My big category is “being human“, generalising from myself and quoting accumulated wisdom-stuff about being human, and I am a big fan of “Being Human“, which ended its fifth and final series this week with a glorious happy ending which definitively ends it, and put a huge smile of delight on me. It was sweet, lovely and heart-warming.
I am ploughing my way through “The Prisoner”, volume 5 of In Search of Lost Time, and it is difficult. More than half of the book is one day, in which Marcel frets jealously about Albertine because she is out, and he does not know where she is or with whom, and manipulates her, and treats her monstrously, then goes out for an evening party with the Verdurins. Here is wit and insight, a real human being stripped bare with his insights and his blindnesses, and it is a struggle. He is impossible to admire, hard to like, and that matters to me. It makes reading a struggle.
I am rather a snob about fiction, and have interrupted The Prisoner for “The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood (upper-middle brow), “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K LeGuin (upper-middle brow unless you are completely prejudiced against speculative fiction) and the two Uplift Trilogies by David Brin. This is barely middle-brow. It is unashamed space-opera, even though he is a sometimes serious author with serious concerns in some of his science fiction: here, at one point aliens invade and the Resistance retreat to the jungles as guerillas, forsooth. It is great fun; though characters are one-dimensional, the culture of the Five Galaxies is beautifully realised, and there is discussion of the meaning of “Redemption”.
Atwood disappointed me. The book runs parallel to Oryx and Crake, in which she wiped out most of humanity after showing it in a nasty and brutish dystopia. I was hoping for new revelations to make the bleakness of the first book pale into insignificance, and found more of the same.
Why do I read Proust? I have no idea. There are moments of description which delight and amaze me, such as Bergotte’s last illness: Maddened by uninterrupted pain, to which was added insomnia broken only by brief spells of nightmare. Yet I know that in great part I am reading it in order to have read it, not out of snobbery so much as for my own self-image. I like to think of myself as the kind of person who reads Proust, and Bertrand Russell, and Montaigne. But I would far rather be immersed in the planet Jijo where the Jophur oppress the G’Kek, or in Honolulu Heights where decent people face terrible problems with courage, and win through.
What do I want to read? I am conflicted. I really want to manage my image of myself, for myself- I read Serious Literature because I am Keltured and Idiocated. I do. So I am still reading Proust, mostly in bored distaste but sometimes entranced; and I take long breaks on alien worlds. Well, I can. There are no rules about this.