I can hardly wait for next week. Not just because my semester will have dragged itself to an inglorious end, but because I finally get to dive into Proust and Cervantes. Moreover, a new collection of essays by Anne Fadiman is coming out in May, as is Michael Chabon’s new work, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. I’m very excited about the latter book, in part because in my former life (and who knows, perhaps in the future) I was interested in researching the attempts to create a “Jewish homeland” in Birobidzhan under Stalin’s regime. So a Jewish settlement project based in Alaska, a mystery, and Yiddish jargon….what’s not to love?
Because of my aforementioned funk, I also decided to treat myself to a pick-me-up that involved ordering two biographies. This pick-me-up really kills many metaphorical birds with one stone! Not only do I get more bios on writers, but I feel like I’m one step closer to starting the books. Moreover, these two bios will give me some background to the works I’ll be reading this summer, AND I get a much-needed boost for my increasingly flagging spirits.
Where Proust is concerned, I’ve decided to order the biography Proust: A Life by Jean-Yves Tadie. It’s been described as the “definitive biography” and was a bestseller in France, where it was originally published. Although it vies with War and Peace in length (it checks in at 1016 pages), it nevertheless looks promising. I have not yet determined how many pages a week I’ll have to get through in order to accomplish my goal of reading all of Proust, but I’m sort of approaching this with the attitude that I would rather take my time, fail at the challenge, donate my money to a good cause, and enjoy Proust rather than rushing through and only giving him half of my attention.
Cervantes is a bit more difficult. There are not that many biographies in English and the fact that he lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries probably does not help matters. However, I have found a book to try. It’s called No Ordinary Man: The Life and Times of Miguel de Cervantes by Donald McCrory. While this book hasn’t been given the same rave reviews that Tadie’s bio of Proust has, it will nevertheless give me much more information than I have now. I sorely wish that I remembered the Spanish I learned so many years ago, for I would love to read Cervantes in the original, and there are more biographies available in Spanish than in English. But at the moment, although I can get the gist of what I read, I wouldn’t want to lose out on anything. The same goes for Proust. I have somehow managed to retain a 3rd year level of French (this, despite the fact that I never use it), but it would be a shame to inflict my lack of understanding on Proust’s masterpiece. But perhaps in the future I can try my hand at reading French at a much more basic level in order to get my fluency up and running. I’m attempting the same with Tolstoy (who is actually quite “easy” to read in Russian–this in comparison to Dostoevsky). My Russian babyshka has lent me Resurrection in Russian, so I’ll be reporting to her about my progress, or lack thereof, as I wade through the fascinating world of complex (and often deliciously long) Russian sentence constructions.
Now, the procrastination break is over and it’s time to get back to 19th-century American literature! Dred: A Tale of the Dismal Swamp beckons, albeit rather weakly, as does Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (which I read as a sophomore in high school, so we’ll see how it feels a second time ’round).