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Proust: On Reading

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Monday, Nov 24, 2008
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Marcel Proust wrote a rather well-known work called In Search of Lost Time, published in France in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. Before he embarked on this masterwork, he wrote a magazine article called “On Reading” that was published in 1905 in Renaissance latine as part of his exploration of the personal importance of the experience of reading:


There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we believe we left without having lived them, those we spent with a favorite book.


Proust ruminates about the importance of time spent reading as a child, and the associations that come to exist between the stories that were read and the age when we read them. Whether the time was spent outside with family members at a picnic, or in one’s own bedroom or perhaps some secret spot, the setting where we first encountered some of our favorite childhood characters and tales continues to be important.


Coming across those same stories in our adult life, story details might be forgotten but there is still a good chance that some association remains between the content and the time when we first encountered it. Proust comments:


If we still happen today to leaf through those books of another time, it is for no other reason than that they are the only calendars we have kept of days that have vanished, and we hope to see reflected on their pages the dwellings and the ponds which no longer exist.


As an elementary school kid my nose was often stuck in a book. I remember creating a cushy nest in my oddly shaped closet, using all the extra pillows and blankets I could find to create a hiding place for myself and my pile of Trixie Belden books. Did you have a secret reading nook as a child? Does encountering one of the books or authors that helped shape your sense of the reading experience as a child bring you back to the time and place when you began to love stories?

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