Every spring, on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, my sister Elizabeth and I talk about our yearly resolution to “Design your summer.” (You can listen to us talk about this theme in episodes 27, 67, 118, and 224.)
This resolution was originally inspired by this passage from a writer I love, Robertson Davies:
Every man makes his own summer. The season has no character of its own, unless one is a farmer with a professional concern for the weather. Circumstances have not allowed me to make a good summer for myself this year…My summer has been overcast by my own heaviness of spirit. I have not had any adventures, and adventures are what make a summer.
— Robertson Davies, “Three Worlds, Three Summers,” The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies
This passage inspired me to make sure that every summer has some sort of adventure (what I consider adventure). For this summer, I wanted the “Summer of Proust”—also an item on my “19 for 2019” list.
For years, I've been meaning to read Remembrance of Things Past, also translated as In Search of Lost Time by Proust, a multi-volume work published between 1913 and 1927 that's considered one of the great masterpieces of the last centuries.
But while I wanted to read it, I never felt like reading it now. Much as the White Queen said to Alice, I always thought, Proust yesterday, Proust tomorrow, but never Proust today.
Partly because I knew that once I started, I wanted to read all the novels in quick succession. So I had to have a clear path.
Partly because the opportunity cost was great—once I started reading Proust, it would mean a lot of books I wouldn't be able to read until I was finished. And these are long, dense, slow-read novels.
I decided I need to make reading Proust into a kind of adventure or undertaking. I do love a PROJECT (like The Happiness Project). That's when I decided to make it a “Summer of Proust.”
I prepared myself by reading Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life and Andre Aciman's The Proust Project. I'd already read my friend Caroline Weber's Proust's Duchess (but I read it before I'd read Proust, so now I want to re-read it). After some debate, I decided to read the Moncrieff translation.
And now I've completed my Summer of Proust. I've read the seven novels that make up Remembrance of Things Past. Only the first four—Swann's Way, Within a Budding Grove, The Guermantes Way, Sodom and Gomorrah—were published during Proust's lifetime, and completed by him. The last…