Packing, Packing, Packing, and Peter’s Advice

My post this week will be an abbreviated, slightly different version of the usual musings, as I am now fully in the process of packing and getting ready to move to New York on Thursday (!!!). As a result, between runs to Marshall’s to get sheets and renting a U-Haul both my mother and I are terrified to drive into Manhattan, I am admittedly behind on my Proust. So, instead of trying to make some profound connection to my life this week (stay tuned for that once I move!), I’ve decided to take this opportunity to publish a list Nora and I have been meaning to share for several weeks now.

Peter, our beloved Comp. Lit. advisor at Hamilton, and the professor who teaches the Proust class every other year, called me at the start of this project to impart some words of wisdom, encouragement, and warning. He was very excited about our blog, but wanted to make sure we could get through the book together, without missing too much, or falling too far behind. It is his belief, as well as that of many Proust aficionados, that this is a novel one can only really read in a book group or classroom setting, as different sections appeal to different people, a great deal of nuance is implicit in the writing itself, and the sheer length is enough to deter any lone reader.

He is not entirely sure a book group of two will remedy this issue but, knowing how determined (or maybe just stubborn!) we both are, accepted our project, and gave us the following advice:

  • The books are long, parts can be very dull (especially certain party scenes). In a classroom setting, this is not an issue, as there always tends to be at least one student in the group who finds something of interest in a particular scene which everyone else disliked, but may be more slow-going as an individual effort.
  • Proust doesn’t really like anyone, and spends tons of time discussing what people wear, tak about, etc. Get ready for a great deal of description without a lot of action in certain parts.
  • We are allowed to skim sections (especially the party/description scenes), in order to get through the denser areas.
  • Most importantly, we should read the first pages several times, as they are super important, and some critics even think the entire novel is previewed/summed up in these first five or so pages
  • For that same reason, we should read them again when we have finished (so far off it hardly seems possible right now!)
  • Whenever something might seem funny, assume that it is (Proust has very dry humor)
  • Characters keep coming back over the course of the novel—never expect anyone to vanish entirely
  • The summaries at the end of each volume are helpful, but only once you’re done (don’t read them to preview, as they give things away)
  • The character index ( at the back is not helpful at all. it spoils the trajectories of the characters—don’t read!

So with these in mind, we continue to truck along (and, in my case, to truck up to Manhattan, all six volumes in hand!). More updates will come once life is less chaotic! Until then, enjoy the weekend.



College has been over for exactly two weeks now, and we’ve all scattered to our various destinations, back home or to new cities, struggling to put down roots and take up barely-paid internships as we strive to make some sense out of early-twenties limbo. Our particular brand of striving takes a more literary form: we (Nora and Maeve) graduated from Hamilton College (a picturesque, tiny liberal arts school in the rolling hills of Upstate New York) with degrees in Comparative Literature, and, having the strong conviction that we wanted to become writers but less of a sense of how this might happen, are attempting to make our way into the world of journalism. Having met in sophomore year, we’ve bonded over oxford commas and literary-themed drinks, shared many a mango brie panini in our student-run café, and have no desire to lose these connections after graduation.

Nora is from New York, and working for the summer as an Intern at a political newspaper in Washington, DC, interviewing congressional delegates and doing features writing for the publication. Maeve is still in Baltimore (her hometown) for the time being, but will move to New York City in July to work as an Editorial Intern for a photography magazine in Chelsea. Though we have moved to different cities and taken up (what we hope are) the beginnings of our adult lives, we will miss one another and (as unabashedly geeky as it sounds) miss our literary lives.

We got together in February of senior year, when upstate New York was still snowbound, and jobs and graduation seemed millennia away, and devised a plan to hold onto those parts of college which we loved the most, to stay grounded in one way even as our lives changed drastically in every other. In order to accomplish this, we decided, we would turn to Proust, the enigmatic, long-winded French author whose masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, is the longest novel ever written, and the subject of a course at Hamilton. We always wanted to take this class (despite the fact that the reading load is around 500 pages per week!), and have decided we should take on the challenge as part of our post-college lives, use it to connect to each other and literature, and write about it.

And so, without further ado, here is the schtick:

1. We will attempt to read, relate, and reflect on the entirety of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in the year following our college graduation. This amounts to 4,211 pages in a year, or roughly 81 a week.

2. In the process, we will continue to read, write, and engage in some version of a literary pursuit, making up for the absence of these things in our post-graduate lives, and

3. Most of all, stay in touch with both our college selves and each other, no matter where we end up, or what we end up doing.

Will too many nights of ramen (or, in Maeve’s case, gluten-free rice pasta) and the endless stretch of volumes get in our way? Will we reach September and realize that the hunt for real jobs takes precedence over nineteenth century Parisian parties and memories of madelines? Or will we prevail, finish the novel, find some connection to our own lives, and grow as both writers and friends?

At this point, your guess is as good as ours! Stay tuned—this will be an adventure.

—Nora and Maeve