that it hit me.
I had been listening as I worked – mindless computer work – and the quasi-ambient experience, with only half of my attention devoted to the audiobook, seemed rather to suit its style: protean, contingent and demotic. Its tide of impressions, internal and external, washed over me and back, and occasionally I had to pause the file, and drag back to a listen to a moment again.
But, when Molly Bloom, near the start of her soliloquy (beautifully performed by Sínead Cusack), said “getting on to forty he is now” I had to actually get up and physically fetch my copy of the book to check it.
What the fuck: Leopold Bloom is under forty?
What the double fuck: He’s younger than me?
This astonishing fact went against my most basic, never-articulated assumptions about the book. Frankly, it got me down. Continue reading