Of Proust and Potter

Of potter and proustJesse Jarnow in Paste Magazine (illustration by Meg Hunt):

Once this birthday passes, I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’m not usually susceptible to believing wild generalizations, but preparing to turn 30 will have that effect on a dude. Recently, I fell for two in one week.

The first generalization—reading that a man reaches midlife crisis when he realizes he will never read Proust—was a throwaway line in an article I’ve since been unable to Google, an insignificant aside lodged like a popcorn kernel between the teeth. The second—Chuck Klosterman’s concern that, by not reading Harry Potter now, he was dooming himself to eventual cultural obscurity—suggested that I should fear the J.K. Rowling-weaned generation like a robot army.

The rest of this project came down to math. I’m 29, equal distance between high school and 40. There are seven volumes in each set, providing three months of potential beach/subway reading. A distant latch seemed to click: a plan to simultaneously stave off obsolescence and depression by reading 7,202 pages, alternating volumes, in a couple months’ time. But at the end, what? Preparation for my 30s? Transformation? Some sort of silky chrysalis sack for my roommates to clean up?

The first thing I learn is that it’s impossible to read Marcel Proust while listening to baseball on the radio. Since my dream of chipping away 50 pages every day revolves around digging Proust in the cool of the evening during a ballgame broadcast (a slow, pleasant rhythm that usually doesn’t prevent me from reading), this gets us off on the wrong foot, Marcel and me. His sentences are just too long—often half a page or more—and too easily tangled with the early-summer trials of a beleaguered bullpen.