Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Books as calendars (Proust)

There are no days of my childhood which I lived so fully perhaps as those I thought I had left behind without living them, those I spent with a favourite book. Everything which, it seemed, filled them for others, but which I pushed aside as a vulgar impediment to a heavenly pleasure: the game for which a friend came to fetch me at the most interesting passage, the troublesome bee or shaft of sunlight which forced me to look up from the page or to change my position, the provisions for tea which I had been made to bring and which I had left beside me on the seat, untouched, while, above my head, the sun was declining in strength in the blue sky, the dinner for which I had had to return home and during which my one thought was to go upstairs straight away afterwards, and finish the rest of the chapter: reading should have prevented me from seeing all this as anything except importunity, but, on the contrary, so sweet is the memory it engraved in me (and so much more precious in my present estimation than what I then read so lovingly) that if still, today, I chance to leaf through these books from the past, it is simply as the only calendars I have preserved of those bygone days, and in the hope of finding reflected in their pages the houses and ponds which no longer exist.

Marcel Proust, "Days of Reading," in Days of Reading, translated by John Sturrock (London: Penguin, 2008), 49.
Days of Reading, from the third series of Penguin's Great Ideas paperbacks, reprints five short pieces from Against Saint-Beuve and Other Essays (London: Penguin, 1988), now out of print.

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comments: 3

TRH said...

I first read (and was bowled over by) The Brothers Karamazov late in an Autumn semester as an undergraduate.

Now, when I pick up the book to re-read part or all of it, I think of the first snows in the late Autumn in Madison, WI, the way the sky darkens early in the afternoon, & the way that bare tree branches look against a snowy sky.

Michael Leddy said...

Beautiful, Timothy. Your description makes me remember reading Four Quartets in similar weather.

Genevieve said...

This quote reminded me of the nights in my childhood when I read in bed with the flashlight, long, long after my light was turned out.