Reading and Premeditation

There are book bloggers I admire for their unfaltering dedication to a premeditated sequence of reading. Though I enjoy planning my reading, impulse often overtakes my carefully nurtured plans. This post is a corrective for me, an attempt to continue to read with some premeditation.

In November I stated:

Next year I plan to complete my immersion into Saul Bellow’s novels, read my unread Virginia Woolf novels and more of her diaries and essays, and read more deeply of Kafka’s non fiction. Also on my list is to sample more deeply the works of Cynthia Ozick, Thomas Bernhard, Robert Walser, Marguerite Duras and Peter Handke. I’m musing with trying once again to sustain a reading of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m also thinking it is time to reread Proust and Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, but we shall see. I hope also to discover a new writer or two from my Reading the Girls List.

In December I declared:

My plan next year is to read a lot more Woolf. I expect also to immerse myself into the literary output of Coetzee, Flaubert, Kafka and Bellow, each of whom, to different degrees, I am mildly obsessed with at present.

In January I asserted:

In my twenties and thirties I read (and in some cases understood) much more philosophy, and I intend to read more in this area this year, particularly keen to reread Kierkegaard. Of poetry, my ambition is to read Anne Carson more deeply and to tackle Wallace Stevens.

Further back, at the end of last summer I declared:

It is with Dangling Man I will start my Bellow immersion in the autumn. Inspired by Bibliographing’s Melville project, my intention is to read the fifteen novels, short stories, essay collection and Bellow’s memoir.

The year started as planned with some Kafka and Duras, but Simone de Beauvoir has commandeered my attention. Not just her writing but a posthumous influence that is leading me towards André Gide, Alain-Fournier, Henri Bergson and a rereading of Sartre. Along the way, I have adopted a desire to read all Nabokov’s novels and to tackle some Muriel Spark. There are also some choices of The Wolves that tempt me, starting with February’s Our Horses in Egyptby Rosalind Belben.

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

At the cusp of adulthood I became gripped by Jean-Paul Sartre and his theories of being. The idea that man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself’ liberated me. It is my foundation. After reading all of Sartre, inevitably I was lead to Simone de Beauvoir and Witness to My Life: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir 1926-1939 and Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre. Both are stunning and inevitably as much about Simone de Beauvoir as Sartre.

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is the first volume of de Beauvoir’s memoirs. At the age of fifty, de Beauvoir chronicles her early life from her birth to her student days at the Sorbonne. As she noted in her student diary, ‘I want life, the whole of life. I feel an avid curiosity; I desperately want to burn myself away, more brightly than any other person, and no matter with what kind of flame.’ This passion illuminates every page of this brilliant book. The perspicacity which de Beauvoir brings to the recollection of her childhood loss of faith and complicated relationships is breathtaking and insightful.

The sentiment that remains on reluctantly reading the final pages is regret that I did not know Simone de Beauvoir in person. The closest I can get is to continue reading the memoirs. Curiously, the other three volumes are no longer published by Penguin, though the next in sequence The Prime of Life is the most widely read in France.

In reading any autobiography I am always very curious about what its subject reads. Simone de Beauvoir was an avid reader, commenting, “Literature took the place in my life that had once been occupied by religion: it absorbed me entirely, and transfigured my life.” In these memoirs, de Beauvoir recalls her reading. The book that she mentions most frequently, with love, is Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes, considered one of France’s literary masterpieces.