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If the cares of this world have grown far too painful and youre thinking of becoming a junkie or born-again Christian, Id suggest that you take a less drastic step, and consider trying out Proust first, just to see how it grabs you. This is whats known in my business as a harm reduction approach: like addiction and religious conversion, hardcore Proust reading will suck up your time, alter your character, transform your life, and cause all your friends to hate you. Youll become completely obnoxious and will find yourself thinking and doing things youd never have thought you would, now that this single force dominates your whole life. But in the final analysis, the toll that recherching temps perdu will take on your functioning and personal relationships is considerably less than those associated with heroin addiction or Christian fundamentalism. Besides, reading Proust probably wont make you puke the first time, and its not incompatible with an abiding love of homosexuality or Darwins theory of evolution.... So if youre casting around, please, at least think of giving this it a shot. If the Proust doesnt do it, that other stuffll still be there for you to fall back on.Okay, so Swanns Way blew my fuses (in a good way) when I read it a bit over a year ago, then i really struggled with A lOmbre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs, which took me a really, really long time to read because I kept putting it down. So heres what I have to say about reading Proust: Dont put it down!! The reason Im comparing this to heroin addiction and Christian fundamentalism is that -- in my own personal experience, anyway -- one cant just casually read Proust. Its a real commitment. Its not an activity, its a lifestyle. Because if you put the guy down then come back after a few days, youre at risk of noticing all sorts of things that hadnt occurred to you before, like, The narrator of this novel is an odious fucktard!; or, The sentence Im reading is twelve pages long!; or, Ive just spent the last four weeks of my summer reading about fictional French aristocrats making asinine smalltalk! Total immersion in Proust really helps one maintain the fairy spell by ignoring all this, and keeps one safely rapt in the world of salons and carriages. Thats why Im glad I was lucky enough to spend May and part of June all alone in a luxurious cork-lined room, with a servant at hand to bring me cookies and little beet and celery root salads whenever I rang.... Okay, so once in awhile I did have to go out. However, I maintained an exclusive relationship with my darling Marcel by refusing to interact with the people I knew, and on rare occasions when duty did compel me to attend social events, embarrassing my friends by working compulsive Proust references into every conversation. The end result being: no one likes me anymore. But is this so terrible? Ive still got three more volumes!!! More time to read!Fine, okay: so why do I love this book so much?I remember there was a certain point in my development as a little person when I realized that magic just did not exist. I had to confront the fact that Id never be able to fly, and this first harsh reality was just the beginning. Each year I get older theres some new form of magic whose impossibility Im forced to wrestle with and ultimately submit to. These you just cant fly reality checks come in the form of lost opportunities, lost possibilities, and of course -- most crushingly and irrefutably -- lost time.For me, thats what this book is about. Its both the law and the loophole, brilliantly and impossibly the barred entrance and secret back door in, because what Proust is saying is that you cannot go back, but then just as he says that he does send you there, and thats why its great, thats the main reason. This book flung me back into time, into someone and someplace else, and in doing so lifted me out of my life and its sad limitations. I just read Brads review of Lord of the Rings, books Ive never read but which I know people love for Tolkiens success in creating a self-contained, separate world. In Search of Lost Time is a similar thing, though instead of elves and orcs, youve got homosexual barons and bourgeois strivers, and instead of Middle Earth theres Paris and hotels and the inside of Prousts brain. This is fantasy in the best possible sense of the term, a kind of transcendent escapism I could never get from opiates or speaking in tongues.Also, did I mention all the GAY SEX???? I never realized before reading this that Im actually an extremely snobby, rich, asthmatic gay man, but I really must be, since this all totally resonated and proved so fascinating. Another thing I really liked here and am not ashamed to admit is that since moving to New York Ive developed a lot of very expensive cravings that Ill never be able to satisfy; to me, Proust is the haute couture of literature, and it gratifies me enormously that while the tragic course of my life has doomed me to unglamorous schlumping around in H&M drudgery, nothing prevents me from hobnobbing in salons with the Duchesse de Guermantes while contemplating the rays of the setting sun against a gently gleaming seascape.... This is the book version of a priceless Parisian ballgown from the turn of the last century, and I got my copy for $1.50 at the Woodstock library book fair! Okay, so the previous owner had gone through and underlined all the gay stuff, but thats still a steal (and the timing was incredible: I came across it just as I was finishing Part II!). Literature really does have some democratic qualities....I can only give a book five stars if I honestly feel like it transformed my life. Reading this installed a new application in my brain which causes me now during idle moments to consider, WWPT (What Would Proust Think?)? This is probably most entertaining during social gatherings, but its a device that can entertain me in almost any situation. I will never be the same again, mostly in ways that are enjoyable to me (though again, and I cant emphasize this enough, possibly not to the people I know).I cannot in good conscience recommend this book to everyone across the board, because Im highly aware that theres a lot to hate here. I can actually think of more reasons why someone would loathe this than why someone would love it, and Im not entirely sure how I wound up in the latter instead of the former camp. I do think this is one of the greatest things ever written, though I dont know that Id especially want to argue that point with anyone. All Im really sure about is that I love it, and though I can name some appealing qualities, Im still not completely sure why this love is so strong. Maybe its because Im a ridiculous, pretentious snob who gets a kick out of reading something hilariously long and generally considered rarified? Or because I understand the pain of suspecting ones straight significant other of being secretly homosexual (hi, Brian!)? Maybe its because I really appreciate novels that couldnt be movies, that truly exploit the form to its limits? Or because I enjoy loving something I know I could hate, that wouldnt appeal to a lot of other people, or even to me at an earlier point in my life...? Or maybe because its so totally unlike anything else Ive ever read or loved? Yet so deeply engaging and astounding that I sometimes feel my whole lifes just prepared me to read and to relish this book...? Well, I dont rightly know! I just know that I love it, and that I cannot stop reading these things, despite their deleterious effects on my personal life. All I really want to do these days is read Proust, think about Proust, talk about Proust, etc.... somehow this hasnt really translated into an interest in writing about Proust, but I thought I should account for the last month of my life.Proust! AAGHH! FUCK!!!! Hes the greatest!!! One of the glorious tragedies of reading this is that its really destroyed my capacity to read anything else, because whenever I try Im just completely preoccupied by the knowledge that Im wasting precious time I could spend reading Proust instead. So I guess Ive got no choice at this point but to get through the rest of this, so that hopefully after that I can move on with my life... And by move on with my life I obviously mean, learn to read French?Onto the next one! Yeeeeehaw!

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