NYR

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Tim Sandlin

GET UPDATES FROM Tim Sandlin
 

Proust and the Hernia

Posted: 01/20/2014 11:04 am

I've always read the Fat Classics -- the books people discuss at parties where they serve cold fish, the books most of the ones doing the talking haven't actually read -- on the toilet. I am one of the few college graduates who can boast of reading all 780 pages of Dostoevsky's The Idiot with my pants down. Can you say that? Portrait of an Artist of a Young Man. Don Quixote. When the books were fast moving, so was I. When the books dragged . . . you get the point. I read 450 pages of Tristram Shandy before it dawned on me I wasn't getting a thing from the book. This particular toilet experience was an outhouse in the Gros Ventre Mountains, so Tristram dropped down the hole.

I shall live and die without having read Ulysses or Moby Dick. Sorry fans of literature. I'd rather read all 57 Jeeves and Wooster novels by P.G. Wodehouse. It's starting to look like I'll pass on Harry Potter too, although with a 12-year-old daughter, that may change.

The Fat Classic I'm reading these days is Remembrance of Things Past (Snobs call it In Search of Lost Time, but God knows I'm not a snob) by Marcel Proust. You probably want to know why.

Three years ago I developed a pain in the groin and side. Sharp pain, like my little sister shoving a Phillip's head screwdriver into my gut. I thought the odds were good I was dying, but I didn't have insurance at the time, so I had no way to find out the truth. An American without insurance is in big trouble, and, due to long stories of betrayal from New York and blatant ageism from Hollywood, I found myself on the wrong side of the statistical tracks.

Anyway, I decided I'd read Remembrance of Things Past. It was one of those goals people make of things to do before going to the Great Whatever -- such as learning ancient Greek or making love to Linda Ronstadt. Mine happens to be reading certain books. My other reason, which was even more important, is that I knew for certain I would never die in the middle of a book. Others may, but I'm not about to bite the big one until I read The End of whichever story I'm consuming at the moment.

Remembrance of Things Past comes in seven volumes and I figured, with time out for recreational reading, it would take a year to read each volume, so I had just given myself seven more years to live. Makes perfect sense to me.

I'm mid-way through volume three now, and, believe it or not, I'm enjoying the book. It's kind of like a 1,200-hour riff by John Coltrane. I get moving on a sentence and three pages later I have no idea what the sentence is about or where it's going. The words flow over and through me like jazz in the rain. Every 200 pages or so a phrase will jump out hit me like a maul to the deviated septum. Examples: "Happiness can never be achieved." Or how about this one: "One lives rather uncomfortably when regret for the loss of another person is substituted for one's entrails."

(Have any of you English majors out there noticed Remembrance and Harry Potter are both seven volumes and each volume of Harry is almost exactly the same number of pages as the corresponding book in Remembrance? Can that be random?)

With most books, I finish a chapter before I set the book aside and drift off to sleep. With R of TP, at first I tried to find the end of a paragraph or at least stop at a period. I've long since given up that dream. Many nights I crawl to the nearest comma and call it quits.

The pain turned out to be a hernia, by the way. It was nothing $10,000 and three days of pissing into a tube jammed up my pecker couldn't fix good as new.

P.S. Speaking of urination, here's something I discovered about a minute ago. When the air is quite choppy, it is difficult to pee in an airplane john. Not unlike pissing off the side of a canoe going through rapids. I guess it's a guy thing.

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

Loading Slideshow...
  • THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker

    Walker (In Love and Trouble, Meridian) has set herself the task of an epistolary novel—and she scores strongly with it. <a href="https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/alice-walker/the-color-purple/" target="_blank">Read full book review ></a>

  • ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST by Ken Kesey

    This is a book which courts the dangers of two extremes.<a href="https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ken-kesey/one-flew-over-cuckoos-nest/" target="_blank"> Read full book review ></a>

  • TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

    A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. <a href="https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/harper-lee/to-kill-a-mockingbird/" target="_blank">Read full book review ></a>

  • THINGS FALL APART by Chinua Achebe

    Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre. <a href="https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/chinua-achebe/things-fall-apart/" target="_blank">Read full book review ></a>

  • LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding

    A fantasy is a singular - and singularly - believable spellbinder, and within the framework of its premises achieves a tremendous impetus and impact. <a href="https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/william-golding/lord-of-the-flies/" target="_blank">Read full book review ></a>

  • INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison

    An extremely powerful story of a young Southern Negro, from his late high school days through three years of college to his life in Harlem. <a href="https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ralph-ellison/invisible-man/" target="_blank">Read full book review ></a>

  • FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS by Ernest Hemingway

    This is good Hemingway. <a href="https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ernest-hemingway/for-whom-the-bell-tolls/" target="_blank">Read full book review ></a>

  • THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by Zora Neale Hurston

    I loved Jonah's Gourd Vine — thought some of her short stories very fine — and feel that this measures up to the promise of the early books. <a href="https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/zora-neale-hurston/their-eyes-were-watching-god/" target="_blank">Read full book review ></a>

  • GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell

    Don't sell this as primarily a novel of the Civil War. Sell it rather as a novel in human emotions against the background of the Civil War and its aftermath. <a href="https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/margaret-mitchell/gone-with-the-wind/" target="_blank">Read full book review ></a>

  • TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Again an author who has built up a more or less established market, and his non appearance (in book form) over a period of several years, has stimulated interest in this first full length work since the publication of The Great Gatsby. <a href="https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/f-scott-fitzgerald/tender-is-the-night/" target="_blank">Read full book review ></a>

 
FOLLOW BOOKS