I have a terrible time sleeping.
I get so little time for it that I can't believe it's a problem. I mean, you give yourself six hours to sleep each day...you'd imagine some of that time would be spent sleeping. But it isn't.
No, I spend the majority of that time lying awake, wondering why my one pillow ended up such a freaky shape when all the others are still pillow-shaped and why I can't find a good pillow, why good pillows always end up in hotels, why we never stayed in hotels when we were on vacations when I was a kid, why we almost never took vacations when I was a kid, why my dad is going to Colorado again--by himself, why he chooses to go on vacation without Mom when he can't stand her being at Walmart without him when he has any time off, usually...
And it continues in that manner until the point I get crazy sick of lying there, usually prompting me to take another dose of Tylenol PM or to turn on the light and read a little.
The other night, maybe Thursday? Yeah. Thursday. I'd had a particularly hard day, related to the security alarm and its going off.
So I took my dose of Sleepy-Time Magic and curled up in bed, but I felt like I'd just finished running a marathon, so I turned the light back on and grabbed a book, feeling my allotted sleep time ticking away.
The book I picked up was Proust's novel (part of it) Swann's Way.
Now, in my literary opinion, "classics" fall into four major categories.
There are the books that are classics because they are written well, have an exciting story, interesting story, or are meaningful to everyone at some stage in their lives. Therefore, fun to read.
There are the classics that are written fantastically and have influenced history with their social commentary in a way we cannot cast aside. We might not find them fun, but we can't overlook the effect they had, and that's interesting.
There are books that have become known for their effective portrait of the time in which they were written. So historically, fascinating. Worthy of being read.
And then, finally, there are books that are written well. They are perhaps written better than any other "classics." They are the best. Perfect books. Flawless. Masterpieces.
However, they are about something like...a girl deciding she can't stay at home anymore so she leaves, lives with her married sister, becomes a chorus girl, has liaisons with older men, then marries one of them who leeches off of her until she leaves him and he suffers until death.
Or the one about the girl who wants to have money, then gets it, so she wants to be an aristocrat, but the family she marries into has a name but no real money so she spends all that's left until she has an affair with a rich titled European man for fun and then leaves her first husband.
In other words, although they are terrific, they also suck.
I don't know what category Proust's novel falls into yet, but I think he was a jerk, back when he was alive, because this is how it starts:
"For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say "I’m going to sleep.'"
Yeah. Proust was rubbing it in my face.
Now I know that it is true that an Early-20th Century Dead Guy probably isn't reaching out from beyond the grave as an in-your-face move, to make me feel like crap because I can't sleep at night. I bet Proust didn't sit down to write his book, thinking ahead to when 21st Century Living Girls would read his book when they couldn't sleep and laughing because he knew that his opening line would make them feel like more of a Sleep-Failure than before, especially when said Early-20th Century Dead Guy wrote said novel in French.
In fact, I also know that Proust suffered from insomnia for a very long time. And, frankly, why wouldn't he? His life totally sucked. I mean, on a suck meter, his life would be on the Suckiest side, as far as possible from Hardly Sucky. So he couldn't have been mocking me with his sleep chapter. He was probably writing in an effort to put himself to sleep. And I bet he didn't. Because of the insomnia.
Or the asthma.
See, Proust's life sucked so completely that he had awful asthma before there was any treatment at all. The closest thing to a medical treatment when he was a kid was snake oil or inhaling mercury. Seriously.
So he couldn't go outside where there was grass or trees or flowers or people or houses or mold or dogs or cats or life of any kind. In fact, he couldn't really stay inside either.
He spent most of his adult life walled off from the world in a little soundproof room, sleeping by day and writing by night so he didn't have to sit around feeling bad about how other people had lives that he could see or hear.
Sound bad? There's more. He spent a year as a soldier failing, until he left, got a job at a bookstore, and then got a leave of absence so he could lie in bed being sick until they realized they'd been paying him for nothing for years.
Then, he moved back in with his parents and stayed in their apartment until they died.
To his credit, he didn't leave them where they lay and spend the remainder of his life pretending they were still around. He totally loved his mom, more than was normal at the time, so it could have happened. Psycho, anybody?
His parents left him enough money to allow him to never lift a finger again, which was good because he was about as sick as they come.
He was a total recluse. In fact he almost never left his little cork-lined rooms. Poor guy.
Also, he was homosexual.
The fact that we know this about him is very out of the ordinary for the time. He treated his sexuality far more openly than, say, Hitler. He dealt with the topic of homosexuality a great deal in his writings. We're talking major literary theme. So the literature major in me wants you to take note.
When I explained this to my father and brother, I finished the mini-biography by adding, "And wherever he went, war was sure to follow." Because that's the only way to lighten the mood after a story like that. This was in reference to the whole World War One thing, which happened when he was still alive. It also happened in Europe, where he lived.
I made them laugh. I am still laughing. Poor Proust. His life was awful. But, for the record, he was not one of the Four Horsemen. He was just a guy who made fun of me for not sleeping, just under 100 years ago. A guy I made fun of in my living room, because of WWI, which he had little to no control over.
But that's what you get when you're a dead author who can't defend yourself, and when your miserable two-paragraph-long summarized biography is a click away on the internet.