The First Read of the Year 2008: Proust’s Correspondence

Back in 2006, I wrote about the first book I read for the year, with the intention of doing so each January first. But I forget to write about this for the past two years. Let me then tell you what my first book is this year.

For starters, you should know that my TBR (to-be-read) pile contains, most of the time, about 200-300 books. So choosing what to read can be quite a conundrum. Sometimes I just take the most recent book I bought, which is at the front of the pile (which is actually a whole bunch of piles on a big, deep shelf), and sometimes I sort through my books to find something I had forgotten I had. This year, I was cleaning up a few books I had taken in my bedroom (on my auxilliary TBR pile), and found a couple of books about Proust, including a paperback edition of some of his letters (in French). I thought that would be an interesting book to begin to start the new year.

Proust is one of my favorite authors. I have written about an audio recording of A la Recherche du temps perdu, his long “novel”, which is really a seven-volume masterwork; I’ve written about Who’s Who in Proust, a guide to the many characters in this work; and I’ve reviewed a biography of Proust in French. I’ve read La Recherche three times: once in English, and twice in French, and am currently in the middle of listening to an audiobook version (one volume at a time, each one separated by a few months). I’ve read several books about Proust, including biographies and critical studies. You could say I’m a Proustian, or a fan of Marcel Proust.

But I had never read his correspondance. I very much like learning about my favorite authors, reading biographies, but especially their journals and correspondance. Not only do you learn more about their lives, but you also read the way they wrote when they weren’t writing literature. For the great writers, it’s just as much of a pleasure to read such texts. The book in question is a short paperback, containing some 100 letters, giving only a glimpse of his voluminous correspondance. I have another book, which is much larger, but even that is just a taste of his letters. The real mother-lode of his correspondance is the 21-volume set edited by Philip Kolb, an American scholar, whose final volume was published in 1993. (Hopefully, some day there will be a Pléiade edition of these books.)

It’s worth noting that there’s only one old edition of Proust’s letters published in English , aside from, perhaps, isolated letters or fragments in books about Proust. As a translator and fan of Proust, perhaps, one day, I can translate some of them. It would be a huge pleasure to translate this author who is one of my favorites, and whose style is among the most intricate and beautiful in the French language.