Quite a few books took my head off in 2009 and, as always, The Millions’ brief is a tough one to fulfill. I’ve spent much of the year extolling the virtues of Rob Riemen’s slender polemic, Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal, which makes a moving plea for good old fashioned high idealism. The year also brought magnificent new works from my two favorite novelists, John Banville and J.M. Coetzee – The Infinities and Summertime, respectively. But I suspect The Millions’ well-read audience doesn’t need me to direct them to either of these remarkable authors.
And so the book that came out of nowhere and captured my imagination is Eric Karpeles’ lovely Paintings in Proust, in which he goes through the entire Proust cycle and reproduces every painting mentioned (or a reasonable substitute when specifics are lacking), marrying the image to the text from the books themselves. I’ve gotten hours upon hours of pleasure returning to this beautifully illustrated, intelligently annotated volume. Sadly, the 2008 book is already out of print and when copies turn up they can be quite expensive – but keep your eye on the used book sites for this gem, bargains can be found. It’s a book I can’t wait to pass on to my daughter when she’s old enough to appreciate it.
Update: Well, it appears I have been happily premature in declaring Paintings in Proust unavailable. As the author notes in the comments below, ” … Paintings in Proust is NOT out of print, but currently in its third printing. There was a disastrously long hiatus of months between the first printing’s selling out so quickly and the appearance of the second printing. Now Paintings in Proust should be available at booksellers everywhere as well as online.” Clearly, I became aware of that book during the noted interregnum, and now the friends on my holiday gift list will be the beneficiary of Karpeles’ timely notice.