Here's the thing, as we are fond of saying when we want to rant about something. We found this week's "Questions For..." very amusing in light of recent now-simmering accusations that Solomon uses certain less-than-ethical methods to give her column its trademark snap-crackle-pop. We keep reading and re-reading her interview with Pierre Bayard, a professor of French literature at the University of Paris, a fake-reader of Proust (self-described!), and the author of How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read. Anyone who gets their rocks off on discussing how many hard books they read as English majors and lurrrrved and felt ever so deeply and blahblahblah will hate this book. For the record, if there is such a solid thing on the Interweb, we love Crime and Punishment too but that doesn't mean we don't like to snuggle with a fashion magazine now and then. BUT ANYWAY. (Unresolved issues). Here's one exchange:
Solomon: But what about those of us who read to feel things — to experience pleasure, an end to loneliness? Beyard: Of course I read in order to feel something. And to feel an end to my loneliness, of course, just as you.
Bam. What? She totally lets him get away with that zinger. Instead of following up with a question that also insinuates she isn't lonely at all, but is actually a deeply fulfilled human being with a rich private life, Solomon says:
Then why are you so willing to devalue the experience of close reading in favor of skimming? You seem to believe that knowing a little bit about 100 literary classics is preferable to knowing one book intimately.
Errr. Huh?! Deborah, why are you playing Ms. Nice Lady all of a sudden? But really the best exchange is the final lightening round:
Solomon: Have you read all of Proust, on whom you once wrote a scholarly book, “Off the Subject: Proust and Digression”? Bayard: Proust is very difficult to read. His sentences are long and have very strange constructions, so it is not very possible to read it from the first line to the last line. You are obliged to use another way of reading.Solomon: Are you saying you skimmed Proust? Bayard: Yes, of course I did! I prefer to say that I live with Proust. He’s a companion. Sometimes I go to Proust and I seek advice for my life. I open it and I skim some pages. That is to live with books. It’s important to live with books.Solomon: But if you’re a habitual skimmer, why should we trust the conclusions you draw about literature? Bayard: Because now, after hearing my arguments, you are convinced of my position.Solomon: Not completely convinced. Bayard: Then you have to read my book once more, from the first line to the last line, the French method of reading.
Excuse us? Bayard, you cheeky monkey! She actually allows him to make the idea of SKIMMING PROUST sound attractive. Well, okay, she makes him sound a little poseurish, but beyond that--what gives? It's like they were having a jokey back and forth, and "Questions For..." isn't usually jokey unless is S-master making a joke at her subject's expense, and then we chuckle and feel kinda bad for them and awestruck at her poison pen. Where did the Solomon mojo go? We want answers. We'll be watching and waiting for them.
Also, this Bayard guy is a real kick. We heart him now.