Dateland: On Not Reading Proust


If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time. – Marcel Proust

I always imagined myself as the type of person who would have read Proust by the time I turned 50.

I was reflecting on this recently while drinking a beer and watching The Real Housewives of New York. At the time I was wearing pajama bottoms, a torn t-shirt marred by food stains, and a mismatched pair of slippers. I happened to catch my reflection in the darkened window next to the TV. Disturbingly, I was not disturbed.

“So, this is how I turned out,” I said, lifting my beer in a salute to my reflection.

I turned 50 a few months ago without having read Proust. My younger self, who had quite lofty aspirations for me, would be mighty disappointed with my lack of follow-through on this and so many other dreams.

But you know what I have to say to my younger self: You can go straight to hell, you judgmental monster. You and your big ideas! You set me up to fail.

When did I have time in the past five decades to read Proust’s masterpiece, the 1.3-million-word In Search of Lost Time? I’ve been far too busy storming through life, setting fire to relationships, and pampering my pets. I’m lucky if I can steal a moment to read the back of a cereal box.

My 20s were confusing. My 30s were too much fun. I paid penance for my 30s with my 40s, which were just the worst. I really looked forward to turning 50. The traumas of my 40s had mostly been sorted out by my 50th birthday, and I saw nothing but blue skies on the horizon.

“I’ll have time to read and think,” I promised myself. “I’ll play chess and start a literary salon. I’ll stop using words like frickin’ and speak in complete sentences. I’ll no longer dread being dragged to the opera. I will be smart and sophisticated, and I will stop stumbling through life like a drunken toddler.”

Well, I’m a few months into 50 and not much has changed. My love life is once again in flux. I still can’t properly cook vegetables. And I spend far too much time dissecting the lowbrow antics of the Real Housewives, and far too little time discussing literature.

And, yet, I’m OK with it. Because there was something the younger me didn’t figure into her ambitious plans. Once you stop struggling against the tide of life, you just kind of float. And it becomes easier. You discover the pure joy of accepting who you are — food-stains, dim-witted amusements, and all.

Yet, old habits die hard. I can’t stop dreaming of a better me. I continue to set outrageous goals. For example, I’m learning to make donuts next weekend! I’m doing this for no other reason than it seems like a skill that will impress my friends. But, if I prove to be a failure at donut making, no worries! There’s a gourmet donut shop nearby and I can always pass them off as my own. My friends won’t care. They’ll just be glad I showed up with donuts.

And I haven’t given up on Proust. After the latest episode of Real Housewives ended, I logged onto Amazon and bought all seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time. Of course, purchasing the books isn’t the same as reading them. Still, I was pleased by my small effort, and happily returned to my louche lifestyle.

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