Overrated Classic: Swann’s Way
via barnesandnoble.com, Vectoroller/shutterstock
Some critics call this heavily autobiographical French novel based on Marcel Proust’s childhood at the turn of the 20th century “unquestionably the best novel ever,” but we draw the line at paragraphs that run on for more than a page. Not to mention sentences so complicated, you practically need a map to get from one end to the other. And how long are you willing to listen to anyone go on about a shell-shaped cookie dipped in tea? (Those are Proust’s famous madeleines.) For more readable books about France around the same time:
- Cheri. “Never once had her young lover caught her untidily dressed, or with her blouse undone, or in her bedroom slippers during the day. ‘Naked, if need be,’ she would say, ‘but squalid, never!'” French writer Colette’s masterpiece about a worldly wise professional mistress whose cougarish affair with a spoiled, much younger man is bound to end in heartbreak for someone…but whom? Colette herself led a fascinatingly free-spirited life that included divorce and a stage career at a time when both were considered scandalous.
- A Moveable Feast. If you’ve always hated Hemingway’s terse sentences and macho heroes, you’re in for an exquisite surprise with this tender memoir of his Paris years, circa 1920s. When spring came…there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.” Hemingway was so young here, he was still on his first marriage. (He had four.)