A Word In Edgewise: Reading As a Two-Way Street

Photo courtesy of BigStock/gorchittza2012
Photo courtesy of BigStock/gorchittza2012

Photo courtesy of BigStock/gorchittza2012

Under a recent Facebook photo of a wall of books was a caption asking (I forget exactly) whether people are still reading actual books. The replies ran from “Real books only!”” to “E-books, what a godsend!”

I wrote, “It doesn’t matter how you read, as long as you keep on reading,” adding that I loved real books, but put Chernow’s Hamilton on my Kindle for vacation instead of lugging the 800-plus-page reality.

I’m currently reading (and will be indefinitely) the first volume of Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. I read in French, real-book form, and, as a trot, it’s tucked on iPad’s Kindle, in French and English. If I’m stuck, I check the English or the French dictionary also on the iPad. With a million-and-a-quarter Proustisms, I need every bit of help I can get.

For a break last week, I picked up Alain de Botton’s engaging How Proust Can Change Your Life. It’s blurbed by the NYT as “A self-help manual for the intelligent person.” (A sure-fire marketing strategy.) Botton offers Proust’s advice on such topics as, suffering successfully, being happy in love, being a good friend, and—the eye-opener—“How to Put Books Down,” that renders such quibbles as preference for paper or electronics, superior library size, pale in comparison.

Proust does not dispute the value of the greats (for Marcel, John Ruskin), but the flaw, always, is that the author isn’t oneself. Proust declared, “It is one of the characteristics of great books… that for the author they may be called ‘Conclusions’ but for the reader ‘Incitements.’ We want answers,” Proust explains, “when all [the author] can do is provide us with desires… our own wisdom begins where that of the author leaves off.

“Reading,” he concludes, “is on the threshold of the spiritual life: it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it.” The competition, if there is one at all, must be interior; not, “Have I read more books than X,” but, “What has this book inspired me to do? Towards what far shore will it launch me?”

Whatever holidays Lavender readers may celebrate in the coming weeks, may they be happy ones, book-filled in whatever form you wish. Why dogmatize a pleasure?

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